In this article Jitendra N Bajpai, Adjunct Faculty at Columbia University, New York, and a former Director of the World Bank, takes a broad historical look at the forces that have shaped the planning and designing of New York City from being a small port city in the early 19th century to its present state. He draws lessons for India and envisions a foundation for smart cities. The Modi government’s intent to build 100 smart cities reflects the high priority it attaches to the role of the urban economy in nurturing India’s future growth and improving living conditions in its cities. The available data shows that by 2030, the country will add 250 million new urban residents and its cities will account for almost 70% of India’s GDP. Urban India, will probably find it difficult to keep pace with this kind of change as it continues to reel under pressure to provide affordable housing, basic services and amenities, connectivity and a pollution free environment.