Karuna Gopal. President of Futuristic Cities

Karuna Gopal

It is an honor for SC Actual Smart City to be able to display the views of one of the world´s women involved in the development of cities. Karuna Gopal is a great example and role to follow for Indians and for the rest of the planet, where she has also implemented projects, always lead by a heart determined to change the world.

SCASC.- What is the Vision and Mission of Foundation for Futuristic Cities?

KG.- We have a compelling vision "Vibrant Cities for a Vibrant Economy". It helps us innovate constantly to make Indian Cities Sustainable and Global. City Visioning, City Development Strategies, E-Governance Implementation, Big Data Analytics, Knowledge Products for Urban Transformation are our forte

SCASC.- How did your organization contribute to making Indian cities livable? Tell us about one landmark initiative…

KG.- Based on the Theme ‘Vibrant Cities for Vibrant Economy’, we at FFC wanted to create an ecosystem to accelerate ‘Public Private People Partnership’ for livable cities. We knew that Indian cities needed more than just city development plans and capital investments. JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Renewal Mission, a flagship program of Government of India, launched by the Prime Minister in 2005) did inject adrenaline into the Indian urban system, but this mammoth programme was not adequately propped by collective action.

In September 2009, we launched ‘Citizens for City’ in Hyderabad- a contest that sought strategies for transforming the city.

We pioneered this initiative and piloted it in Hyderabad. As it is scalable and replicable, other indian cities can use the format. We wanted every corporate house to align its CSR goals towards city development. I thought it is a wonderful way to demonstrate their commitment to the triple bottomline while making their host cities livable. In fact, we have recently published a knowledge product and guidance document, SCULPT YOUR CITY.

If asked to pick any five areas in urban development that need to be changed for the country’s betterment, what would your choice be, and why?

  1. Indian Cities need Visions! We need city visions not just aster plans. Master plans are mere spatial plans. Visions should necessarily articulate economic development, environmental and equity outcomes for a city. They have to be collective visions.
  2. Cities have to be co-created: I strongly believe that we have to co-create cities in India. The government, the private sector and civil society together have to architect their growth. All world cities were built on a healthy partnership between the government and citizens. Cities become vulnerable if citizens stay out of the game. Tell me, can any business house succeed if the city itself fails?
  3. Infrastructure investments have to prioritized based on city needs: we need to go beyond mere global approaches for investments or blanket plans for metros.
  4. Technologies have to be leveraged to make Indian cities livable and sustainable: Paris, a technology laggard for years, is a fully wired city now. South Korea’s smart city plan is commendable. A small country like Croatia tucked away in Eastern Europe is further ahead of us in technology absorption.
  5. Private investments in water supply and sanitation services: if PPPs are restricted to just swanky airports flyovers and roads, how can we have equitable growth and development?


SCASC.- What is Citizens for City?

KG.- We at FFC are completely convinced that cities can be REVITALIZED only if there are more hearts that resonate to the city’s needs, more minds that meditate on the solutions and more hands that shape the contours of development.

In September 2009, we launched “Citizens for City” at Hyderabad. We appealed to the citizens of Hyderabad to join us in architecting the city’s future. We coaxed them to come forward with their ideas. We cajoled them to contribute strategies. “Let’s make Hyderabad a World Class City” – we urged.
Consumed by an overwhelming desire to act we launched “Citizens for City” – a contest that sought strategies for transforming Hyderabad.



KG.- We have conceptualized “Citizens for City” at a time when India is furiously urbanizing. Poised to contribute 70% of the nation’s GDP, the promising Indian urban system is paradoxically slipping into urban decay. Versatile but vulnerable, Indian cities are victims of a chaotic and unplanned growth.

We knew that Indian cities needed more than just City Development Plans and Capital Investments. JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) did give a jab of adrenalin to the Indian urban system but this mammoth program was not adequately propped by collective action.


SCASC.- How was the Journey?

KG.- It was a rough ride to say the least…

Just like in any lofty human endeavor, our optimism was put to test. Calls and mails came, both congratulatory and condescending. Many said that Indian cities were irreparable–we deliberately quarantined pessimism.

Skeptics became sponsors as we went along. But the path taken was not meant to be smooth...

Our journey was punctuated by events that threatened to make our initiative appear irrelevant, impossible and even implausible. Even as we were preparing to launch our initiative, Dr.Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh passed away in a helicopter crash. Immediately after the launch, our state was ravaged by furious and ferocious floods, and just when we were gaining momentum there came a spate of agitations and bandhs, for state bifurcation. All these unfortunate events and the current state of turbulence in Andhra Pradesh could not stop this “Powerful Vehicle for Change”.

More than 100 organizations participated – Scientists, IT professionals, Business leaders, Professors and Students stepped in as city angels. Winning, it seemed was secondary to the spirit of participation...GE, INFOSYS, Deloitte, ADP, Honeywell, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), IIIT (International Institute of Information Technology), NIN (National Institute of Nutrition), ISB (Indian School of Business) are some who adorned the roster...


SCASC.- What is Sculpt your City?

KG.- It is a knowledge product and a guidance document for co-creating Indian cities. This publication speaks of citizen’s willingness to stop playing critics and their readiness to partner the government for creating livable cities. This publication has 21 strategies to make indian cities livable

It shows a picture of what citizens can do - color it or crop it. Here’s a tool to transform your city –reconfigure it to suit your vision.

The strategies may not match the robustness of technical documents but they are contemporary, topical and fraught with ideas to bridge the last mile connectivity issues that most Indian cities have. The participants may not have mastered the law and language of the city management. They may not be totally aware of the chinks in the governance framework or the cross cutting issues in managing a large metropolitan city, but their solutions have the potential to add a rare panache to city governance.


SCASC.- How did the City Government respond?

KG.- As our intent was to incorporate knowledge and wisdom of citizens into policy, key agencies like HMDA, GHMC, HMWSSB, Department of tourism, HMR and APSRTC too partnered. Most of the strategies are being taken up for implementation. Our initiative is scalable and replicable. We wish that it could scale out to other JNNURM Mission cities.

Here are few glimpses of our Strategies that are being implemented in Hyderabad and 7 more cities in India.

SCASC.- What are your future plans?

KG.- My next initiative is COPORATE FOR CITIES which will be launched next month. The initiative is based on the premise that companies need healthy cities to provide reliable infrastructure, an educated and vital workforce, a vibrant economy, and a safe and secure environment to survive and thrive. Cities, of course, need business as an economic driver. As such, the sustainability of cities and business are inextricably linked. This is the rationale behind CORPORATES FOR CITIES.


The global woman

Karuna GopalKaruna Gopal is the President of Foundation for Futuristic Cities. FFC has been influencing Urban Transformation in India through Policy Advisory services - based on the Vision “ Vibrant Cities for a Vibrant Economy " has been working towards making Indian Cities Sustainable and Global.

City Branding, Institutional Reforms, E-Governance Implementation, developing Knowledge Products for Urban Transformation being it’s forte , FFC worked with several JNNURM (a flagship program of GOI, launched by the Prime Minister in 2005 ) Mission cities in India . Ms Gopal was associated with the city development and reform projects of DFID (UK), USAID and the World Bank

Currently her organization is exploring application of BIG DATA Analytics for Sustainable Cities - An IT evangelist Karuna explored application of Smart Technologies with key officials of Federal Departments in USA and leaders from 15 other countries.

She lectures at top business schools like ISB , IIM (A), taught courses to policy makers and senior IAS officers at ASCI / WBI (World Bank Institute) and CGG( Center for Good Governance) - A sought after Keynote speaker / Chair at Conferences, she has been invited to address conferences in Paris, Singapore, Shanghai and Sweden including the top global forum in France popularly known as " DAVOS for WOMEN" .

Poet, Artist and a prolific writer whose articles are incorporated into Parliamentary Documentation of Lok Sabha, Ms. Gopal is the recipient of “Woman Leader” and “Woman Innovator” Awards…

She is on the illustrious panel of International Jury for Intelligent City Awards ( Intelligent Community Forum - New York) . She is also a member of the official team forging a Sister State Partnership between Washington State and AP.

Ms. Gopal is a member of the Chief Minister’s Advisory Council of Andhra Pradesh. An alumnus of US Department of State, she participated in a Leadership Program of US Government meant for Foreign Leaders.

You can see more about it www.futurecities.org

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