Cities: Between Metaphor & Reality

How the empirical and the scientific can sustain together. – By Narendra Dengle.

Narendra Dengle talks about the inherent contradictions in the much discussed ‘Smart-City’ idea that has captured political imagination by inclining the argument in favour of a city which has a place for all and not just the economy which builds it.

Once a client of mine discussed at length the requirements of an institutional project and stressed the importance of being rational, functional, economic, and energy conscious in approach. We agreed. The next day he called up to say, “Please make it Eco-friendly.” We said, ‘Oh yes’. Then he dropped by to insist that the project must be ‘totally sustainable.’ We thought it was a reasonable aspiration and proceeded with conceptual thinking. Then he called up again a few days later to say, “I hope you are making it Green”. We were worried. Midway through our work he came up again, this time with a team of people, who were very smartly dressed, and said, ‘What will it take to make it SMART as well?’

Image becomes words which are metaphors for what we want to achieve. They also fantasize the goals. The metaphor and the reality gradually become each other’s adversaries. Of course, the narrated incident did not actually happen! It may have happened in fragments to many architects working all over the world in different times.

Most recently, the AAP (Aam Admi Party) won the assembly elections in Delhi with an agenda security, health, power and water to every home, vast improvement in the standard of education in government run schools, lowering the prices of essential commodities, and so forth- which appears down to earth real and perhaps without a metaphor like SMART.

Then, without romanticizing them we looked at our villages. They seemed to be using much less energy than our metropolises. They seemed to be only using local materials for construction. They seemed self-sufficient even in water supply that had brought a certain amount of social order and responsibility among the villagers. They seemed to eat onions, wheat, jawar-bajri, rice, potatoes, and vegetables without having to can them or convert into other forms like making a hundred kinds of chips, and mixes package them, all of which demanded industry, electricity, machines, and the worst of all aggressive marketing. But of course villages were not “engines of growth”.

Recently however, infrastructure, as well as the social systems in villages seemed to have actually deteriorated with the cities becoming more glamorous and breathing over them as stronger magnets for villagers. Farming techniques had remained backward; cooperatives had weakened. Villages were being ‘rewarded for being clean’ and were forced to sell land cheaply, convert it to SEZ, realizing later how incorrect and foolish it was to part with land. As the subsidy deteriorated and apathy increased on the part of the government, the villagers experienced frustration with hard work in farming and the rate of suicides shot up. As the rate of migration to cities increased in search of less noble work earning them a little more money, the work has changed to doing unskilled jobs, and losing self- respect.

Farmers with excellent knowledge of their soils, water, clouds, and climate have become domestic servants, chowkidars-watchmen, some have even become agents, realtors and developers themselves coercing the villagers to sell their land, and compelling their children to go to English medium schools aspiring to become software engineers.

It has become increasingly clearer to me that if the traditional noble occupations were strengthened with the right technology duly subsidized because these were means to conserve energy and in turn subsidized urban living, the communities would be happier and also would have acquired the goodies of urban life. Instead, the government is hell bent on eradicating the village and replacing it with smart cities, SEZs and so forth. Dependence on agriculture is being replaced with dependence on the computer.

The young CM of Maharashtra writes about his vision of urbanization in the Indian Express about Mumbai 1, “We believe that the cities should not be the only avenues of development and that growth in rural areas will check migration to cites”, but he does not say how he would achieve it, except by building ‘well connected quality roads across the state, express highways linking all major cities and four lane state highways’ as this will help address the ‘imbalance between urban and rural development.’ And, which ‘Will also aid the faster movement of agricultural produce to cities’.

We read that the bureaucrats have been entrusted with the job of drafting the norms for a SMART city. Traditionally, cities have been built with security, sanitation, and society in mind. They had to resist external threats and guard the citizens and resources. Those included guarding the purity of water and food; and prevent health hazards, and social insecurity, ensuring unhindered attention to farming and allowing varied forms of development. Cities grew out of varied needs, for instance, to help grow markets, strengthening them as centers for learning, strategizing political, legal, and governmental positions, and respecting topographical significance, all of which arose from the needs and demands.

As much as economic growth patterns are paid attention to, one also needs to analyze the causes of decadence of old cities. Historically why the ‘golden ages’ could not be sustained must assume importance. The fundamental worry is how we plan with equity in focus. How much we delegate to machines and computers to manage our affairs based on the data fed them in advance. How do we trust our data resource and ensure it is not being cunningly planted by those with vested interests? And how do we bring people, who are scared to climb escalators, when functioning, to the so called computer run future? We have had various versions of city-visions from many visionaries from Ebenzer Howard’s Garden City and Peter Cook’ plug-in city to Le Corbusier’s Future City or Fumihiko Maki’s Fibre City. And, there have been intelligent, Digital, MESH (Mobile, Efficient, Subtle, Heuristic), inclusive, exclusive, enhanced, eco, on water, underground, and other forms of cities as well. The issues that concern us are of equity, commutation, communication, economic and equitable distribution of resources, carbon foot print, social and communal harmony, protection of natural resources, efficient and transparent governance, all of which have to be handled and managed within our own human resources.

The McKinsey Global Institute’s report of 2010 “India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth” done by experts in economics, technology, management, guided by Nobel laureates, bankers, etc., projects some startling figures; some of which are:

590 Million People will Live in Cities.
70% of Net Employment will be Generated in Cities.
$1.2 Trillion Capital Investment would be Necessary to Meet the Demand.
700-900 Million Sq M of commercial-residential space needs to be built (or a new Chicago every year)

This is the agenda of the businessman and the corporate sector. Economists have concluded and voted in favour of cities along with technocrats. The fate of rural population, or anyways those, who form our agrarian community and grow food for all, is unknown. I wonder if the future community would be chewing gold medals (or would it be computer chips??) like the Olympic champions conditioned to do for photo shoots. Sustaining economic growth has come to automatically mean urbanization sustaining cement production, importing technology, air-conditioning major portions of commercial space and what is unknown is the fate of environmental-ecological sustainability and the ozone layer.

Sustainability for us as architects, landscape architects, cannot be economic sustainability alone, but perhaps quite the opposite of it. People have already begun discussing ‘No-Growth’ –rejecting the economic growth model.

A Doxiadis’ theory of Anthropopolis: Cities for Human Development 2 rested on FIVE principles, which are:

a. Maximization of man’s (Anthropos’) potential contacts.

b. Maximization of energy.

c. Creating optimum proactive space around us.

d. Balance between the five elements that form the human settlements – nature, Anthropos, society, shells, and network.

e. Optimum synthesis of the previous four principles.

His five principles, he said, were based on Aristotle’s definition, “the goal of the city is to make the man (Anthropos), the citizen happy and safe”.

Of the five principles by Doxiadis we experience that the first one has been met with by the internet, which offers a very wide choice of meeting people and access to information. It definitely has maximised ‘potential contacts’ so far as citizens at large are concerned. The flip side is that the interaction and access to information comes by sitting at home and reduces the opportunity to intermingle with society for various reasons. It also happens under the surveillance that invades your privacy controlled by those in power. Your opinion is shaped entirely by the media, whose source and authenticity is beyond the reach of the common man to verify.

The Kautilya Arthshastra 3 gives instructions to safeguard forests and farms besides giving maximum stress on security. It is categorical to ensure that entertainers bring a distractive element into the normal chores of farmers and hence must be kept at a distance from the village. Ironically today’s stressful urban life has opened up entertainment and media wantonly.

‘Maximising Energy’ is a double edged sword. Whose energy? And who will maximise it and for whose benefit? What would be the unrecyclable aggregates? Would one country be authorised to maximize the energy of the other country as the former thinks it right? The issue of carbon footprint by various countries has been debated internationally on environmental forums. The ambiguity that exists in whether the developed world is using more energy than the underdeveloped world and therefore who would be allowed further development have assumed huge political dimensions affecting international relations. If the decision is without the consideration of opportunity and equity then the same would be disastrous for some countries than others.

The ‘protective network’ in China one learns, has been designed in such a way as to benefit the rulers, who want to control and protect themselves and their rule rather than the weakest in the society. The ‘illegal population’ that resulted because of the compulsory population control measures does not hold the ‘white card’, has been the nameless, parentless, unaccounted for population of the state.

There is no guarantee of their protection and they live by avoiding the CCTV cameras that outnumber the population. How can this be considered ‘ideal’ by those, who are singing ballads of the development in China? We have not been looking beneath the veil to understand the reality.

The fourth principle of guarding the five elements is the one that is most mauled by our designs and ‘visions’ of development. SMART cities have not provided any answer either to environmental and anthropological sustenance. Its agenda clearly seems to be economic sustenance, which needs large investments, higher technology, superior controls all of which are unthinkable within the common man’s reach. He/she must therefore be subservient to the SMART-technologies and cities.

Keeping citizens ‘happy and safe’ needs a better and clarified definition, the terms being generic and subjective. In a democracy, the so called myth of ‘aspirations’ must be put in right perspective.  When the aspirations of the economically and socially deprived are discussed one realises that it is the aspirations of the powerful, who voice the aspirations of the deprived. For instance, the aspirations of slum dwellers have become the aspirations of developers, who would generate profit by utilising a major portion for commercial usage leaving nothing at all of the land for common usage as was witnessed in the development of the mills land in Mumbai. Any widening gap between the rich and poor, one community against the other, is bound to create schisms and tear the social fabric, hence defeating the four of the five principles anyway.

SMART is the anagram of the first letters of- Specific, Assignable, Realistic, and Time related– that is what the definition suggests. In short it stands for the tangible, achievable, phenomenal, and of the current times. Several websites attribute many and wide ranging objectives which appear noble and conscious of appropriate utilization of resources and energy. However, many questions remain unanswered. The key question is that of control, management, and equitability. How does one upgrade technology, avoid computer generated waste, effect on climate control? How does it respond to terrorist attack? One wonders what the ‘fail- safe’ is. Does it therefore stand for everything against the traditional and empirical, cultural, and contextual? One does not know. Who defines the SMART, for whom and with whose assistance? Who would be the citizens of a SMART city and who would be expected to bring wisdom to it? How and who would control as to who should live there and who should not? Would SMART cities generate not so SMART slums? What would be the definition of freedom in SMART cities- would the personal and the universal both be mutually respected- as was the case in the past? What would be the classes in such smart societies? Who would serve whom? Within whose reach would the smartness be? Would the smartness be owed to the supply and control of technology by certain developed countries? These issues ‘dependently arise’ with political visions and governance and are neither inherent to human civilization nor are they independently technological.

Would the wisdom of living on this planet come from the use and dependence on computer or is there also any scope for empirical knowledge that offers wisdom? Would fishermen, carpenters, rag pickers, garbage collectors, domestic help, iron smiths, copper smiths, the bara balutedars or the twelve ‘public servants’- unfortunately relegated to casts, have space and belonging to it? In a village these balutedars were entitled to a portion of the corn or grain, for a duty performed, from carrying dead bodies to carpentry, smithy, washing clothes etc. Because all of them continue to support our present day cities as well, and the social strata continues to reflect the same, would they have a careful consideration in the concept of SMART? Would they have to be tech savvy in order to survive and join multi nationals? Or, would the ‘Urban Culture’ be devoid of any consideration for them?

Does being SMART automatically mean one is against the empirical wisdom that we as society acquired through tradition and experience? One hopes not. One thinks of the cattle, the animal habitat, national parks, along with farm land when we think of our rural societies and the empirical wisdom that one witnesses in the way of their living, culture-craft and folklore. “The greatest tragedy of urbanisation is what it has done to the idea of village. We have manipulated the village to represent deprivation and poverty. We have presumed that village culture is a local phenomenon that has no role in the main stream narrative. And ironically, when this very same village-dweller becomes a city person, he is once again pushed to the cultural margins. Hence, it is insulted twice over.” 4 Is looking into the current issues, technology, and ponder on what is meant by contemporary something terrible? No. Often the question is of the syntax. One should also remember that Einstein walked out of his research when he realised it would be terribly destructive for the planet and the mankind. The question also is about the motive; who wants cities to be smart and why. The answers would lead us to the affluent, business lobbies of the developed world. T N Krishna, a dedicated and talented young musician says, “May be what India needs is not 100 smart cities but thousands of empowered villages.” 5

SMART City syndrome assumes cities first, urbanisation inevitable, and also larger in scale cities-all of which the argument says need a completely different approach to conceive, plan, administer, invest in, so that all citizens earn more, make a better living and justify the larger scale of cities. Village seems to have gone out of focus for those who are only sustained by economic upheaval of the market. But who would not want efficiency? Don’t our villages need it? If not for the villagers –for the urbanites visiting them on business-(buying land) would also demand efficiency and white washing the village to a familiar sanitised white building.

What is the quality and definition of the space that would distance one SMART city from another?

There is a story in the Chandogya Upanishads 6, wherein Indra and Virochana, representing the gods and the demons respectively, go to Prajapati with fuel in hand, wanting to become his disciples and gain sacred knowledge. “For thirty two years they lived the disciplined life of students of sacred knowledge. Then Prajapati asked them, ‘Desiring what have you been living?’ The two said, ‘The self is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose desire is the real, whose thought is the real. He should be sought, him one should desire to understand. He who has found out, he who understands that self, he obtains all worlds and all desires.’ Prajapati said to the two, ‘the person that is seen in the eye that is the self. That is immortal, the fearless. That is Brahman.’ He asks them to look into the water and in the mirror and tells them, ‘the same is perceived in all these.’ So the two wash themselves, wear new and wonderful clothes and look into the water. Satisfied that they have seen their true selves they return home. Virochana returns to the demons and preaches hedonism. Indra sees the danger of this as he approaches the gods. He thinks, ‘Even as his bodily self is well adorned well dressed, tidy when the body is tidy, the self will also be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, crippled when the body is crippled. It perishes immediately when the body perishes. I see no good in this.’ He returns with the fuel in hand and explains his difficulty to Prajapati, who again accepts him as the disciple asking him to stay another 32 years. The story continues until Indra sees the futility and inadequacy of the physical self, the dream self, and the self in deep sleep by spending 32 X 3 = 96 years, until he is brought to the comprehension of reality of the self as spirit by spending yet another 5 years. As long as we believe in the bodily self we continue to be obsessed with solving problems of the body-the physical-the phenomena as the only reality. The entire focus towards ‘architecture as an object’ may be seen in the light of this simile.

Any preferential treatment to any section of society-may it be community, region, or forms of making livelihood, inevitably has repercussions in political, economic, and social spheres, which in turn become forces that counter the effects of the preferential treatment. For instance, the issue of governance will predominately decide the political atmosphere in urban area. The question would be whether these become threats to privacy and freedom, as feared by George Orwell in his novel

Nineteen Eighty Four, or, facilitators of the same, and contrary to that fear-syndrome, would determine the political sphere. This country is vast and has the richest and most varied kinds of societies and landscapes from the north to the south and from the east to the west.

The human brain has proved to be smart. It has invented god and also the computer. It has invented meditation to explore the spirit of life. It interprets ‘visions’, and has also invented hard currency and banking system. It has invented the most fearful weapons of destruction, ironically, to ensure peace.

Although the human considers himself to be supreme over other living organisms, being aware of the sorrows and struggles the life has in store, the human has cultivated forms of deities and rituals of worship. Without any ‘scientific proof’ the human continues to be superstitious and irrational in behaviour with others of his community and nature at large. ‘Smart Cities’ is also yet another dream he wants to realise. Here we must however realise that the dream is NOT of the common man. It is a dream of the businessman wanting to do more and more business with faster and faster rate of turnover and from the developed world. It smacks of technological aggression and technological colonisation. The developed world would naturally ‘guide’ the developing world to emulate its follies and do business in the process. It is essentially a capitalist measure wanting to capitalise on the weak developing world that has been conditioned to worship the former.

The stress is on the use of the chip outside the brain. But if it is the human brain that discovered the chip in the first place, how can the chip outside be smarter than the brain? At best it can be an efficient tool to envisage and then solve the problems of living. That’s it. But there is one more condition it must satisfy, which is, it must solve the problems not only of the human race but the problems of the planet, which the race inhabited. The race is younger than the planet and much like the roads are built later than the ancient heritage structures, which ‘come in their way and, hence need to be sadly demolished’ kind of rationale followed by most bureaucrats. We have come to assume that the human race has the right over the planet more than the planet has a right on its own sustainability! Ironical as it may sound, we have to work to bridge the gap between the smartness and the wisdom. Wisdom, unlike information technology, is meant to offer wise advice-counsel. Information, on the other hand, offers a mountain of stuff to be waded through for various pragmatic inferences and goals by all kinds of people. Wisdom is supposed to advise us on purpose and meaning of life and its significance to the human activity among its race and with its reference to the physical world.

Hence, smart cities must be considered as those, which not only connect people through their mobiles and apps to pass time and hence waste lives but to make sense of the purpose of their lives.

Improving lives of people has two poles; one of course has to be to deal with the manifest conditions surrounding society at all strata; the other must be to inform, why they should have the right to inhabit the planet at all! So far as the scope of the topic of this conference is concerned we will not be able to go deeper into the question of ontology of existential issues. We must confine ourselves to issues of environment, equity, and ecology, which not only should concern landscape architects but something, which must figure in the discussion over smartness. Can equity, environment and ecology be brought under the fold of smart cities? If we could, we would certainly broaden our vision and make relevant the goals for societies that will inhabit this planet in future. No cities can survive without food, air, and water and also intelligent interaction prompting creative response. No amount of transport systems, high rise housing, software dealing with entertainment and business can be of any use unless there is food and water and air for all. Economists and business houses have argued that this being a global problem it is alright if some countries don’t grow food since they can efficiently and cheaply import it from some other countries. Some have gone to the extent of claiming that all problems of water availability would soon be over because we can, thanks to the ‘latest technology’, tap water on Mars!

Does the flip side of ‘smart cities’ mean ‘dumber village’? In other words are we looking forward to widening the divide between the cities and the smarter cities; and the smarter cities and the backward villages- where there is no water supply? Would a smart city that aspires for efficiency in business hope to arrest farmers’ suicides? The question of togetherness cannot be overemphasised. We have witnessed that economic imbalances adversely affect the harmony within a society and the resultants manifest in naxal movements or other forms of religious and regional extremism. The opportunity to do business, profession or agriculture must be equally attractive to bring in true sense of sustainability. If business is more lucrative than agriculture then the country has already decided on its priorities through favouritism.

Those of us wanting to comprehend the scope of wisdom must try hard to come out of the clutches of the visual bias and recognise the sources of wisdom from the literary-including the upanishadic, audio –musical, botanical, zoological, and Ayurvedic and other traditional sources and to add to the sources that we may easily understand from the traditional architecture, visual arts and painting. To realise the much rounded term ‘context’ our researchers must try to tap the visual and the non-visual sources to make our understanding of the context holistic.

Classical Indian music must be considered smart because it trusts oral tradition. It wastes no paper or ink, nor does it need computers. Nothing is written by the disciple traditionally, who cultivates a memory field through riyaz and observation. Depiction of landscape in seasonal frameworks is available across the country in our folklore. The bandishes sung in the Classical music throw much light on the pallet of contextual landscape in different regions and for different moods and kridas. Music too similarly tells us stories and narratives on immediacy and relevance of flora and fauna of regions. Musical traditions need tapping at various sources hitherto listed and yet to be unearthed from family traditions, gharana traditions, as well as religious and court traditions for patronage, response by artists and forms of manifested aesthetic. Wisdom cannot alone be found in words and religious texts but also in the orientation and stress in meditational practices. Architecture and Landscape Architecture deal with the experiential rather than the visual and must therefore attempt to constantly re-discover and reinvent the fields in different times. Wisdom should be the key to go beneath the superficial- the gross-the phenomenal all of which we as planners and architects engage with, day in day out, to discover the deeper, the subtle- the noumenal, lest we will only concern ourselves with the problem solving in the immediate sense; Almost like quickly concluding to build flyovers because we only see the traffic congestion at the moment. Performing arts have so far been confined to thematically presenting the content through repetition. Only recently does one witness a shift in the paradigm which is indicative of a different perception of reality. Architecture and planning have been engaged in the debate on urbanism and will go on echoing discussions on ‘smart cities’. The past, the present, and the future cannot be seen like a seer sitting on a rock gazing up the space but by actually swimming through the times- by being part of it.

The current CEO of Infosys Vishal Sikka argues in favour of technology 7, drawing parallel with the Industrial Revolution. A strong believer ‘that the world is poised at the cusp of incredible opportunity to leverage technology and augment individual talent and collective capability’, he insists, ‘That’s why it must be our pursuit to become more human and to have technology enable us to further enhance our humanity’. He goes on to listing three ways to achieve this; first through education, second- ‘on the basis of our ability to draw inspiration from a strong and purposeful ethos that feeds imagination and creativity. Third, on the basis of our entrepreneurship-the ability to find and solve the challenges of our times with unwavering commitment coupled with the energy we need to surmount obstacle, both real and virtual.’ He emphasises the continuous commitment to ‘learnability’ and concludes that ‘technology will help us create a better future for us’. The lopsided vision to depend on technology for entrepreneurship takes a devastating toll of the environment, ecology and human associations, which is evident from the policies driven to write off traditional communities with SEZs or piling up dwellings in sky scrapers to rehouse slum dwellers to encourage profit making at the cost of habitations.  Solutions must emerge locally and with local involvement and not through ‘entrepreneurship’ of developers if we believe that cities are for everyone and not for those with capital resources alone.

It is true that we are becoming greatly dependent on technology to take care of problems ranging from health and security to jacking growth rate by opening market economy in widest possible ways.

There is a difference among those, who have their entire faith in technology; those who worship it as god and those, who look upon it as a tool that the humans can use, modify, reuse with appropriateness. The key to look at it is in the latter. The irony is that when it is seen as god it turns demonic very quickly and smoothly without one’s realisation! How this tool can actually and virtually forge relations between peoples of various states, countries, cultures, ownerships, histories, geographies is what needs attention. If smart cities divide us then they can ruin us socially through favouritism but used with the intention to build bridges among societies and for their common goals it can be extremely useful.

“Douglus Adams writes famously of a computer called Deep Thought which is asked to work out the ultimate answer to the universe, takes seven and a half million years to do so, and finally comes with an answer 42. Another larger computer has to be built, to figure out what the actual question was.’ 8 The analogy to smart city situation may be to invent a new human, who can use the smartness fully effectively; alternatively to solve the problems of smart cities invent smarter cities! Smartness must be seen as a tool to improve the life condition – cities not of the elites alone but of the masses as well. It cannot however be seen as a goal that must be achieved as if in a race with another country.

There seems to be a divide at the moment in agreeing on the meaning of wisdom. Does wisdom mean pushing growth rate or is it to bring societies together? Some would argue that the two are not different and once the growth rate is pushed – no matter how- then the economic benefit reaches all sections of the society; furthermore, economic benefit must automatically mean a better society, better environment and better landscape or arts for all! One must recognise that once the ‘basic’ needs and amenities of the society are met with, the graph of economy and the graph of social stability may not correspond with each other.

SAMRT CITIES Courses run at CASA UCL, UK (claimed to be the first university to offer) claim on their website : “This course will give you a perspective of smart cities from the viewpoint of technology. It will provide a context for the development of smart cities through a history of computing, networks and communications, of applications of smart technologies, ranging from science parks and technopoles to transport based on ICT. The course will cover a wide range of approaches, from concepts of The Universal Machine, to Wired Cities and sensing techniques, spatiotemporal real time data applications, smart energy, virtual reality and social media in the smart city, to name a few.” The courses are for two hours a week and promise “new job opportunities in planning and engineering that are absolutely critical to our future cities.” The courses stress on software knowledge to “learn to construct and apply models in order to simulate urban systems”.

In contrast Reinier de Graaf, a young partner at the Dutch firm OMA and director of its think tank, involved in large scale city planning operations in the middle east, says, “we think sustainability can be created through new devices, digital devices, technologies.. but a lot of sustainability is actually embedded in tradition, in a discipline of urbanism and architecture and building that is much older than the latest technological advances. It has an inherent intelligence that is entirely overlooked in our fascination with newest and the latest.” 9 For someone coming from a technologically advanced country, Graaf’s observations must be a pointer for those, who worship technology blindly.

The Buddhist believe that the Buddha taught more than 8400 years ago that there are two truths: the relative truth and the ultimate truth. While their references in the physical world and grappling with relative truth cannot be mismatched, one must however, strive for the ultimate truth. The path must be thoroughly analysed without which misery awaits round the corner. Knowing this fact and comprehending it in all its subtle layers is the task that the Boddhichitta concerns itself with, realizing it fully well that neglecting the same has consequences, whose entire effect cannot be known too easily. The decision dependant entirely on cause- effect does not lead to perfection or a perfect being. The human is entrapped in habit-energy and has come to believe it as the only truth but energies directed from the samsara to wisdom have an entirely different effect on the person and consciousness. Here, the premise of the argument being it has taken several eons before one is endowed with the human body. The current trends that are loud and clear of ‘aggressiveness as assertiveness, means efficiency’ and ‘the love for couldn’t carelessness’ pose an enormous problem for the human race as well as the planet. The ‘flower generation, or the hippies’ the product of disillusionment with industrial society, is an indication of the dire state of society, sentient beings or sensibilities in general, when their natural fabric of associations with each other, faiths, and ecosystem is violently torn. Shantideva tells us through the Bodhicharyavatara 10 how not to adhere to the body-consciousness and take that as the final reality. All problems, projects, solutions emerge, when this erroneous view is upheld. Shantideva asks the mind, ‘why do you attach to the body, which one day you have to separate from?’ It is also pointed out that order happens in chaos.

“Vijana is a subject to birth and destruction and jnana is not a subject to birth and destruction. Vijnana falls into (the dualism of) form and no form, being and no being, and is characterised as multiplicity but jnana is marked with transcendence of (the dualism of) form and no form. Vijana is characterized with accumulation and jnana with non-accumulation. Jnana is of three kinds: that which ascertains individuality and generality, that which ascertains birth and decay, and that which ascertains birth and no birth.” 11

It appears to me that wisdom and smart cities belong to different truths and have nothing to do with each other. The wisdom in the relative truth would want the citizens to be happy, equality be kept in focus, suppression and oppression are nipped in the bud-whether social, economic, or political no matter how rosy a picture they paint with imported colours. The ultimate beneficiary from conception to implementation must be the common man, as well as, the ecosystems and environment.

The endeavour, therefore, must be to seek a landscape in the form of modules of spaces, wherein the residential and the farmland intermingle; where the farms are sustained by the urban population through tilling land in rotation and through participatory processes. A ward wise distribution of responsibility towards looking after the landscape and engaging actively with it for its sustenance would ensure the concept of urban participatory farming. The SMART must coexist with the natural by being caring and responsible. The activity pattern must aim at reverence for hands-on work done by traditional occupations without wiping them out but by actually learning from them. The urbane and the rural must be seen as forms of consciousness that can never be divorced from one another.

The SMARTness would then gain from the empirical and intuitive wisdom without branching off away from each other.

[Adapted from ISOLA conference on “Wisdom, Values, and Landscape towards the Smart City”, Pune February 20, 2015.]


1. Devendra Fadanvis, Here is Looking at you Again, Mumbai, The Indian Express, January 3, 2015.
2. C A Doxiadis, Anthropopolis: city for human development, published by George J McLeod limited, Toronto, 1975.
3. See – R P Kangle The Kautilya Arthshastra.
4. T N Krishna, “The City of Unheard Melodies”, The Indian Express, January 12, 2015.
6. S Radhakrishanan, The Principals Upanishads, Chandogya Upanishad,section 7-12, page 501-510, Harper Collins Publishers, India 1994.
7. Vishal Sikka, The Technology of Being Human, the Times of India, December 23, 2014.
8. Eagleton Terry, The Meaning of Life, A very short introduction, Oxford, 2008.
9. “How smart is the Smart City”, Interview Reinier de Graaf, Architecture and Interiors India, January 2015.
10. Shantideva, Bodhicharyavatara, translated into English by Stephan Bachelor, for the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives
Dharmshala India, 5th chapter.
11. Lankavatarasutra LXVI page 136, Translated from the Sanskrit by D T Suzuki, 1978 Prajna Press Boulder, Colorado.


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