This post is by Kyle Gardner, a PhD candidate in International History at the University of Chicago. His research and teaching focus broadly on colonialism, modern South Asia, and the environment.

How do you design a city to meet the needs of India’s unparalleled urbanization? Five IIC Fellows have spent the last eight months working on an answer. 

India is on track to become the world’s most populous country by 2030. Its rapidly changing economy has driven millions to its cities in search of work. But the cities aren’t prepared for them. Poor access to clean water, lack of dependable electricity, insufficient systems of waste disposal, and other infrastructural deficits are as visible as the swelling urban population. 

In light of these problems, the Government of India launched the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) in 2007. DMICDC aims to develop a series of new industrial cities along this corridor (6 cities by 2019 and 24 by 2040). These cities, intended to be hubs of manufacturing, will promote economic development and job growth. DMICDC works with state governments to acquire land in promising sites (by paying farmers and other landowners above market rates for their land).  The central government then matches the value paid for the land by the state. With the land secured, DMICDC begins the work of developing suitable land-use and governance models for the city, planning the necessary trunk-level infrastructure while also formulating strategies for attracting anchor tenants to drive the new city's economy. DMICDC is not just building new cities, but it is creating an innovative model for “smart cities” that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

Like so many Indian government ventures of this sort, DMICDC is a small office with an enormously ambitious mandate. Partnering with the IIC has increased DMICDC’s capacity to move forward on this project. IIC Fellows are primarily working with the DMICDC on the crucial early stages of one project at an earmarked site to the east of Delhi: the Dadri-Noida-Ghaziabad Investment Region. The Fellows’ major task has been to design the marketing campaign for attracting an anchor tenant for a city projected to provide job opportunities and residential space for over 100,000 people. In tackling this one central task the IIC team has also delved into an array of pre-requisites to more effectively market this smarter city to potential investors: e-governance, land monetization, and the legal means to cut through India’s infamous red-tape. The Fellows have also contributed to the development of a second city in Gujarat.

Beginning last summer the IIC Fellows underwent an intensive 5-week training split between Chicago and Delhi. The courses covered everything from public policy to “design thinking,” a seminar on strategies for tackling really big problems. Arriving at DMICDC in the late summer 2014, the team of IIC Fellows quickly set to work catching up on the status of the project.  They read through stacks of prefeasibility reports and early rounds of feedback from consultants. Then they began work on the marketing campaign. The team’s diverse educational backgrounds—ranging from biology and economics to architecture and design—have provided them with the ability to divide the workload and approach their project from a variety of technical angles, while working on the multiple timescales required for an endeavor of this magnitude.  

The team’s first five months focused on the legal aspects of city planning, crafting a “single window clearance system” that would increase the ease of doing business. They aim to offer prospective investors a one-stop process for collecting the dizzying assortment of permits required for setting up shop in the city. Instead of working to change the laws—a Sisyphean task in a heavily bureaucratized country like India—the IIC-DMICDC team decided it would be more viable to streamline the existing process for investors within the existing system.

The marketing campaign they are crafting is designed to attract high net worth companies in a diverse range of industries, including biotech, high-tech, R&D, and I.T.  The plan is to first find an anchor tenant who will draw small and medium enterprises. While that initial company may be producing semiconductors, vaccines, or solar panels, the city will also need teachers for its schools, nurses and doctors for its hospitals, and merchants for its shops. Located at the nexus of two of India’s main freight corridors, it aims to be both a commercially competitive city and welcoming place to live.

The plans for physical infrastructure will keep these social aspects in mind. The team has drawn valuable lessons from Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi that has grown well beyond its projected size, though without the necessary trunk-level infrastructure. Part of the marketing campaign is a guarantee for 24-hour power. Initially this guarantee will be delivered through conventional backup power, but the DMICDC team is also working in tandem with another IIC project, CEL, to build renewable energy sources into that system.

The Dadri-Noida-Ghaziabad Investment Region is projected to become home to hundreds of thousands of people who will be directly employed there. It’s only fallow farmland now, but the IIC team is confident that it will become an example of the kind of smarter city that India sorely needs.