The Villages within a Smart City

by Swati Janu

The capital city of Delhi, which I call home, is dotted with several urban villages. Most of these villages were incorporated within the modern city post-Independence. Not only are they unique in their socio-cultural and spatial fabric, but they have also been extremely critical in supporting Delhi’s growth. They provide affordable housing to rural-urban migrants and immigrants that, formal housing markets have largely failed to cater to. A comparison can be drawn between the urban villages of Delhi and the future growth of the villages of the greenfield city of Amaravati.

Before the ongoing speculation on the future of the proposed capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati, it was much publicised for its smart and futuristic features. Glitzy rendered views gave a glimpse of what the new capital city would look like with high speed transport links, energy efficient skyscrapers and iconic buildings designed by internationally acclaimed architects. In the buzz around the urban development plans for the area, very little was covered on the development of the 29 villages that fall within the planned city’s precinct. The physical models typically showed the villages as empty land within the planned city-to-be. The physical reality on ground however, is an exact opposite of these physical models. The villages have grown vertically, to a 4-5 storey height in anticipation of the new city and are the only settlements on ground that dot the flat agricultural landscape of the area.

One of the few smart city projects working to cater to the needs of the existing local inhabitants is the CITIIS project ‘Basic Infrastructure Development in Low Income Settlements’. Different from typical large-scale projects that are often designed to be iconic and visible, this is one of the more silent projects that focuses on the basic needs of the people and long-term impact on their lives. Its village level components such as integrated anganwadi centres and health sub-centres aim to focus on health, nutrition and wellbeing of the women and children from low to middle income families. The vision is to provide facilities that could match or even surpass those currently being provided by private day care centres and clinics. A third component looks at upgradation of government schools to which several parents send only their daughters as education is free, while sending their sons to paid private schools for better education. The gender inequality behind this preference is something the project hopes to address while upgrading the quality of education and facilities. Several city level components are also planned in the project such as a skill development centre which would prove critical for the current residents as the area transitions rapidly from an agrarian economy to an urban, services-based economy.

Amaravati stands to benefit from the legacy of its existing villages, to absorb low-income migrants and support the housing market. These villages within the planned smart city will form its backbone and need to be supported in their development as the new city comes up around them. The CITIIS project is remarkable for its focus on the development of these villages and the farmers who reside in them, and I look forward to sharing our insights from the ground as the project progresses.

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