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What can Smart City policies in emerging economies actually achieve? Conceptual considerations and empirical insights from India

Fromhold-Eisebith, Martina and Günter Eisebith

World Development, 2019, vol. 123, issue C, -

Abstract: Smart City (SC) strategies that aim at fostering sustainable urban development through the systemic implementation of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) continue to appeal to national and municipal governments despite of increasingly skeptical academic debates. Especially in Asian emerging economies aspirations to create SCs are widespread, yet seem hopelessly illusionary in many cases and might actually harm rather than benefit most citizens. This paper acknowledges these critical views, yet also accentuates constructive perspectives on SC achievements that offer rays of hope especially for cities in less developed countries. We propose to emphasize influential process qualities of SC strategies, which can instigate broader governance and institutional transformations locally, rather than mainly looking at the technical product features of final SC settings. Refined conceptual distinctions between the product and process view on achievable outcomes of SC schemes are suggested which also borrow from evolutionary geography perspectives. To illustrate our propositions, the example of India’s Smart Cities Mission launched in 2015 is used. While the planned refurbishment of urban spaces in India is rightfully criticized by some, our own qualitative empirical research – a multiple case study analysis of five SC schemes in South India in spring 2018 – reveals several promising process qualities besides implementation deficiencies. Our study finds eight mechanisms of detrimental path dependency that obstruct SC progress, but also eight mechanisms of positive evolutionary change with respect to urban governance procedures. Making agents in emerging economies aware of these potential outcomes that reach beyond a mere urban technology focus can inspire more effective forthcoming SC strategies and policies.

Keywords: Smart City strategy; Urban governance; Path dependency; Evolutionary institutional change; South Asia; India (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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