City leaders align local actions with global agendas, people’s aspirations

As we bid farewell to 2018 and look back, we would see, like every passing year, cities have changed and so have their agendas. Cities have become the predominant living and working environment of humanity, and for this reason, improving livability or quality of life in cities has become crucial. City leaders are bracing up to align their actions with the objectives under various global agendas and citizens’ aspirations

With the general elections approaching, all the ministries of the central government are preparing their progress report to underline their achievements. A range of issues related to improving service delivery of local governments and urban infrastructure was at the centre of governments’ policy and programme-making. This resulted in creating a few new flagship schemes for cities and introducing some other running programs with renewed focus. Since the end of the term of this government is inching closer, it is time to review how good the government has performed, especially in the urban sector. The flagship scheme of Government of India, Smart Cities Mission, remained a talking point. The concept was excellent for improving livability in cities but the progress is not yet visible on the ground in any of 100 cities selected.
The progress made under the program is debatable but one thing it has undoubtedly achieved is creating an atmosphere of visionary development in cities with integration and digitization of services, and building cities of the future for coming generations. Many schemes of the government including Smart Cities Mission focused on creating a competitive environment among cities. The most recent one was Ease of Living Index initiated by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The index ranked cities based on various performance indicators. This component was also part of Swachh Bharat and Smart Cities Mission under which cities were ranked. I am sure, such policy decision will strengthen local governments and benefits citizens because, through these initiatives, cities are encouraging citizens to become more closely involved in the development process. People had actively participated to underline their priorities and give their opinion on the performance of their city governments.

Global outlook

Cities worldwide in the year 2018 focused their actions to align their programs with global agendas. The wave of smart cities has engulfed many cities including those in developing countries. The objectives under most of the global agendas have been weaved keeping in mind the requirements of the cities. Now, leadership at the city level are improving their civic services, infrastructure and competing with their counterparts, and also contributing their bit to create a better urban future as envisaged in New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The challenges for the cities are many. Over 100 million people are homeless and 881 million people live in informal settlements and slums. Daily trips via public transport currently only account for about 16% of the daily urban movement. Up to two billion people do not have access to the solid waste collection. 91% of the urban population still breathed air that did not meet the WHO’s Air Quality Guidelines value for particulate matter (PM 2.5). The data highlight that the problems of most of the urban dwellers are common. Cities in different regions and countries need to devise their own unique ways to address them because their strengths and available resources differ.

Technological interventions

City governments around the world are embedding Internet of Things (IoT), automation, robotics and other advanced technologies to create ‘smart’ cities, which are designed to improve efficiency and quality of life through data and technology. Smart cities integrate technology into urban infrastructure, usually to improve sustainability, maximise efficiency and minimise energy usage.
According to a news report published in Forbes magazine, global smart city spending will reach USD 34.35 billion, more than double the 2015 spending of USD 14.85 billion. With so many potential areas for improvement through advanced technological options, government leaders need to prioritize the projects that will do the most good. There are several components under smart cities program which promise better cities for citizens yet the local governments need not blindly follow the models of cities like Barcelona, Seoul and Singapore. The review of local conditions for the suitability of programs and the priorities of cities is needed.

Increasing role of LGAs

The role of local governments and city leaders is becoming increasingly important to address local problems and deliver services which match the aspirations of the local citizenry. For this, the empowerment of city mayors and local governments is crucial. Mayors are emerging as focal points in the intergovernmental context as they consistently demonstrate the capacity and willingness to solve complex problems that are shaped by local realities and have broad national implications. The increasing role of local government associations provides them with a platform to share their learnings and seek inspiration.
All India Institute of Local Self-Government is also trying to build a robust platform for city mayors in India and link them with its associate partners in Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States of America so that city leaders can talk about their issues and take cues from their counterparts for better city management in specific areas. AIILSG has been organizing South Asian Mayors’ Forum and also hosting Maharashtra Mayors Council for last several years. Now, we have decided to widen our horizon and build a platform for all mayors around the world through World Mayors Forum. The official launch of the Forum will happen in January 2020 and the work on the same has already begun.

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