The recent water crisis in Shimla, Bengaluru and earlier in some parts of Maharashtra has underlined the dangers of unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources. A similar situation was seen a few months ago in South African cities too. For building smarter cities for future, we need to make smart moves. All the city leaders must come together and commit to take corrective steps towards sustainable development of cities
Building sustainable and liveable cities is a goal that all the cities across the globe can share. Sustainable development is increasingly becoming the focal point for all kinds of development in urban habitats. Integrating the components of liveability with this is essential as liveable cities are the kind of places where people actually want to live. People better connect with the urban environment and with one another in the cities which provide them with adequate basic services, clean air, healthy environment and vibrant financial opportunities.
All India Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG) recently organised the 4th SAC Summit to bring representatives from cities of South Asia together to work closely to achieve objectives and goals mentioned in New Urban Agenda (NUA) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The objective of the SAC Summit has always been to empower city leaders and urban local governance by strategically weaving the threads of urban development suitable to the requirements of present times.
I am convinced that we were successful in drawing inspiration from this event and most of our city leaders went back to their respective cities with knowledge of rewiring all our cities as liveable places. South Asian Mayors’ Forum organised during the Summit took a step further this year and all the city leaders agreed on organising such forum at a regular interval. Another move was working with all the regional forums of mayors for dialogue and knowledge sharing. Such events play a significant role in creating awareness among elected representatives and commoners alike. Public also need to be made aware about the new innovations available in making urban eco system sustainable. All the decisions taken within a room by bureaucrats and leaders cannot become a success unless people are involved in the process.
AIILSG as an institute has been making efforts to enhance the role of people in decision making processes by disseminating required knowledge among every stakeholder in urban domain. There is no doubt about how rapid urbanization has burdened cities and yet at the same time also provided a massive opportunity to cities to transform themselves through evolving new technologies and strategic interventions from the talented citizens.
Quality of services
Urbanisation is a global phenomenon but its speed, particularly in South Asian cities, has seen a steep surge in the last couple of years. Youngsters are abandoning villages and towns for big cities. That is why most of the metro cities in India are overburdened. Rapid urbanization has placed unbalanced strain on municipal budgets and reach of city governments when it comes to delivering basic services and maintaining healthy and sustainable urban eco-systems. There is a need to talk about all aspects of urban life. If we are discussing how urban innovation and other modern technologies can make urban management efficient, we will also have to talk about open public spaces and conservation of urban resources. New technologies have changed the way we think about changing the face of our cities. Sensors and real-time data are allowing municipal officials and city leaders to pinpoint the needs of urbanites and the best locations to place critical services.
Urban governance is also changing. It is no longer about just building community centres, keeping the streets clean, providing basic services, etc. The role of local governments and the expectations of citizens have gone up. The quality of service being provided is also under the scanner by the higher tier of governments and citizens. One of the examples of this is the introduction of Swachh Survekshan by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The survey is done in all the cities and towns of India to adjudge the standard of cleanliness. The cities compete with each other to bag top honours. This is a welcome practice through which the cities are learning about the initiatives of top-performing cities. Such dialogues and competitions can help in other domains of urban development too.
Government of India is also working on service level benchmarking at municipal level to ascertain the quality of different services rendered by local bodies. If our cities need to become efficient in the long run by including these policies and new technologies, sustainability is the key linkage and every urban policy should be formulated keeping it in mind.
All these initiatives and programs have to be expedited because of the emergency situation in almost every big city. For this, city leaders, municipal officials, civil society organisations, corporates and citizens need to work together for making living easier and comfortable for future generations.