Smart Neighborhoods

I am certain that since the time Modi-wave swept past a ‘aam aadmi’ movement to sideline a government that had held reins of power in India for most part since independence, our common man buoyed upon a social media world is getting smarter, more involved, more aware than ever before to choose, elect, praise and critique leaderships but do we all act with propriety when faced with day to day challenges around our own homes?

Satellite cities around our metros are giving way to smart cities. Environment and Climate Change is now a name of a  Ministry, Renewable Energy is a sector where India actually dominates in some areas, ‘cleanliness’ is a national campaign and men doing house work as wives go to work is an acceptable situation. But the unmanageable increase in motor vehicles, inadequacy of infrastructure to hold the boom times is pitiful and we come home or reach our office with anger, abuses and what not more times than ever before.

My colony was to have RWA elections recently and what I present are some lessons from this otherwise annual exercise which till now, I just let pass. In case you don’t know, it stands for your local ‘welfare association’ but if you are a modern household you might say “man, if I meet my wife and kids adequately I am lucky”. So you might have missed out on your RWA.

But to think what you could contribute to your locality’s welfare might be a sensible idea if you wish to be safe and healthy in daily living too. RWA’s were for supposed to be for retired old people, which I almost am; except that our generations now do not retire at 55 or 60 and if ‘senior citizen should be 60 or 65 has also become debatable as more Indian people are catching the Volvo buses to see overseas cities as the white people who used to throng India gate and Chandni Chowk and the local gyms are running overtime.

But seriously, what do we have in stake with our immediate neighborhood that never was before? So this is what I am learning from this RWA election time. Posters, door-to-door is passe. For the first time, a ‘whatsapp group’ was started. But in the very first hour majority of comments came like “How dare you put me in this group without my permission” and somebody pressed the button and “left”. One of the ‘teams’ contesting the election put up a poster and more left, “This is politics, cheating and self-advertising” said many and they left. Whoever was the administrator he added more; then more left. Finally all teams were allowed to put up ads, so more added and more left.

Anyway, with the IPL going on; this was more exciting and as the language turned crass and gross, I thought I must join; the age old competitive corporate honcho in me did my diplomatic best not to side with any team. But hey, I was learning how masses think and then watching the fantastic levelling of ideas to  the “left” people reducing and administrator adding many now and then – it is coming as a revelation how much we can achieve if we dare to just get into the ‘system’ of having a say in our surroundings. I was seeing this process of debate and development go on and I have seen (‘heard’ is better) both in past – people doing good for the colony and then the system’s own goons of self-fulfilment.

So, with this logic; now as a infrastructure consultant I had been following some seminars and reading about “smart cities”, clean water & sanitation and having spent much time in Africa even for issues of gender disparities. But here I suddenly see a whole new opportunity in disparities that are more immediate to warrant a new age of “smart neighborhoods”. Well, this is a fairly elite colony beyond the choicest of words for opposing teams that I am seeing on ‘whatsapp’; so there lies a logic in its economics too.

But to cut across the story, what is it that we can contribute to the neighborhood and the neighborhood to us? Here are some points that I can see emerging from the 24×7 comments coming now that they seem to have let all have a say and mind you the young, women and intellectuals are in good numbers.

AWARENESS: You may be receiving RWA newsletters and information along with your rolled newspaper in morning. Even if you do not read it normally, keep at least a leaflet with contacts of RWA active members stuck to your refrigerator notice board. If you notice things that bother you – suspect movements, choked drains, water issues, etc. note it on Android notepad or send it to your specific area or lane representative as a paper note on way to office.

SMART RWAs: A social media group like “whatsapp” is a modern necessity but take care that jokes, lame forwards, business adverts and anything abusive or derogatory should be strictly banned and the person, after a warning, should be removed. Keep the good old register of complaints and files; but sir, times are that you ought to boost it with digital diaries with categorized logs which an IT youngster in neighborhood can easily design as contribution and a team member can maintain; all these at a dedicated office with timings of physical presence of attendant.

SMART HOMEOWNERS: Install CCTVs and inform RWAs, who must keep log of who has installed where. A GPRS plot can easily be created on webapp or procurable software to map location of the CCTVs of government and homeowners. This will help in solving criminal and other activities. Plotting troubled areas will be an advantage. Make sure servant details are kept and shared with RWA if not the police. Keep a hired security if you can or smarten up your main door operation at least to whatever is affordable technology and check weekly. You can store info on ‘cloudspace’ as well.

SMART POLICING: Each individual is police, but do not do that to extent of being a peeping Tommy. There is no point cursing abuses when you cannot take car past point where double or triple parking, like around general stores, paan shops, etc.; if it is really repetitive, log it with RWA digitally and take a walk on Sunday to verify if your messages actually get logged.

RWA’s SMARTOFFICE: Initially people will flood you with odd complaints and you might go nuts, there is very good chance that if you actually send a few replies and solve a few the deluge will trickle to something reasonable – so importantly HAVE FAITH in your neighbors, all are not worst enemies you think they might be. Also, you need not address each issue immediately. Instead categorise, prioritize, put through for weekly or monthly meetings depending on level of urgency. Hence I mooted for digital logging that is indexed as a decision making tool. Now, these are not expensive set-ups; but like any office these are a standard, need regular attention and some passion ‘to serve’ – so just wake up to this reality of times!

SMART LEADERSHIP: A colony where everybody is muscle and don will be a non-starter to be risk and damage-free. So treat this like another office of trust but remember that since all are volunteers, you cannot shout and throw out anybody from his job; so your big daddying will be for nothing. Humour, a few tea parties with biscuits by RWA brass here and there are fine but refrain from big time parties where barbecue smell goes beyond your house as again – people will point fingers and you lose face for just your large heartedness. Instead visit the aged, intellectuals, professionals within locality than professionals out of your business or workplace for advice, record keeping, etc. This is the art and ability of good leaders to make their own locality see you as humble servicing individuals and please….you are not a politician or civil servant; but truly passionate and concerned for safe & happy living around your responsibility.

This is not an exhaustive essay on the subject and there is a lot more that each one of us has and we all, with our freedom with social media, familiarity with technology and social networking around our place of abode can make our lives safer, simpler, less accusative, less abusive, less controversial and it will be this HABIT that will make us better in our professions too and as human beings, citizens of our country.

So, all the best for your “smart neighborhood”

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