The Pathfinders


Call them by any name: architect, designer, policy adviser, city researcher, urban thinker. They all have one thing in common: the passion and drive to make our cities more liveable, our administration more responsive and our services more efficient. What’s Up, Germany? asked these young pathfinders about their views on smart city solutions.

 Jyot Chadha, head of Urban Innovation, Sustainable Cities, World Resources Institute (India)India is moving from its villages into its cities at a blistering pace. There are opportunities, but also daunting social, environmental and economic challenges. Take urban transportation, for example. Addressing this problem is not simple and will draw on urbanists, planners, innovators and entrepreneurs. Testing new ideas and pushing for collaboration among unlikely stakeholders is fundamental to the future of our cities. My hope is that our smart cities become thriving hubs in which people have the agency to live to their fullest potential.

Jyot Chadha, head of Urban Innovation,
Sustainable Cities, World Resources Institute (India)

Jakob Julian Nürnberger, architect and urban thinker, AhmedabadYoung, motivated urban thinkers are developing IT solutions to make our cities smarter. There are no limits to ideas, but urban planning systems are slow and indignant to change as fast as a young generation of thinkers want to. The smart city is a gift, a chance to transform old and slow systems and structures into a smart future. From Germany, we can learn that urban development schemes have to benefit all in order to win the citizens’ support. In India, a young generation is hungry for smart change, with more policy transparency, public-private partnerships, information services. We are responsible for using this chance.

Jakob Julian Nürnberger, architect and
urban thinker, Ahmedabad

Madhav Raman, co-founder and principal designer, Anagram Architects, New DelhiThe Indian smart city is essentially an entrepreneurial city. Like entrepreneurs, cities must gain insight into their uniqueness to be differentiators in the global competition between cities, rather than trying to be similar to each other. Technologising infrastructure provision and monitoring is moot in the Indian context, where equitable access to infrastructure is in itself a huge challenge. I wish “smartening” Indian cities would focus on openly sharing big data and analytics.

Madhav Raman, co-founder and principal
designer, Anagram Architects, New Delhi

Leona Lynen, city researcher, BerlinCities are built up over time from an infinity of small acts. They do not function like well-oiled machines but present complex organisms that are shaped by geographies, social milieus and inhabitants. The smart city concept overlooks the real drivers of cities: people. People come with messiness, as do cities. There are certain urban qualities that can only evolve with inefficiency, vacancy or unforeseeable events. In theory, smart city solutions can improve citizen participation and co-determination through open data and real-time participation technology. Currently, however, the concept is organised top-down, rather than from the bottom-up.

Leona Lynen, city researcher, Berlin

Arjun Chopra, MD, in2sports IndiaA smart city is one where the infrastructure is aligned to the needs of its citizens, giving them fair and equal access along with high participation, while simultaneously minimising red tape. Often, there are constraints in developing modern infrastructure in old and overcrowded cities, which is the case in most Indian cities. Making such cities function “smartly” is more about improving the efficiency and access to existing infrastructure, as against building  infrastructure. In one of my projects, we make unutilised spaces in schools and colleges available for activities like sports or dance after school hours.

Arjun Chopra, MD, in2sports India

Faruk Tuncer, policy advisor, BerlinA smart city uses digital technology to improve the lives of people. This requires strategic leadership by the administration. Highly promising smart cities not only embrace technology and innovation but also nourish the creativity of their citizens. Without young and talented tech entrepreneurs pushing to transform cities with their ideas, they cannot become truly smart on a large scale.

Faruk Tuncer, policy advisor, Berlin

Vaibhav Belgaonkar, co-founder, Joomzee Geotracker Pvt Ltd, MumbaiA smart city is all about building connections which transcend geography—something more deep-rooted and emotional. Better infrastructure is an integral part of building smart cities, but first comes building awareness about existing resources and then preparing for easier accessibility and navigation. The starting point is changing our obsolete addressing system. I have co-founded a digital addressing system that creates an eight-digit alphanumeric address for every location in a city. This can form the crux of all services: transportation, retail, governance, emergency services, etc. My aim is that people should be able to travel hassle-free, thereby forming indelible connections.

Vaibhav Belgaonkar, co-founder, Joomzee
Geotracker Pvt Ltd, Mumbai

Michael Witte, public relations and event advisor, European Geography AssociationIn a smart city, modern technology, especially smart devices, connect people with their surrounding areas. Citizens should be offered easily accessible services to keep them informed and their grievances should be taken seriously. City planners often rely on theoretical concepts and best practices in other cities, and want to adopt them without taking into account the unique attributes of their own cities and the peoples’ needs. They expect public participation via outdated procedures like public gatherings and filling forms. This can be prevented by enabling connected citizens to interact with the administration and have a say in city planning. We will then have more liveable smart cities.

Michael Witte, public relations and event
advisor, European Geography Association