Effective policymaking for equitable cities

By 2050, 70% of mankind will reside in cities up from 55% today. Urbanisation brings about economic and social development at a rapid pace and benefits large sections of population across socio-economic strata. This is enabled by, among others, the efficient distribution of resources including land and human capital. Urbanisation thus has the potential to lift millions more out of poverty with improved outcomes in the areas of education, public health and livelihoods. However, the process of urbanisation in most developing countries is accompanied by a host of negative externalities including poor air quality, congestion, lack of affordable housing and service delivery deficits. Therefore the phenomenon has often come to be viewed as a big challenge, even a hazard, eclipsing the opportunity it presents and its potential for rapid and equitable distribution of prosperity. This is mainly due to the absence of appropriate policy frameworks and approaches to harness the potential of urbanisation and channelise it towards sustainable development.
Policymakers and urbanists thus need to formulate and articulate suitable policy frameworks that can set the direction and drive appropriate action on the ground in order to secure desired outcomes.
Among the more important aspects is affordable housing. Migrants are often left with little option other than to settle in informal dwellings or slums; more so in our larger metros. SDG 11.1 calls for action here – “By 2030, Ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums”. Pursuit of this goal can enable bring about results in other areas such as improved education, better health outcomes, livelihoods and thus poverty alleviation too. Therefore affordable housing becomes a central theme of a just and equitable society; this requires finely crafted policy frameworks.
PMAY – Housing for All is a policy initiative in the direction of affordable housing. There are now large numbers of such projects in our cities. However, these projects must also meet the test of accessibility. Remotely located housing, even if affordable, may not be preferred if access to livelihood options, education, etc. is difficult. These are essential for the disadvantaged populations; they migrate to cities for this purpose in the first place. Affordable housing policies could also examine rental models which may offer flexibility to access better livelihood and educational options in the city, even across cities, and thus faster progress. These are complex and call for
ingenuous policymaking.
Other challenges plaguing our cities include waste management, deteriorating air quality, water stress and mobility. Of late, we are seeing action on the policy front with respect to electric mobility. Measures include subsidies for purchase of vehicles, tax breaks on interest paid on loans for electric vehicle purchases, and a lower GST regime. Mobility related policies impact several aspects including access to livelihood options, congestion, road safety and air quality. Therefore in addition to electric mobility, policies must also address public transport (affordable mass transit and bus travel), intermediate public transport, shared mobility, walkability, transit oriented
development, etc.
This issue of Urban Update looks at the issue of National Urban Policymaking including the experiences of other countries. Do write in with your views and suggestions.

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