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.