By the year 2030 we will have census figures of the 2021 census and the number of cities in India would have gone up. In fact by 2030 we may even have crossed the figure of fifty percent of the population living in urban areas.
What are some of the positives we can expect by 2030? Let us look at basic infrastructure.With the current emphasis placed on every household to get connection for piped water supply and sewage connectivity, it is likely we will succeed in this. Similarly with the huge emphasis placed through the Swachh Bharat Mission, waste management could be under control and toilets for all could become a reality. Housing for all also is a target likely to be achieved. To this extent city living for most, particularly the less privileged sections, will be comfortable.
Share of cities in the GDP of the nation and similarly of tax revenue and employment generated will be substantial.
While the total number of cities and towns would have gone up, increasing number of mega cities will, if not properly attended to, create various imbalances.
Some of the key concerns which if not addressed carefully could mean a situation where crowded cities would be struggling to address fundamental governance issues.
Will we be able to address the increasing water requirements of our cities? Water to be transported through villages to cities could meet with resistance. Another key concern would be whether all our cities and towns will have mechanisms in position to fully recycle the entire waste water. Would we have structured proper waste management strategies to reduce waste and move towards zero waste as some cities like Ahmadabad have planned to do. The question also is how seriously will our cities be addressing the three ‘R’ s issue of reducing, re using and recycling. Will we succeed in protecting our rivers from the careless culture of dumping everything that is waste into them?
One of the critical issues to be addressed for our cities to be real engines of growth will be that of effectively managing city transport. Issues of congestion and time wasted on the city roads waiting for traffic to move will have to be addressed on priority. Unified metropolitan transport authorities with proper legislative backing will have to become functional and active. Efficient public transport will have to become dominant. Proper networks have to come into existence. Last mile connectivity has to be properly worked out and sustained. It looks like present day emphasis of increased public investment in basics like water, waste management will shift to dominant investment in public transport.
Another key issue which will dominate city governance will be proper environment management. Air pollution is already flagged as ‘a multi headed monster with many causes’. Mechanisms to continuously monitor air quality in cities and take proactive measures to correct the issues will take precedence. Already the smog crisis is considered a drag on the economy. Issues arising out of increasing diesel fumes, construction dust, emissions from coal plants, smoke from burning of crop residues will become serious issues. In 2015 pollution was linked to 2.5 million deaths in India according to a medical journal and a UNICEF report says that the smog crisis must be permanently damaging children’s brains.
Pushing the solar energy agenda, cracking down on truck traffic within cities, going in for electric vehicles, restrictions on coal fired power plants are better city governance agenda points which would require priority.
City governance arrangements will have to undergo a big change. With regional and cluster approach to increased economic activity gaining prominence as seen in countries like the UK, our traditional concept of mechanical notified city limits will need a re look so that coordinated functioning beyond notified limits becomes possible.
With complexities of governing mega cities increasing every day, we will also need to position an entirely different governance arrangement for these cities so that various citizen related issues are addressed efficiently going beyond the ‘silos’ of individual institutions. Holistic future planning for cities will have to gain prominence.
The way we undertake our urban planning today, considered stuck in the bullock cart age will also need to be recast if cities are to be able to play their rightful role. We have to get out of the cycle of master plans emphasizing land use more and not taking into account other equally critical areas.
Another key issue which will dominate city governance will be proper environment management. Air pollution is already flagged as ‘a multi headed monster with many causes’. Mechanisms to continuously monitor air quality in cities and take proactive measures to correct the issues will take precedence
Much of how efficient our cities of tomorrow will look like would depend on the seriousness with which we handle the livability issue. This is an aspect of governance about which we have not been serious. Briefly it is worth noting that the UN Habitat’s City Prosperity Initiative takes into account the six key dimensions of prosperity, infrastructure, quality of life, equity & social inclusion, environmental sustainability and governance. The World Economic Forum looks at urbanization, rising inequalities, sustainability, technological change, industrial clusters and governance as the six mega trends which determine the competitiveness of cities. The livability index initiative recently initiated by the central ministry of Urban Affairs lists fifteen attributes which will form the basis for this. It is time all our cities assess themselves comprehensively based on a mix of these critical parameters and constantly upgrade their performance and governance if our cities are to have high livability standards