Bhubaneshwar’s Approach to the CITIIS Challenge

by Seetha Raghupathy, Smritika Srinivasan

Bhubaneswar is one of India’s unique cities where the old temple town with a diverse range of heritage resources rubs shoulders with the modern city designed by Otto Konigsberger. This juxtaposition offers an exciting canvas for planning and design. Building on it, the city has embarked on its next phase of planning and development through the Smart City and CITIIS programs. The CITIIS B-Active (Be Active or Bhubaneswar Active) project places quality of life at the heart of its vision.

Conceived through the lens of a comprehensive public space development approach, the project aims to empower citizens to co-create and manage their neighborhoods and open spaces, revitalize its waterways and streets, reuse its landscapes as productive spaces while reclaiming public spaces for art, cultural and social activities. At its core, B-Active incorporates resilience-based planning across the five assets of streets, water, parks and open space, playgrounds and heritage sites.

To achieve this aspiration, a holistic concept was crafted, resting on three pillars of “Shapers”; physical infrastructure that operates at multiple scales and capitalizes on the city’s assets, “Enablers”; projects or policies that will ensure implementation and “Activators”; smaller interventions which will engender community participation and cohesion.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” -African proverb

Executing a project of this scale and potential impact is a mammoth task. It requires concerted effort and a collaborative mindset. In the initial months of the CITIIS maturation phase, it became amply clear that co-opting implementing agencies that have appropriate technical and manpower resources, such as the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) and the Works Department, would be critical to ensure project success. This was both driven by the fact that the Special Purpose Vehicle (Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited (BSCL)) has limited manpower and technical expertise, as well as the practical challenges of coordinating ongoing efforts across different agencies with the CITIIS project components.

Given the CITIIS program requires a single implementation agency, the team had to adapt and innovate nimbly to ensure that the initiative’s vision was not compromised while adhering to procedural requirements. With this challenge at hand, the team members put on their thinking caps and envisioned a convergence model where BSCL would remain the nodal and implementation agency for the CITIIS project, while collaborating with other agencies, as relevant. Signing a Memorandum of Understanding, figuring out fund flow mechanisms, and making a clear case for this methodology became the team’s preoccupation, even as other CITIIS deliverables continued to get refined. As part of this process, the project components were also streamlined and the project cost was brought down to better align with the overall objectives and intended reach. The alternative thus developed was presented to the Apex Committee which granted permission to proceed.

Bureaucracy, dogmatic procedures and fixed frameworks are often impediments to achieving larger goals in public projects. CITIIS addresses this issue through an innovative approach by introducing a ‘maturation phase’ where projects can be debated, streamlined and refined. Thus, the program breaks new ground by departing from rigid methods and catalyzing new forms of thinking and execution. Through collaboration led by a strong nodal agency, cities can accomplish a lot more compared to when departments work in siloes. It is this fundamental problem that Bhubaneswar’s multi-stakeholder convergence model aspires to address, while on its way to create a sustainable city that places the health of its inhabitants at the forefront. In these times of COVID-19, one cannot but agree that this should be the first priority of any city.

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