Reflections from UK-India Joint Network on Sustainable Cities and Urbanisation in India “City level workshop on Chennai Urban Observatory” 9th -10th Nov 2016, Chennai, India


The City level workshop on Chennai Urban Observatory was organised as part of the UK-India Joint Network on Sustainable Cities and Urbanisation in India and held on 9-10 November 2016 at Taj Club House in Chennai., India The main objective of this workshop was to bring together academia, government organisations, NGOs, industry representatives to discuss ideas and to develop a framework for Urban Observatories relevant to Chennai and was held as part of the 5th Anniversary for Sustainable Chennai Forum . The theme of the event was Chennai as a Global City.

The RCUK funded SMARt ciTIES  is lead by Professor Michele Clarke (University of Nottingham) and Dr. Ajith Kaliyath (National Institute of Urban Affairs, India) brings together a consortium of multidisciplinary, international researchers with expertise spanning education and social science, cultural heritage and urban planning, science and engineering, ecology and environmental sciences and information technology to develop new collaborative solutions to the multi-layered challenges of rapid urbanisation. The Network includes leading urban researchers from University of Nottingham, University of Birmingham, University of Southampton, Bishop Grosseteste University College, Loughborough University, Northumbria University, Nottingham Trent University  and University of Surrey from the UK. From India there are urban researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru University, IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Roorkee, Indian Institute of Population Studies Mumbai, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research Mumbai, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai from India.

The workshop started with welcome address given by Mr Ram Venkataramani, President Madras Chamber of Commerce (MCCI). In the Inaugural session , Dr Ajith Kaliyath (Indian Principal Investigator, NIUA) highlighted the fact that Chennai is one of India’s smart cities and Chennai is now linked with other local, regional, national and international city sites. Prof. Michele Clarke (UK Principal Investigator, University of Nottingham) gave the context of the joint network model . She also highlighted the need for multidisciplinary approach for sustainable development (Fig 1).



Fig 1 – Inaugural session of workshop on Chennai Urban Observatory

The Inaugural session had keynote address on “Visioning Chennai as a Global city” by Dharmendra Yadav (Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Development Department and Vice Chair CMDA Chennai) . Mr Yadav highlighted that Urban growth in India is enormous and so are the challenges. This was followed by thematic session on Chennai as a global city with presentations on “the Role of Trade, Industry and Government” by Dr. Vijay Pingale (Joint Secretary, Industries Department, Government of Tamil Nadu) . In his presentation on  “Socio-economics dynamics in the city” Raghuttama Rao, (Managing Director IMACS) highlighted that Tamil Naidu economy is the second biggest in India by GDP with Chennai representing only 20% of the total. Chennai is the fourth largest metropolitan area in India. This was followed by presentations on “Making cities efficient and liveable” by K. Venugopal (Director, Kasturi and Sons) ,  “Data to intelligence” with examples from UK and India from Suchith Anand ( University of Nottingham) and presentation on “Human and material mobility” by Gitakrishnan Ramadurai (Department of civil engineering, IITM).

In the afternoon session on 9th November focused on “building a roadmap to how we can achieve a road map to a sustainable, affordable urban observatory that provide data you need.” Professor Michèle Clarke (University of Nottingham) set the scene by her short presentation on “Smart Cities: two contrasting examples from Britain” . The examples shown were Bristol and Newcastle both of which are port cities and share some characteristics with Chennai. Both have set out to create data to better understand their city. The Newcastle smart city web site is hosted by the University of Newcastle in collaboration with the city council and other city stakeholders – ‘ScienceCentral’. The Newcastle system is pragmatic in its use of existing data (including citizen science e.g. weather observers). The system makes little use of social data – although it has the potential to include in the future. There is a need to have a discussion about the use of data type and how these might best help citizens manage their business and social lives. The Newcastle web site is developing all the time as extra data is being added to the site. The Newcastle example provide a good way to start any smart city project but its long term future is unclear i.e. its funding basis is not clear. It’s important to have contractual agreement with all those providing data. The system also offers scenario modelling possibilities for traffic, energy, flooding and other critical pathways. The Bristol model is different in that the City Council is hosting the data/web server and is the main driver. The city centre has a square mile of 5 MG Wi-Fi which is hoped will allow people and infrastructure to exchange data in real time anywhere within the city centre. The system has clear privacy protocols. Both are two different systems but are science driven; Council and Universities working in collaboration with involvement of wider stakeholders.

This was followed by presentation from A. Shankar (National Direct Head – Strategic Consulting, Urban Solutions, JLL) who gave an overview of Chennai Smart City proposal followed by Chennai master plan by Mr Shivshanmugam (Member and Chief Planner, CMDA Chennai). These presentations brought together sharing of research and ideas to set the scene for specific discussion on topics on Challenges of global cities, Role of technology in governance, Institutional ecosystem and need for capacity building.



Fig 2 – Group discussions at workshop on Chennai Urban Observatory

On 10th November (day two) there was presentations on Knowing matters; doing delivers (RV) , Data to actionable intelligence ( Professor Michèle Clarke, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham). Michele highlighted the importance of open source data and the need for multi-disciplinary approaches to smart city data generation. Open data can be generated and shared freely to enhance confidence in the policy making process. This was followed by presentation from Professor Sudhir Chella Rajan ( Department of Humanities and Social Science, IITM, Chennai) on Conceptual Foundations of the Urban Observatory in which he highlighted that periurbanisation of Indian cites has seen a massive increase in recent years – New Bombay, New Calcutta. He highlighted the need for establishing ‘urban labs’ to better understand the middle space between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’.

This was followed by group discussions key topics on Opportunities under Smart City, Chennai, Data needs for Chennai Observatory, Enabling citizen engagement and Establishing global network.



Fig 3 : Presentation to High level panel at workshop on Chennai Urban Observatory

All groups presented their summary to the whole team and their inputs were included in the High level panel presentation done by Dr Ajith Kaliyath, (Indian Principal Investigator, UK India Joint Network on Sustainable Cities.)

The outcomes of the discussions from the two days was presented by Ajith Kaliyath . Ajith highlighted the wider context; local context ( the sustainable Chennai forum) and the need for Chennai Urban Observatory and its objectives. The key stakeholders were identified i.e the chamber of commerce, academia, community and government (Fig 4) and also the key data needs for the observatory (Fig 5);










Fig 4 – Stakeholder groups of CUO










Fig 5 – Key data for CUA

The presentation to the High level panel also outlined the expected outputs/impacts; critical pathways; work packages (WP1 – WP8); sustainability and long term aspects for example, Key platform based on Web based free and open source Geospatial mapping to ensure low investment and operation costs, options for customisation and long term scalability; legal and institutionalisation; the way forward and future funding ideas.

High level panel provided feedback that this project is very important and highlighted that if the project is to succeed it needs a technical secretariat to make things happen. The secretariat mush be full time and use government, universities and university students (through projects) to collect and organise the data. The workshop concluded with Vote of thanks from Gayathri Sriram ( Vice President Madras Chamber of Commerce (MCCI).

We thank all participants for their active contributions for the success of this workshop. Special thanks to Ajith and Michele for their efforts and leadership in this. We look forward to building up more ideas and collaborations for our future workshops later this year in India to further expand ideas on Urban Observatories relevant to the needs of Indian cities.



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