A New Year, New Hope for Cities

As we enter a new year, we always do so with hopes of a better future, healthier, happier and more prosperous. So too with cities. City residents look forward to better times in all aspects of their daily lives in the city.

In the New Year, among various attributes, some could look for more efficient cities. Efficiency, in some ways can be defined as ‘doing more with less’. Looking at the severe service delivery deficits in many of our cities, while improving transparency and accountability, cities also need to work with less or with judicious use of resources. Among resources, fresh water availability is a crucial determinant of the quality of city life. In times to come, galloping urbanization, depleting natural supply sources, unpredictable rainfall patterns due to climate change and environmental degradation, will all combine to pose formidable challenges. Urban local bodies will have to strengthen their efforts for citizen engagement to promote conservation and judicious usage of this precious resource. At the same time, city administrations will be called upon to create adequate infrastructure for recycling and reuse, full metering and cutting non-revenue water. Municipal waste is another area. Sustainable waste management will call for new initiatives to address the supply side, i.e., the generation of waste. Several drives will be required to reduce generation of waste at the household level and for citizens to facilitate increased recycling by segregation and proper disposal of recyclable waste. In addition, manufacturers and trade as well as restaurants and eateries need to participate by adopting more sustainable practices. Manufacturers for example, could adopt more benign packaging material such as glass and metal in place of plastic and other polymers; restaurants could opt for reusable plates, cups and glasses in place of disposable paper and plastic ones. Urban local bodies, on their part, need to create and encourage recycling of waste by investing in infrastructure and technologies
and  incentivizing recyclers through appropriate measures. Rag-pickers form a crucial link in the recycling chain and need to be in the mainstream rather than on the fringes of an informal economy. Energy (power) saving offers another huge opportunity for local bodies in our quest for more sustainable cities. Many cities are switching to LED streetlights and the like. Municipal bodies need to mandate if necessary, several energy saving measures in public as well as private buildings. For example illuminated billboards and other outdoor media are in any case, regulated by municipal bodies. They would do well to build in energy saving into their regulations. In addition to efficiency, cities need to build in inclusivity in their agendas for the future. The needs of the poor and those of women, children and very importantly those of the specially abled need to be incorporated in design and execution of public spaces and the built environment. Such design needs of the specially abled, for instance, have been recognized long ago and made part of ULBs’ building regulations for cities. However implementation has been more modest than robust. Concepts of ‘Universal Design’ and ‘barrier-free access’ need constant reinforcement to enable the specially abled participate in full measure and live a life of dignity and pride. All the above have been part of the urban development discourse for some time now. But as we start a new year with hope for a brighter future, it is time to rededicate ourselves to these principles and move ahead with greater energy and resolve. I take this opportunity to wish our readers, their families and all our well-wishers a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.

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