Designing cities for the future

By 2050, India would have added 416 million urban dwellers as compared to China’s 255 million, as per UN estimates. By then over two-thirds of the world population would be urban.
As urbanisation gathers steam and becomes the defining trend all over the world, there are concerns about creating a framework for sustainable urbanisation. As cities become the hubs of economic activity, livelihood options, and ways of meeting the growing aspirations of people, there are also stress points visible everywhere, be it the mobility chaos or the poor air quality, the congestion or service delivery deficits. Left unattended, these can turn the dreams of the urban population into nightmares. What then is the way forward?
National governments have for many years now, put in place national urban renewal measures in the form of guidelines for the development architecture and funding, often linked to city performance. These have helped greatly especially in areas of urban mobility (building metro systems), affordable housing, and sanitation (water supply systems), for example. These will need to continue and there need to be further innovative measures to equip our cities to cope with the increasing pressures.
While policy-makers look for strategic interventions to sustainably manage the rural-urban migration, their focus on existing cities may not be enough. In order to meet the growing aspirations of an ever-growing urban population, in addition to the existing cities, there is a need for more and newer ones to accommodate the influx. The Smart Cities Mission has, in a way, mentioned this in its Greenfield Development module. Among the essential features of these new cities would be firstly and most importantly livelihood options. National and sub-national governments would need to craft policies to attract investments into manufacturing and services in newer, smaller towns. This is easier said than done. This first requires quality physical infrastructure like roads, power and water. Focus on transforming the healthcare and educational infrastructure in these towns will enable attract talent to these new ventures. Good rail and road connectivity to the nearby metros and larger cities will also help. As more population moves into these new towns and cities, service provision such as rail-based mobility will become viable. This has the potential to put in place a virtuous cycle of development and improving livability.
Development of newer urban centres as above is one of the options to sustainably manage urbanization. Policymakers and urban planners are also evaluating options of high-density habitats versus the urban sprawl which is currently more visible in the developing world. Some of these thoughts are analysed in the Leaderspeak column and other pages of this issue of Urban Update. We trust you will find the issue engaging and that it will help stimulate further debate on the subject of a sustainable urban future.

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