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Water & Sanitation

India’s Ambitious Mission: A New, Sustainable, 'Smart' City by 2019

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If you could build a city from scratch, could you make it perfect?

That’s what Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of the Andhra Pradesh region in India, is hoping to create: a model “smart” city that will one day become a center of global commerce, technology and education.

The city, Amaravati, will be built on what is now just a loose collection of farming villages along the Krishna river in Southeast India. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid its first foundation stone.

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“I want to create a city that will be remembered by people for centuries,” Naidu told the Economic Times. “Amaravati is envisaged to be developed as smart, green and sustainable city.”

Read More: Why It Will Cost $90 Trillion To Combat Climate Change Around the World

The city’s design plan is ambitious and expansive, and is set to be executed by two international firms — Maki & Associates and Suborna Jurong — from Japan and Singapore respectively. The two firms have been tasked by the regional government with designing sustainable infrastructure, including a smart-grid power system and “state-of-the-art” waste management and transportation systems, among other objectives. It will be the new government capital for the Andhra Pradesh region.

To be sure, the city they’ve visualized is utopic. Models presented by the firms portray integrated greenery, riverways and urban spaces, which, Naidu hopes, will entice the foreign investors who will largely drive the city’s construction.

The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), the committee overseeing the capital’s construction, is currently waiting on a $500 million loan from the World Bank, currently pending environmental clearances of the city’s design. The CRDA’s first phase of development will depend on that loan to kickstart construction, which they expect to arrive in April of 2017.

Meanwhile, the core city of Amaravati is expected to be completed by as early as 2019, although construction has not yet begun. But economic excitement in the region has already come to life, even as the large part of construction idles.  

“Prices of land around Amaravati have soared — in some cases four times — following Mr. Naidu’s announcement,” Kondaveeti Srinivas, a real estate agent in the area, told The Hindu newspaper.

And yet, as much as the project has been touted as “smart” and “futuristic,” it’s also been criticized as a “disaster-in-the-making,” especially by environmental activists. Most of their criticisms stem from the region capital’s planned location, which is as much a boon as it could be a challenge: the riverside villages are both flood and earthquake-prone, which would make the city dangerously poised to pollute the Krishna river.

In response, K.T. Ravindran, an architect and urban planner from the CRDA, told environmental critics that “the key is not to resist water but to work with it.” Both he and the city’s planners have expressed faith that new “building technology” will be the work-around for managing the capital’s geography.

Read More: India Will Add 2 New Megacities of 10M People Each By 2030

Amaravati's urban planners are in a unique position to not only end open defecation, which is a massive issue across India (in 2016, 600 million Indians defecate outdoors daily) but also to address how to properly handle its waste. That's why Global Citizen is campaigning, as part of the Global Citizen India Festival on Nov. 19, to make sure it builds a completely sustainable waste-management system. Check back here to see if officials will deliver on that ask.

Which is what critics of the project claim that India should address before they emulate the industrialized urban development of other Asian countries. The criticism is not lost on a country with such a technology-first approach to development; today, according the UN, more Indians have access to a cellphone than to a toilet.

Two such critics, Romi Khosla and Vikram Soni, even submitted an alternative ‘natural’ design for the city, according to Wired. Their blueprint alternates urban and built spaces, irrigates the city with treated wastewater, and ensures “green convention” — which would use cool air in the green spaces to naturally air-condition streets and buildings.

“Asia cannot copy the industrialised countries which have stable cities, landscapes and populations. In Asia there is too much poverty, unemployment and immigration,” they wrote in their report.

They also indicated that, should Amaravati develop into a megacity, its waste and energy usage would be irresponsible.

Administrators on the CRDA have not yet responded to questions for comment from Global Citizen.