More than just roads & buildings

For a few decades now, cities are increasingly and rapidly becoming the centres of economic activity all over the world. Their compact structure enables efficiency and productivity. The city is where all the opportunities lie. No wonder then that all over the world there is a deluge of populations into cities from rural centres. This has undoubtedly put enormous pressure on local bodies in cities to augment physical infrastructure and upgrade services to meet the needs of this large and growing population. The success so far has been mixed. It is but natural given that the challenge is of gargantuan proportions and the fact that cities’ responses have been more modest than robust. Thus in India, we see a number of national programmes, AMRUT, Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat and so on attempting to handhold states and ULBs with necessary focus, ideas and budgetary support. These will in due course help meet the challenges better by addressing infra needs and service delivery deficits. In their quest to meet these challenges urban local bodies will need to keep in mind various considerations. Among the foremost is the environment. Rapid growth of cities, both vertical and horizontal, is resulting in loss of tree cover in most cities. The resultant heat islands, loss of wetlands, increasing vehicular emissions, dumping in our rivers and lakes, waste generation are all contributing to the ‘ticking time bomb’ to which we seem to have no answers. Court interventions and civil society efforts have not provided great comfort. It is time for the individual citizen to reform, and to do so quickly. Public health is an equally important concern in our cities. The environmental degradation coupled with poor sanitation and hygiene poses great risks of communicable disease as well as noncontagious, life threatening ones. Fragile public health infrastructure and feeble response by the public bodies denies citizens appropriate redressal. Private healthcare is all but inaccessible for the large majority due to steep costs. Therefore public health infrastructure needs to be beefed up in great measure in our cities. This calls for not just budgetary allocations but creating a cadre of dedicated, motivated, caring and competent healthcare professionals. Our cities also need to become more inclusive and respond adequately to all sections, the urban poor, women, children, the specially abled, among others. For too long our cities and their systems (public transport, buildings and public spaces) have been designed with the general or ‘average’ citizen in mind. This needs to change if we are to ensure that we ‘leave no one behind’. We look at some of these issues, the challenges, the possible responses and experiences of cities. In the cover story, we delve into the challenges of urban infrastructure and service delivery facing our cities. Cities have been unable to add necessary new infrastructure to keep pace with growing
urban population and the needs and aspirations of people. At the same time, the existing infrastructure is ageing. Estimates of investments required to replace, replenish and create new infrastructure in our cities are mind-boggling. ULBs tasked with the management of cities are struggling with their finances. Clearly much needs to be done. Governments at all levels, policymakers and others working on several interventions must succeed in their efforts if we are to move towards more efficient, equitable and sustainable cities.

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