Urban Dialogues strive to bring together experts from around the world and local innovators with the vision to think beyond conventional solutions of urban problems and create a better and more sustainable urban ecosystem in India. The recent symposium in Varanasi witnessed urbanists and social activists and officials from the city coming together and charting a new roadmap for ‘Better Banaras’
All India Institute of Local Self-Government has designed Urban Dialogues—the round-table series of conference—to provide a platform to the elected representatives and municipal officials, academicians, urban planners, policymakers, scientists and solution providers and private players to exchange and share their experience in the domain and present feasible solutions to address various urban issues. Through Urban Dialogues series of events, AIILSG aims to come out with feasible and scalable solutions relating to specific urban issues plaguing Indian cities.
Our institute has been at the forefront in addressing the issue of urban local bodies. We have been making efforts to empower the local governance system that in turn can help in improving basic civic services and infrastructural improvement in our cities. Such dialogues have been fruitful in proving local city leaders in planning a new and sustainable future for their cities. The role of elected representatives has always been paramount in shaping our cities. We are quite confident their proactive engagement in planning and execution process of new policies and programmes will provide an impetus. Urban Dialogues will also aim to bridge the gap between the different tiers of governments and different agencies involved in implementing various programmes for smooth running of city systems. Such conferences and workshop also bring in the learning and technological application experiences and solutions for the mobility, energy and water issues of our cities.
AIILSG with Urban Update magazine recently organised a one-day seminar Urban Dialogues in the holy city of Varanasi. It was encouraging to witness that most of the participants were clear that they do want improvement in the infrastructure of the city but not at the cost of losing the city’s soul. The event upheld the objective of organizing Urban Dialogues which is to take into consideration the viewpoints of citizens and bring different stakeholders living and working in the city.
The first round-table conference under Urban Dialogues series was on Housing for All mission of Government of India. The round-table conference assessed and looked at the grim situation of housing and shelter in Indian cities. Many solutions including the provision of rental housing in metro cities were proposed to handle issues related to rural-urban migration and slum issues.
Urban Dialogue on Smart Energy for Smart City Development recommended solutions to conserve and generate more energy through unconventional methods. The outcome report underlined that a city is smartly equipped if it has the resource to meet its energy demands. The conference also addressed the challenges faced by distribution companies and other stakeholders in the sector.
Our Urban Dialogues on Liveable Mumbai focused on the problems of Mumbai Metropolitan region. Intelligentsia from different sectors suggested their views on the repositioning of the growth strategy for the metropolitan region. The Regional Plan of MMRDA should lay out the vision and strategy for what will get constructed on the ground, and the Development plan of Mumbai should incorporate this. Urbanists and bureaucrats underlined that the government need to ensure that the economic growth of MMR is supported by its environmental health and equitable development of all. Another Urban Dialogues ‘Urban Design for Urban Development’ recommended that urban design should be at the heart of city development processes to make cities liveable. The experts also pointed out the need of integrating urban design into planning.
Our experience in all our Urban Dialogues has been encouraging. This is quite clear that every city has different needs and diverse strengths. Mumbai citizens would not think like their counterparts in Varanasi and, vice versa.
Public views are an integral part of a democratic system. When governments make policies under various programmes for a city or a locality, the success entirely depends on how well the locals accept the program. At times when the opinions of people are not taken into consideration, the implementing agencies face considerable difficulties in ensuring the success of the project. The basic concept of public discourse is to bring every section of society on the same page. India is a diverse country and so are its cities. Our cities are an amalgamation of people from different religions, castes and ethnic groups. Almost every metro city in India has the population that speaks different languages. If urban local bodies fail to understand the requirements of every section then their plans of building an inclusive city would fail.
Urban Dialogues series here comes into play in encouraging public discourse on civic issues to understand the needs and aspirations of people from various backgrounds in our cities. All the earlier Dialogues had adequate representations from different sections of people from the city. And, when we had chosen a specific theme under which the Dialogues were organised, the institute had engaged all stakeholders who work in tandem for implementing projects relating to the theme. The discourse on these issues propels the process of ensuring people arrive at a consensus on issues over which people are divided.
Our round-table series conferences have also been instrumental in providing a global perspective to municipal staff and elected representatives. This can surely help them in making their policies and programs in sync with global goals set by United Nations or group of countries. This includes Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)s, objectives under New Urban Agenda and commitment made in Conference of Parties for Climate Change. Such objectives can never be achieved unless urban local bodies proactively participate in this. I am quite sure that Urban Dialogues series would be able to contribute in making our cities livable, sustainable and inclusive.