Urban Priorities – new approaches

If you keep doing the same things, you will get the same results” goes a saying which sounds logical too. This saying can be applied to the responses of cities to the trend of rapid and relentless urbanisation. Needless to say, the response of our cities’ administration to this phenomenon has produced mixed results in terms of creating livable and sustainable urban spaces. However it must be conceded that the influx of populations into cities also had been unprecedented. While there has certainly been visible progress in areas such as implementation of large numbers of metro projects in several cities, the situation with respect to road congestion, safety, and air quality has not changed much.
For some years now there has been realisation that in case we are to get better results, we must do things differently or do different things. There could be several possibilities.
Changing urban priorities must seek to harness the potential of Public-Private Partnerships among others. While on the one hand, this can bring in investments, innovation and enterprise of private sector players, the public bodies can ensure a sense of fair play and inclusivity in the operations of such PPP initiatives. These could be tried out in areas such as waste management and water supply in our cities. Several cities in India and elsewhere are using this model to improve outcomes.
Among other areas, local bodies have adopted citizen participation as a tool for city development. Our Smart Cities Mission lays strong emphasis on this while urging cities to seek and document citizens’ views including their vision for their cities and their development priorities. While this has been done vigorously by many participants during the national contest, one hopes that authorities use the inputs in true spirit and the development plans are tailored in line with citizen expectations. Further, local bodies must institutionalize the mechanism to obtain, document, and act upon real-time citizen inputs. After all, cities are for citizens, and citizens make the city.
Another aspect which will be important in governance is the financial health and abilities of our local bodies. This has also been covered in the smart cities mission. There will be more emphasis on finances of city governments given their huge requirements for resources to meet burgeoning demands of service provision. While there will be need for greater devolution from higher levels in order to ensure a predictable and buoyant income streams, cities may need to price services closer to their true costs to enable long term viability. But in some areas, this is easier said than done. Public transport for example, a crying need if we are to build cleaner cities, must be affordable. Pricing of such a service may not be possible on cost-plus basis. Pricing of services such as water will call for judicious balance between reflecting the true value of a scarce resource and social equity.
Housing, mobility, the environment and sustainability are among various priorities which will occupy the minds of urbanists and city governments extensively. These will all call for fresh approaches and new thinking.

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