Learning from small cities

Birkbeck's Dr Melissa Butcher is part of a team which has been awarded a major grant to research the imagined futures and dynamics of change in India's smart cities.

Shimla, India

Dr Melissa Butcher from Birkbeck’s Department of Geography will be part of a major research project examining the challenges of small cities becoming ‘smart cities’ in India. The funding is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) call for projects exploring urban transformation.

In collaboration with Kings College London, Birmingham University, the Institute of Economic Growth (Delhi) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, the two-year project will highlight what we can learn from the process of change in small cities in India as they are transformed by smart technologies and infrastructure.

Dr Butcher said: “A key question for us is how residents of small cities live with changes brought about by smart city developments. What is the difference between how state plans for urban transformation are imagined by local authorities compared to how they are actually lived by residents?”

The team will take an interdisciplinary approach from urban, social and cultural geography, as well as sociology and geo-informatics to learn from three small cities in India: Shimla, Jalandhar and Nashik. In each of these cities, the project team will undertake analysis of imagined urban futures through longitudinal mapping, crowdsourced digital and community asset mapping and interviews with stakeholders and beneficiaries of smart city projects.

According to Dr Butcher, “much of the work on ‘smart cities’ has focused on larger, capital centres, but we wanted to focus on 'ordinary cities' with specific social, cultural, political, and historical contexts of 'smallness' that has kept them 'off the map' of urban studies”.

The project aims to deliver a variety of outputs to contribute to both academic and policymakers understanding of the dynamics of smart city interventions, including animated info-graphics, policy briefing pamphlets, and an exhibition and catalogue to maximise the impact of the research.

The research project will run from 2018-2020. 

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