The Ecotopia 2121 Project details the futures of 100 cities across the globe as though they've somehow become super-ecofriendly. This month, we highlight the future of Mumbai, India.
Mumbai is the largest city in India, possibly the largest in the entire world. Mumbai’s densely-packed, overflowing, chaotic form means the city authorities cannot really keep tabs on how many people there are within it but some say twenty-five million is a good guess—with extra hundreds arriving every day by rail, on tires, or by foot.
To say Mumbai is a city of contrasts is an understatement. Mumbai has an estimated one thousand mega-millionaires living within it as well as an estimated seven million people living in slums and some half million people living in slavery. In some areas, glamorous high-rise towers dominate the scenery, while other areas comprise squalid shantytowns.
Fast-forward to the future: Mumbai 2121 is a designated zone of infotech excellence where IT is cultivated, researched, developed, and then rolled out across each town and city in the nation. This city within a city will go by many monikers, none of them very original: “the City of the Future,” “India’s Smartest City,” or, as Mumbai’s twenty-first-century infotech class like to call it, “Itopia.”
MUMBAI in 2121
To build Itopia, India’s infotech corporations work together with Mumbai’s real estate moguls and construction companies to clear away slums, drain wetlands, and build their ten-square-mile infotech paradise. It is then populated with ambitious IT professionals who get to live and work in a clean and green tree-lined setting and who commute on uncrowded streets in futuristic, self-driven, solar-powered cars.
Really, Mumbai 2121 is not much more than a pristine gated community for tech experts, but like other techno-vanity megaprojects around the nation, Itopia will be promoted as being for all India.
Of course, Itopia will need some 'I-security' features to keep out the poor of Mumbai so the roads and infrastructure don’t get all jammed up and Itopians can work productively in peace and tranquility.
Building Itopia won’t just happen because of a few ideas put forward by visionaries, though. It will be a massively expensive proposition for both public bodies and the private companies involved. There will be generous financial incentives offered to private companies to invest in Itopia, including tax breaks, free state-built infrastructure, and favorable land laws. Apart from all the new inventions and commerce, another rationale for the Indian state to offer support for Itopia will be that it is Green. Not just any kind of Green, mind you; it will be 'Smart Green'.
-'Smart windows' will open and close automatically depending on the prevailing weather conditions. If it is too hot outside, the windows will close. If it is breezy outside, they will open. If the sun is shining brightly, the windows will detect this and become more opaque to keep the Itopians nice and cool inside.
-'Smart fridges' connected to 'smart cookers' will burn just the right amount of gas to make Itopians their favorite dishes 'just the way you like it', though maybe with a bit more Vitamin B added if their 'smart toothbrushes' detect that they were deficient that morning.
-'Smart trash systems' will suck domestic waste through underground chutes, where it will be automatically sorted and recycled, buried, or burned for fuel. These chutes will be connected to all apartment buildings and offices. Consequently, there will be no untidy street-corner trash cans or noisy garbage trucks in Itopia.
-'Smart toilets' in Itopia will know just what you excreted, and they will use the exact right amount of water, not a drop more, to flush it away. 'Smart sewers' will ensure that wastewater in Itopia will hurtle through pipes to recycling plants at a hundred miles per hour, faster than the average Indian train. The pipes will filter what passes through them to divert recyclable elements back to a food production system. Initially, the smart sewers will also send nitrates and phosphates off to fertilize pretty Itopian gardens; however, over time the techies are sure to opine that they’re not that interested in gardens, so they’ll start building even more smart high-tech buildings on top of them.
- 'Smart eco-security' will monitor potential environmental transgressions and alert Mumbai 2121’s “Green cops” to take care of the transgressors.
-'Smart traffic lights' will monitor the city’s self-driving cars and send them along the ideal route.
-'Smart parking' will deploy sensors around the city to monitor when spaces open upand guide cars to the best spots along the most fuel-efficient routes.
All of this will be very utopian for those living within Itopia, but for those outside, it’s another story, because:
-Many Mumbai slum dwellers will not have any kind of toilet, let alone a 'smart' one. They will often be forced to defecate into a bag and then fling it into an alley—a so-called 'flying toilet'.
-Most Mumbai residents won’t have a car, let alone a self-driven one. They will move around the city on foot or by bicycle, both far more eco-friendly than 'smart cars'; nevertheless, they are far more dangerous because of all the motorized traffic they have to contend with.
-Many Mumbai dwellers won’t have regular access to electricity, or plumbing, or a sewage system, or education or training. And for sure, none of these people could ever afford to live in Itopia. Once upon a time, they might have gotten unskilled jobs doing cleaning or recycling for an infotech company, but Itopia will be so 'smart' that even these jobs will be taken over by AI and robots.
-When the Indian government decides to build any kind of new urban techno-project, it usually involves kicking the poor out of some place and knocking down their houses. This will be the fate of those who have to make way for Itopia.
All in all, Indian society is full of various social barriers between the haves and the have-nots, and Itopia will make for yet another.
One good thing, though: this reliance on smart technology will eventually make Itopians so incapable of thinking for themselves, so unused to making decisions, that they might easily be out-thought and overpowered by the millions of slum dwellers and slave workers in Mumbai.