India Plans to Build 100 “Smart” Cities for the Elites

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Have you ever won­dered what would hap­pen if the rich kept get­ting rich­er? I’m not talk­ing about the 1%. They most­ly con­sist of upper-mid­dle-class busi­ness own­ers and real estate agents. No, I’m talk­ing about the 1% of the 1%. The real pow­er behind the throne. The finan­cial and polit­i­cal elite. If their wealth and pow­er con­tin­ued to grow by leaps and bounds at the expense of every­one else, how do you think they would live their lives?

If you’re curi­ous about the nature of this dystopi­an future, then look no fur­ther than India, where the gov­ern­ment is prepar­ing to break ground on the new “Gift City” which will seg­re­gate the elites from the rab­ble, and should be com­plet­ed by 2021. It will be a glit­ter­ing enclave with top-notch build­ing codes, 24-hour elec­tric­i­ty, and clean water.

High-speed sewage pipelines will rock­et their waste out of the city at speeds of 90km per hour (you can’t make this stuff up) and the wide uncon­gest­ed streets will car­ry an effi­cient pub­lic trans­port sys­tem. At the cen­ter of this gild­ed set­tle­ment, will be a “Com­mand and Con­trol Cen­ter” that mon­i­tors traf­fic, and uti­lizes an exten­sive sys­tem of CCTV cam­eras. Despite the sprawl­ing sur­veil­lance that would make most sane peo­ple uncom­fort­able, com­pared to the rest of this impov­er­ished nation it will be a ver­i­ta­ble utopia.

What’s more, India plans to build 100 of these “smart” cities, while restruc­tur­ing anoth­er 500 small­er towns in their image. Obvi­ous­ly, these will not be built for the ben­e­fit of the com­mon man. If any­thing, they will be more like feu­dal estates that lord over the wider pop­u­la­tion.

Yet many experts and plan­ners fear that such “ins­ta-cities”, if they are made, will prove dystopic and inequitable. Some even hint that smart cities may turn into social apartheid cities, gov­erned by pow­er­ful cor­po­rate enti­ties that could over­ride local laws and gov­ern­ments to “keep out” the poor.

In a mono­graph for a con­fer­ence on smart cities in Mum­bai in Jan­u­ary, the econ­o­mist and con­sul­tant Laveesh Bhan­dari described smart cities as “spe­cial enclaves” that would use pro­hib­i­tive prices and harsh polic­ing to pre­vent “mil­lions of poor Indi­ans” from “enjoy­ing the priv­i­leges of such great infra­struc­ture”. “This is the nat­ur­al way of things,” he not­ed, “for if we do not keep them out, they will over­ride our abil­i­ty to main­tain such infra­struc­ture.”

Per­son­al­ly, this wouldn’t nor­mal­ly both­er me. If you have the mon­ey and you want live in a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty with 24-hour secu­ri­ty, then more pow­er to you. This is the same thing, just on a larg­er scale. I mean, if a bunch of rich peo­ple want to get togeth­er and build what is basi­cal­ly a cor­po­rate microstate, who cares? If they want to live sep­a­rate­ly from every­one else and they can afford it, that’s their busi­ness if you ask me.city

The only prob­lem is, it’s not their mon­ey. They’re doing this at the expense of every­one else. This city is not being fund­ed out of their own pock­et, it’s being built with tax dol­lars, and the land will prob­a­bly be stolen from local res­i­dents through emi­nent domain. This is a clas­sic exam­ple of wealthy elites and cor­rupt politi­cians work­ing hand it hand to main­tain their pow­er and stan­dard of liv­ing. They’re build­ing their gild­ed atroc­i­ty on the backs of every­day cit­i­zens who, make no mis­take, will not see any of the ben­e­fits.

The cur­rent tem­plate might have giv­en us Pala­va City. This self-described smart city across 3,000 acres of Mumbai’s north­east­ern exurbs is being built by a city-based devel­op­er best known for treat­ing sky­scraper-erect­ing as a com­pet­i­tive sport. As its pro­mo­tion­al video announces in a smug bari­tone, Pala­va City was inspired by the futur­is­tic vision that brought Sin­ga­pore, Dubai “and even Mum­bai” into being.

What this trans­lates into is “essen­tial pub­lic infra­struc­ture” such as 24×7 elec­tric­i­ty, immac­u­late wide roads, pub­lic trans­port, malls, mul­ti­plex­es and lux­u­ry hous­ing, includ­ing “Mumbai’s first and only golf-course-equipped res­i­den­tial town­ship”. To make sure that no one tres­pass­es on its immac­u­late pri­vatopia, Pala­va plans to issue its res­i­dents with “smart iden­ti­ty cards”, and will watch over them through a sys­tem of “smart sur­veil­lance”.

The empha­sis on sur­veil­lance under­lines the strat­i­fied, elit­ist nature of smart cities, accord­ing to the aca­d­e­m­ic and author Pramod Nayar. “Smart cities will be heav­i­ly policed spaces,” he says, “where only eli­gi­ble peo­ple – eco­nom­i­cal­ly pro­duc­tive con­sumers (shop­pers) and pro­duc­ers (employ­ees) – will be allowed free­dom of walk­ing and trav­el, while ambi­ent and ubiq­ui­tous sur­veil­lance will be tracked so as to antic­i­pate the ‘anti-socials’.”

As such, Nayar adds, smart cities will be “more fortress­es than places of het­ero­ge­neous human­i­ty, because they are meant only for spe­cif­ic class­es of peo­ple”. One class to be served, the oth­er to be sur­veilled and con­tained.

What a night­mare.

This is the future. And just because this is in India, don’t think it won’t hap­pen where you live some­day. This is the world the finan­cial elite want to build. A world where they can just plow over the lit­tle peo­ple, and build their own opu­lent for­ti­fied cities with pub­lic funds while the starv­ing mass­es live just out­side the gates, in squalor so thick they can nev­er escape. A state with­in a state that has spe­cial rights and priv­i­leges for its mem­bers. This is noth­ing less than a form of high-tech feu­dal­ism, and its com­ing to a town near you.