The What, Why, and How of Becoming a Smart City

30 04 2020

The second paper from Dr. Khushboo Gupta’s dissertation has been published in Smart Cities. The full paper can be accessed by clicking on the image below.


Rapid urbanization can result in challenges, such as overcrowding, congestion, and a lack of urban services. To address these challenges, an increasing number of communities are exploring the concept of a smart city (SC). Although rapid urbanization is a problem for cities around the world, its consequences can be severe for those located in developing nations. While previous studies have focused on SCs that were built from the ground up, there is a critical need for studies that focus on how to advance SC initiatives in developing regions faced with limited land and resources. This study identified two proposed SCs in India—Kakinada and Kanpur—which are currently implementing SC projects to explore their SC transformation. This case study aims to explore how “smartness” is understood in these cities and examines the local conditions shaping SC objectives by studying the existing issues in the cities, the proposed projects, and the perception of SC experts on a) what they understand by “smartness”; b) why cities want to become smart; and c) how they will become smart. The study findings indicate that although the high-level goals of the proposed SCs in India are similar to those of existing SCs in developed nations, the underlying objectives and strategies vary and are shaped by the urbanization challenges facing the Indian cities. This research also highlights the key questions a SC planning effort should address, especially in a developing nation context.

Congratulations Khushboo Gupta!

10 12 2019

Congratulations to Khushboo Gupta who successfully defended her Ph.D. in Planning, Governance, and Globalization last Tuesday. Khushboo’s research focused on exploring risks associated with implementing smart city projects in India’s Smart Cities Mission. During her research in the cities of Kakinada and Kanpur, Khushboo interviewed industry professionals who were executing the proposed smart city projects as well as officials in local government and in the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). The main findings from her research can be found below in her dissertation abstract.

While at Virginia Tech, Khushboo worked part-time as a graduate assistant in the Office of Economic Development, where she supported projects related to workforce and industry analysis, strategic planning, and community involvement. She has a master’s degree in Civil Engineering (from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India) and bachelor’s in Civil Engineering (from Uttar Pradesh Technical University, India). Khushboo first came to Virginia Tech as a summer intern under the IITK-VT Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative in 2013. During her summer internship, she worked in the Civil and Environment Engineering department on a project entitled “Condition Assessment of Pipelines in the USA” in collaboration with Prof. Sunil Sinha.

During her PhD, Khushboo was also a summer intern at the CIDCO Smart City Lab, National Institute of Urban Affairs in India in 2017, where she supported the work of a smart city that was funded under the Smart Cities Mission. This experience was instrumental in helping her narrow down her research focus. Khushboo was recently awarded the Gill-Chin Student Travel Award for her research on smart cities by the Global Planning Educator’s Interest Group in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. 

I served as the chair of Khushboo’s doctoral committee, along with committee members Wenwen Zhang, Shalini Misra, Tom Sanchez, and Adam Eckerd.

Smart City and Related challenges – Cases of Kakinada and Kanpur

Abstract: With the advancement in information and communication technologies (ICT), Smart Cities are becoming a popular urban development strategy amongst policymakers and city managers to respond to various threats posed by rapid urbanization such as environmental degradation and increasing inequality (Hartemink, 2016). Therefore, globally, regions ranging from small towns to megacities are proposing and investing in smart city (SC) initiatives. Unfortunately, the prolific use of this term by city managers and technology vendors is clouding the view on what it really takes to become a SC (Van den Bergh & Viaene, 2015). As a consequence, cities are experiencing multiple implementation risks when trying to turn a smart city ambition into reality. These implementation risks reflect the gaps or missing pieces in the current organizational structure and policies designed for implementing SC projects at the city level. They can be understood better if the process of SC transformation is explored using diverse cases of cities undergoing such a transformation. However, the current studies on SC initiatives at the local, regional, national, and international level have focused on: 1) strengthening the SC concept rather than understanding the practical implementation of the concept – i.e., discussing SC characteristics and outcomes rather than focusing on the challenges faced in implementing SC projects; 2) cases that have already been developed as a SC or are soon to become a SC, leaving out the opportunity to study cities undergoing SC transformation and the identification of implementation risks; and 3) cases from more advanced economies. Taken together, these observations reveal the need for research that focuses on SC initiatives in a developing nation context. More specifically, there is a need for researchers, city managers, and policymakers in these regions to focus on the process of SC transformation to identify implementation risks early on in the process. Understanding these risks may help the development of better risk mitigation strategies and result in more successful SC projects. This research identifies SC implementation risks in two cities currently undergoing SC transformation in India – Kakinada and Kanpur. While examining the risks landscape in these two cities, the research also explores what city officials are focused on when implementing SC projects.

This exploratory research finds that: 1) implementation risks such as Institutional, Resource and Partnership, and Social are crucial for implementing SC projects; 2) Institutional risks that relate to gaps and deficiencies in local urban governance such as overlapping functions of multiple local urban development agencies, have causal linkages with other risks such as Resource and Partnership risks and Financial risks, which further delay project implementation; and 3) city officials and industry professionals implementing SC projects in Kakinada and Kanpur have a slightly different perspective on smartness, however both the groups focus on External smartness of the city – i.e., projects related to physical infrastructure such as mobility and sanitation – rather than Internal smartness of the city – i.e., strengthening local urban governance, increasing citizen engagement, etc. Overall, this research proposes that there is a need to frame the concept of a SC around both Internal and External Smartness of the city. 

This research will be of special interest to: 1) cities (in both developed and developing nations) currently implementing SC projects by providing a framework to systematically examine the risk landscape for successful project implementation; and 2) communities/institutions (especially in developing nations) proposing SC initiatives by helping them focus on components, goals, and enablers of a SC.

New Paper in World Development

8 03 2017

Our new paper entitled “Pathways to Better Project Delivery: the Link between Capacity Factors and Urban Infrastructure Projects in India,” has been published in World Development. This paper presents part of the research undertaken by Yehyun (Hannah) An as part of her award winning PhD dissertation.

Yehyun’s research explores the concept of capacity development (CD) in the context of a large urban infrastructure program in India – the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Her research utilized a unique combination of qualitative and quantitative methods and I believe it is the first application of fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) in the field of CD.  We believe this papers makes an important contribution to both CD theory and practice.

ICONSA-15: The Initiative for Construction Safety Awareness

11 03 2015

With India poised to make a significant investment of resources in the creation and maintenance of infrastructure, there is an urgent need to ensure that this investment does not come at the expense of worker health and safety. On March 21-22, the IITK-VT partnership will be holding a Workshop on the Initiative for Construction Safety Awareness (ICONSA-15) that will bring together national and international stakeholders – contractors, owners, regulators, and academic institutions – to explore different aspects of construction safety and identify strategic opportunities to advance awareness and research on this critical issue. The participation of this broad stakeholder group will ensure a discussion on the latest state of practice with regards to the formulation and compliance of appropriate standards and legal frameworks.

ICONSA-15 is being organized by the Department of Civil Engineering of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and Myers-Lawson School of Construction-Center for Innovation in Construction Safety, Virginia Tech, and will focus on various aspects of construction safety studies. The event is also being supported by the Delhi Chapter of the National Safety Council of India and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.