The growing population in cities is filling the towering skyscrapers and sprawling slums. We will not be overhyping if we say our cities are overpopulated. This holds true at least for the developing world. Cities in these countries are full to the brim, and are facing difficulties in keeping pace in providing services and infrastructure facilities to the increasing population. Urban agglomerations are undeniably facing humongous challenges. Congestion, urban poverty, traffic problems, lack of adequate housing, poor sanitation are just some of the resultants of change in urban demography worldwide. Should we be worried? A review of present situation based on urban demographic trends
Cities are relentlessly changing so are demography patterns. The rural push factor, modernization of agriculture and lack of opportunities beyond agriculture activities; and urban pull factor, lure of modern lifestyle, abundant opportunities for employment, are causing people to move to cities. India is a relatively young country with a majority of its population in working age group. Hence the rural-urban migration is faster and so is the process of urbanization in India and other developing countries.
If you look at the urbanization process in developed countries, for example in Europe, urbanization accelerated with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, going from 15% in 1800 to 40% in 1910. According to the report Demography, Urbanization and Development by Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, both Africa and Asia grew twice as fast, starting at similarly low levels of 15% in 1950 to reach around 40% in 2010. The overall population growth has also changed in the last 50 years. In 1963, there were 6 children per women while in 2012 it has come down to just 2.5. Another interesting fact of population growth is that as life span of people went up, the number of children per woman has gone down.
In India, the level of urbanization in the country as a whole increased from 25.7 percent in 1991 to 27.82 percent in 2001 and to 31.14 percent in 2011. The number of statutory towns in India increased from 3,799 to 4,041 during 2001-2011 whereas the number of census towns increased from 1,362 to 3,892 during the decade. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh had the largest number of towns – 648 statutory towns and 267 census towns in 2011.
Another distinct change in urban demography in developing countries is that the cities in these countries are much larger. New Delhi, Mumbai, Jakarta, Dhaka, Manila have large populations as New York, Paris and London. However, there is dissimilarity in income levels. It seems that the benefits of urbanization did not reach the last man in the queue.
It is well-known that municipal corporations in developing countries are not as financially strong as their counterparts in the developing world. Thus rapid growth in their cities has given rise to congestion, proliferation of slums and deteriorating delivery of services and overall community welfare. If cities cannot match the scale of population growth with new infrastructure and augmentation of services, then cities are bound to turn into ‘urban mess’. Cities in developing countries are full to the brim,and are facing difficulty in keeping pace in providing services and infrastructure facilities to the growing population. The number of urban poor is also on the rise. The portion of urban population lacking access to water and sanitation services, and affordable housing has also gone up radically. Access to basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, septic tank or flush and toilet facilities are the major determinants of quality of urbanization. This means that cities have to work on the basics to provide quality of life to their citizens keeping in mind equitable delivery of services.
The situation on the ground is upsetting. According to a study, there were around 232 million households in 2012 which did not have access to affordable housing and this number is expected to grow to 331 million by 2025. Similarly, the number of people not having access to toilet facilities has also gone up by 100 million to 667 million from 567 million in 2000. The number of people without access to potable water supply increased from 129 million to 181 million in the same period. Cities are also energy guzzlers. Around 70 per cent of energy consumption of the world comes from urban centers. As population and industries further grow in cities, the energy consumption will also grow and that is why there is need to adapt to green energy to meet growing power demands of cities. Local governments also pay large amounts towards electricity bills. It is very much required that city governments not only encourage citizens to opt for renewable energy but also optimize their own power consumption through technological tools. Cities in poor countries face shortage of electricity thus it impacts its economy.
Master Plan and cities
Theoretically, cities are planned by the governments to grow in an orderly manner and follow their development and master plans but many of the cities in the developing world including in India do not have such plans. And those that have such plans do not follow them because of the rigid nature of such plans and changing nature of cities’ demography.
In the case of India, the 3rd Five Year Plan defined the term ‘Master Plan’ as a statutory instrument for controlling, directing and promoting sound and rational development and redevelopment of an urban area with a view to achieving maximum economic, social and aesthetic benefits. It is defined as the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development and thus master plan approach came into being. It is defined as the long-term perspective plan for guiding the sustainable planned development of the city. The document lays down the planning guidelines, policies, development code, and space requirements for various socio-economic activities supporting the city population during the plan period. It is also the basis for all infrastructure requirements.All the master plans offer technical solutions to the potential problems that the city could face. With the swift changes in urban demography and other government policies, it is quite difficult to foresee the future of a city 20-25 years down the line. The policymakers need to understand the needs of the city and must have provision through which the master plans can be amended locally with citizen and expert consultation. This will indeed help cities in leveraging on their strengths which they create over a period of time.
No doubt city governments in developing countries are facing and will face even more complex challenges in the years to come. While they grapple with the surging in-migration of rural folk, they will need to come up with sustainable solutions to meet the aspirations of the migrants in a just and equitable manner. Thankfully, in their efforts they will have access to some cutting edge technologies for the first time in history. They must leverage these. While urban rejuvenation measures are being rolled out in big measure in many countries, how they succeed in meeting the challenges is anybody’s guess. The outcomes will set apart the ‘livable cities’ from the rest.