If you want to know what a smart city really means, look no farther than the city that is No 3 on the list released by Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday: Jaipur, the Pink City of India.
First, a brief history of Jaipur. The city was built from scratch by Kachchawah ruler Sawai Jai Singh, after whom it is named. The Kachchawahs are believed to be descendants of Kush — son of Lord Rama — and they were forced to look for a new kingdom in the 9th century because of some palace intrigues in the clan.
They first settled around the hills of Amber, a few km from Jaipur, and built up a large empire. In 1727, Jai Singh, an ally of the Mughals, felt the need for a smart, modern city and thus laid the foundation of a new capital.
This is why the city was smart.
(All photos are courtesy Dept of Information and Public Relations, Govt of Rajasthan)
Open, green spaces: Jai Singh, an avid student of astronomy, planned it to perfection. The city was built on the principle of nine squares — a quadrilateral divided by four parallel lines, two each in every direction— with a huge open space in the centre. (Some believe it was his idea of having eight planets around the Sun.) Even today, the city's biggest square, Badi Chaupad, and biggest park, Ram Niwas garden, are in the area left open by Jai Singh.
Ease of access: The nine-squares were interconnected with wide roads criss-crossing at right angles. Even today, you can reach the centre of the city from almost anywhere within 20 minutes. And some of the roads planned by the kings then are still among the widest.
Pedestrian friendly: There were huge verandahs in front of markets for shoppers to walk in the shade (think Connaught Place).
Homogeneity and conviviality: Almost all markets looked similar because of restriction on construction — only one floor was allowed — and colour, a sight that led to its current reputation of India's Pink City. Unlike Chandigarh, where there are huge markets in almost every sector, Jai Singh allowed shops only in the Centre of the city. This ensured people don't remain confined to just a few pockets and interact regularly.
If Jai Singh were to find a way of returning to the city today, he would find it difficult to recognise it.
One, the trademark pink is gone, especially in areas outside the Walled City. It is now a mishmash of colours that make it look like any other Indian ghetto littered with solid waste and garbage.
Two, the open spaces have almost disappeared. Apart from the parks built by the royals or the open areas left behind by them, the city resembles a concrete jungle.
The parks designed by the new urban planners are small, congested and have no space for children to play.
Three, the homogeneity and conviviality of a well-planned city have gone. Illegal markets have sprung up in residential areas, turning them into cocoons from which people do not step out.
Four, it is impossible to walk. The city that once gave pedestrians first right to roads has become dangerous for walking, or even cycling.
Five, the roads are congested because of complete absence of public transport. The city has a Metro train, but it runs almost empty in the absence of last-mile connectivity to stations and the pathetic condition of city buses, which people hate to use.
The challenge for the government would now be this: Turn back the clock and turn Jaipur into what it was once – A Smart City.