Make urban reforms inclusive and sustainable

Cities occupy under five per cent of the earth’s land area and host over
50 per cent of the population. This urban population is expected to cross 67 per cent by 2050. Cities account for about 80 per cent of global GDP, 70 per cent of all energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, cities are compact human settlements, highly concentrated centres; hotspots of economic activity.
Little wonder then that policy makers the world over are focussing on making their cities better, more livable, more efficient, more smart and above all sustainable. The rural-urban migration has in the past been often looked upon as an impending challenge, even a disaster. But as we progress, there is growing realization of the inevitability of the process and therefore an effort to harness its potential rather than to fear it or attempt to discourage it.
In India, we have seen policymakers unleash a slew of reforms aimed at transforming our cities into hubs of smart living. There have been several measures to reform the processes at our urban local bodies, to improve basic services to citizens and an increasing reliance on e-governance and smart management of cities.
We believe that these efforts should go towards building ‘cities for everyone’. Efforts are already underway in this direction. ‘Housing for All’ is a key plank of these efforts. As the rural poor migrate to cities in search of livelihoods, there is an increasing tendency for them to be relegated to the fringes or create slums and slum-like settlements closer to their livelihood opportunity. Appropriate, affordable housing with basic services including power, water and sanitation is necessary in order that cities are equitable and just. Our race towards making cities smart and efficient needs to be tempered with compassion, to take everyone along, to make our cities inclusive. The Greek philosopher Plato apparently foresaw the danger. He said “Any city however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich. These are at war with one another”. Planners need to guard against this.
Another dimension in our efforts towards successful cities is sustainability. Cities all over are already faced with severe stresses on account of poor air quality, waste management, water pollution and so on. The stresses could increase as the population as well as activity in cities grows. Solutions call for out-of-the-box thinking and robust implementation of measures towards clean mobility, efficiency in energy use with sharp emphasis on renewables, and greater efforts on reuse and recycling of resources i.e., ‘doing more with less’ if we are to keep our cities safe and healthy alongside their march towards efficiency and productivity.
Resilience of our cities will be tested with increasing frequency as densities grow alongside climate change threats. While we work to make our processes more sustainable and less damaging to the environment we need to build in measures to guard cities and its citizens against natural and man-made disasters.
Above all, as urban reforms unfold, cities need to engage actively with citizens on all above aspects so that they are able to meet the aspirations of the city-dwellers. This is now evident in our Smart Cities Mission and other reform measures of ULBs.
We at AIILSG are working with several ULBs for capacity building of their personnel on various above aspects in order that they are better equipped to meet the emerging challenges.
In this issue of Urban Update we look at urban reforms in the recent past and the direction of policy making in times to come. Do write in with your feedback.

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