As cities move beyond their roles as economic and livelihood centers and turn towards becoming‘livable’and ‘sustainable’, they need to address multi-faceted urban challenges-housing, mobility, congestion, and pollution among others. And they need to do this in an inclusive manner keeping in mind the needs of all sections.
“Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo”, said Desmond Morris, the popular author of human sociobiology.He clearly looked at cities differently from what the world has till now. He seems to look at it in terms of livability rather than just buildings and infrastructure.
For many decades now we have been seeing cities and classifying them more or less, based on size and that too the size of the population. This population-based nomenclature also defined the kind of administration that the city had and continues to have, for example, smaller towns have the Nagar panchayat, bigger ones have the municipal council and even bigger ones the municipal corporation. And finally, when the cities turn into a large agglomeration of settlements in close proximity having a similar character, we have an administration like the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), where development plans take into account more than one corporation area.
Alongside this classification, there has existed a parallel, different kind of typology, one which is defined by the dominant economic and social character of the city. Thus cities came to be known as ‘Industrial City’ as is the case with Faridabad, Manesar and some other towns and cities in the NCR as also Ludhiana in Punjab and Chennai in the South. The predominant economic driver of the place became its defining character and helped shape its personality. One could visualize the hustle and bustle of an industrial town with trucks and trailers occupying large portions of the road space and unfortunately a not too healthy environment-polluted air and water and compromised quality of life. Then we had the ‘Financial Capital’. Typically Mumbai has occupied the pole position in this category for many decades since the dying down of textile manufacturing. Here one would expect the same hustle and bustle except with more well-heeled citizens occupying the spaces. We could also see high-density workplaces and residential colonies with high rise office buildings as is typical in Nariman Point in the City. Since the last couple of decades, we now have the ‘IT City’ or the ‘Knowledge City’, typically cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad and more recently Gurgaon in the NCR. Then there are the cities which have a little of all. Take, for example, Pune. The City has a thriving automobile manufacturing ecosystem thus making it an ‘Industrial City’. It also has large IT parks housing some of the top names in the sector, giving it the label of ‘IT City’. These nomenclatures are dynamic though. We have seen in the last four to five decades itself, cities metamorphose into new ones. Pune, for example, was still the early seventies purely a ‘Pensioners’ Paradise’ with its salubrious climate, scenic beauty of the hills and easy paced life. All this changed in the early seventies with the arrival of large automotive manufacturing companies and the resulting sprawl of a huge vendor base. Bangalore was just a ‘Garden City’ and a vacation destination. Delhi and the surroundings were known simply as the seat of power with the political capital there. It also served as a gateway to the country with international air connectivity. Industrial cities in those times were Calcutta from the pre-independence era and towns like Jamshedpur. We also had nomenclature like ‘Oxford of the East’, ‘Steel City’, ‘Temple Town’, ‘Diamond City’ and tourism Hub’. In most cases, the nomenclature represented the main economic driver of the town or city. In this period, the economy or livelihood represented the main concern of citizens and administrators. Cities vied with each other to leverage their key competitive strengths in order to attract capital and talent and thus occupy leadership positions in their respective areas. And in turn attract further investment, and talent.
As we moved into the new Millennium, there came a realization that there is more to life than economic considerations and securing livelihoods alone. Cities remain the hubs of economic activity accounting for over 80 percent of global economic output and this concentration will continue. By 2050, over two-thirds of the human population will reside in cities. However, the superior economic profile of a city alone will not place it among the ‘successful’ cities. As cities grapple with the multi-faceted urban challenges of congestion, service delivery, mobility, waste management and pollution, it is only those which overcome these challenges effectively that will qualify as ‘good’ cities. City managers and urbanists will need to leverage technology and innovation to enable cities to meet these challenges and emerge as winners. It is only such cities that will attract technology, capital, talent, and innovation and thus put in place a virtuous cycle of investment, development, and prosperity.
In line with this aspiration we now have global rankings like ‘Most Livable City’, a recognition the City of Melbourne won in 2017 for the 7th year in a row in an Economist Intelligence Unit ranking which assessed stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Another ranking in 2016 by Arcadis, a design and consultancy firm, and the Centre for Economic and Business Research ranked the world’s ‘Most Sustainable Cities’. The ranking was done in three dimensions- social, environmental and economic. Zurich and Singapore occupied the top two positions. Healthcare, environment, and security are some parameters which are likely to figure in any assessment of cities in times to come. Cities will increasingly need to become ‘sustainable’ in their efforts to become sought-after destinations. How the city uses energy, for example, with maximum recourse to renewable sources and minimizes global warming will add to the sustainability quotient. Urban mobility is a big challenge in all cities of the developed and developing worlds. How city managers innovate to promote the use of public transport options and develop mass rapid transit systems will determine congestion and emissions. Waste management is a huge problem characteristic of cities of all economic profiles. This also manifests itself in the form of environmental degradation (plastic contamination of oceans for example). While the developed world cities have better systems to ‘manage’ the problem, the creation of waste, per capita is much larger in these cities. Successful cities will be those that move beyond ‘managing’ waste to ‘reducing waste’. Going forward, security of citizens will also be a crucial determinant of the success of any city. Populations will increasingly use a city’s security as a measure of its livability to decide on locating there. Deployment of technological aids could help in better policing and crime prevention. Above all, cities will need to address economic disparity and work towards inclusivity in order to become attractive to a wide spectrum of potential dwellers. Cities will no more be ranked by glitz and glamour alone. It is important that cities become attractive destinations for all, not just the social, economic elite. Affordable housing, effective service delivery, viable alternate public transportation options, educational infrastructure, leisure options and healthcare amenities are all very crucial in making a city livable. The city will need to craft solutions to meet these needs of all-especially the poor, the elderly, women, the differently abled and children.And they need to do all this while remaining the economic powerhouses and providing livelihoods. Then we can truly have cities that are ‘For Everyone’.