Vision for better cities; some essentials

The New Year is a time to look into the future, make plans and resolutions and chalk out the roadmap for these plans. So also with cities. It’s time to look at the present status of various urban rejuvenation schemes and how we leverage these to build more vibrant and livable cities. There are many challenges that our cities face and most are common across cities of India and even the world. Environment degradation, poor air quality, congestion, waste management are all common challenges across a large number of cities. Cities everywhere are working to address these in their own ways.
We believe that there are a few essential dimensions which local bodies and planners will need to keep in mind while finding solutions.
The first is efficiency, or ‘doing more with less’. As city dwellers swell in numbers, there will be increasing pressure on resources to meet their aspirations. Take water for example. Several cities are already faced with acute pressure, confronted with issues of contaminated water, depleting groundwater resources and decaying water bodies. This challenge has to be addressed on many fronts, the crucial one being conservation. Cities need to make do with less water and use this valuable resource wisely. Energy is another. Cities and citizens will need to embrace more ‘green’ energy, i.e., renewables and choose energy efficient gadgets thereby preserving finite resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Technological innovations will play a great part in enabling this effort to reduce our carbon footprint and thus build livable cities.
Another dimension is inclusivity. As rural populations migrate to cities in large numbers in search of livelihoods, they meet difficulties on many fronts. Cities must prepare to host such populations in an equitable manner. Housing and mobility are prominent elements of the challenge and need to be addressed. There are other sections of the population which are often left out in the race to build efficient cities. The specially abled are among the worst off. Many elements of our built environment and other infrastructures such as public transport and roads are not specially abled friendly; with the result that these persons are unable to access livelihood, education and other essentials to their full potential. Their economic participation is thus limited by their disability. This will need to change. Other groups such as women and children and especially the elderly are often at a disadvantage in everyday life.
All the above and the task of improving livability in an efficient, sustainable and inclusive manner will be possible only with the whole-hearted participation by the common man. And therefore active and effective citizen engagement is another essential. Sadly we have a long way to go. Traffic violations, misuse of pedestrian sidewalks and cycling tracks, damage to public assets, poor waste management practices, are all rampant in our cities. This too needs to change.
There are several dimensions to building successful and efficient cities, and in our opinion, the above are some of the crucial ones. In this issue of Urban Update, we bring you viewpoints on a wide spectrum of issues by several urbanists. We trust you will find these pages engaging.

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