Global urban dwellers are expected to reach two thirds of the population by the middle of the century up from about 54percent now. In 1950, urban population comprised just about 29 percent of the total population.
Increasingly the bulk of economic out put is getting concentrated in the world’ cities. The rapid shift from agriculture to manufacturing and services (mostly urban income) has accompanied and facilitated urbanization. Cities have met the needs of these sectors for compact clusters of labour, capital and technology thus aiding efficiency and productivity. Manufacturing has been supported by globally integrated supply chains and services by technology and talent all characteristics of an urban setting.
The numbers of cities will grow with new economic centres emerging and the population in each city will grow too. Global leadership is no more the preserve of New York, London and Tokyo. Cities like Sydney, Bangalore, Toronto and Barcelona will be taking up prominent leadership roles on the global canvass. The newer cities will increasingly count among the voices seeking to be heard. As we go along, cities will becoming increasingly attractive, magnets drawing technology, talent and innovation. At the same time the challenges they face will get magnified-in numbers and in intensity. Among the most pressing challenges cities will encounter are housing, urban mobility, waste management and environment degradation. These will be more acute in the developing world cities. Decades of underinvestment and execution challenges have inhibited development of robust public infrastructure. The problem has been compounded by rapid influx of people into cities, poor awareness levels and weak enforcement of laws. Severe environmental degradation manifested in deteriorating ambient air quality and water pollution are leading local governments to announce drastic measures including closing down schools for a few days to protect children. How cities respond to these and similar challenges will now be the crucial determinant to set apart the winners from the losers, the leaders from the laggards. Cities are not just about roads, buildings and structures. They are about people- city managers, local governments, civil society and indeed the citizen. Each has a role to play in making her city successful and vibrant. While different cities may seek to traverse different paths in their quest to overcome these challenges, innovation and collaboration are likely to become central themes in their approaches. Urban mobility and waste management for example, will need loads of technology and innovation. Participation of citizens is being increasingly sought as is evident in national programmed like Smart Cities Mission in India. Swachh Bharat is seeing exemplary community participation in every city and town.
As urbanization gathers pace, the rapid population influx is straining the ability of cities to meet the demand for services- water, energy, housing, waste management, etc. While cities need to deploy technology and innovation, they will feel the need for significantly enhanced levels of investment. Given the hitherto limited options for raising funds, how urban managers address this issue will place them among the winners or the others. ULBs also need to constantly upgrade skills and capabilities of their functionaries to overcome emerging challenges. We at AIILSG are working with urban several local bodies to enable them meet these significant challenges. Together we are working to build cities that are just, equitable, efficient, sustainable and above all livable.