Urbanisation: Trends and Challenges

Urbanisation: Trends and Challenges

Urbanisation is sweeping the world. It has been said that the 19th century was the century of empires; the 20th century was the century of countries and the 21st century will be the century of cities. During 2008, according to the United Nations, mankind became for the first time in its history a predominantly urban species.

Urbanisation is sweeping the world. It has been said that the 19th century was the century of empires; the 20th century was the century of countries and the 21st century will be the century of cities. During 2008, according to the United Nations, mankind became for the first time in its history a predominantly urban species. Demographers estimate that three quarters (75 per cent) of the global population could be urban by 2050 with most of the increase coming in the fast growing towns of Asia and Africa.

Urbanisation Trends

According to India’s census of 2011, about 377 million Indians comprising 31 per cent of the country’s population, live in urban areas in comparison to 45 per cent in China, 54 per cent in Indonesia, 78 per cent in Mexico and 87 per cent in Brazil. Urban population recorded an annual growth rate of 2.76 per cent and the 2011 Census reported a dramatic increase in the number of million plus cities from 35 to 52. Urban areas are now acknowledged as ‘engines of economic growth’ and more than 60 per cent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) emanates from urban areas. The top 100 largest cities produce about 43 per cent of the GDP, with 16 per cent of the population and just 0.24 per cent of the land area. Globally it is also being recognised that rather than a ‘rural-urban dichotomy’, the phenomenon of ‘rural-urban continuum’ is the order of the day. In India too, there is realisation that planned urbanisation is one of the keys to unlock India’s growth potential.

Urban Challenges

At a time when more than 50 per cent of the world lives in urban areas, it is important that administrators address the ever rising challenges of sanitation, pollution, mobility, civic amenities and public safety in an innovative manner. Most cities from the developing world are unprepared, both at local and global levels, to face the challenge of urbanisation and ensuring equity in the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities. There is urgent need to strengthen urban governance and local finances in order to meet current demands and the challenges ahead of us. These challenges are not only in the context of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions but also with regard to provision of basic services to all the inhabitants, development of networks for water supply and transport, collection of waste, provision of equitable access to land and energy, building of green buildings, expansion of mass transportation systems, etc.

Infrastructure Deficit

Urban India today faces a backlog in the provision of basic amenities and infrastructure. About nine per cent of urban India does not have access to safe drinking water and 12.6 per cent have no toilet facilities. The first challenge for any urban administrator is sanitation. A clean city is the first and foremost parameter of equity. A clean environment is the right of every citizen. Urban administrators must treat cleanliness as a non-negotiable requirement. They must make a paradigm shift from waste dumping to waste processing. Garbage must be seen as a resource. A city which only dumps waste but not processes is not a smart city.

Pollution is another huge challenge in cities today. The focus must be on prevention rather than mitigation of pollutants. Apart from creating lung spaces and green cover, we must encourage people to adopt energy efficient technologies. Green buildings and green zones must be an integral and imperative part of urban planning and citizens must be encouraged to plan their new dwellings accordingly. Unless we include greenery and conservation in the policy making and planning stage itself, the green deficit will always remain huge and impossible to fulfill.

With an ever increasing population in cities, the need for comprehensive traffic management cannot be over emphasised. Efficient and affordable urban mobility solutions are a critical component of a smart city. Traditionally municipalities in India have not treated urban transport as their core function. But there is new realisation that a city should think and act about how its people move from one point to another. Mobility and transport are a development issue and not just a regulatory issue. Cities must encourage their populations to use public systems as their first choice.

Urban administrators must use technology to provide better amenities to our people. Since cities are growth engines and time is money, people should not have to waste productive time in accessing basic amenities. Government to citizen services should be available online with minimal human interface. In the past decade, India has taken many novel steps in this direction. As people increasingly depend on the internet for getting their services, entire cities will need to be Wi-Fi enabled.

As migration into cities grows, housing for all becomes a critical issue. It is imperative for city administrators to evolve sustainable housing policies which will prevent the creation of new slums. Private partnership should be made an integral part of such policies. Creation of satellite townships is another way of addressing this issue. Several State governments have adopted innovative approaches in creating housing for the poor and there is need for cross-learning from each other.

Safety is a major concern for city governments across the world and a sine-qua-non of smart cities. As urban populations rise, public safety is bound to become a major concern. City administrators have to leverage new technology to ensure maximum public safety.

Public support and participation is critical for effective administration of law and order. The Indian government proposes to launch a new ‘Urban Development Mission’ to support states by handholding them in building infrastructure and services in step with the rapid pace of urbanisation. A new mission mode programme is being designed to take up these activities for 500 cities of the nation. Private sector participation by way of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) methodology will be encouraged.

Smart Cities

Another initiative of the Centre is to develop 100 Smart cities across India. The smart city approach will merge urban planning, governance, ecology, environment, infrastructure and information technology to ensure that benefits of technology reach every neighbourhood and improve the quality of lives of citizens.

The government proposes to launch HRIDAY or Heritage City Development & Augmentation Yojna. Under this programme sustainable development of heritage centres will be taken up bringing together urban planning, economic growth and heritage conservation in an inclusive and integrated manner with focus on livelihoods, skills, cleanliness, security, accessibility and service delivery.

Source: Speech by the President, Pranab Mukherjee at the closing ceremony of the 11th Metropolis World Congress 2014

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