Sustainable urban development
With both challenges and opportunities, the swift pace of global urbanisation demands innovation in thought, planning and action
"Cities are evolving faster than ever and encountering unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic and social challenges. Sustainable urban development is the current global priority; however, most cities lack the capacity and resources to ensure that the city develops in a sustainable manner. Multi-stakeholder cooperation is essential to fill this gap and build transformation strategies to better shape urbanization outcomes and lead cities towards growth, well-being and prosperity for all," the World Economic Forum observes.
The global rise of cities has been unprecedented. Every week, nearly 1.5 million people become urban dwellers. By 2050, urban population will account for more than two-thirds of the world's population.
World population has risen seven-fold over the last 200 years. For the first time in history, a majority of the world's six billion people are living in cities. Between 2000 and 2025, the world's urban population will double.
French Institute of Demographic Studies projected that by the end of this century, there will be 10 to 11 billion people on the planet. World population will jump from the current 7.1 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050. In India, the same is assessed to rise from 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion, while that in China will remain at the same level (1.3 billion).
Urban population is expected to increase by 1.5 billion over the next 20 years and the number of megacities will double. The UN predicts that by 2015, there will be 358 "million cities" with one million or more people and 27 "mega-cities" with ten million or more. Much of this growth will happen in developing countries. India is set to become the world's most populous country by 2050 with a population of nearly 1.6 billion people!
Implementing Smart Cities
The Smart Cities Mission is the Government of India's urban renewal and retrofitting programme, with an aim to develop 100 cities all over the country, making them citizen-friendly and sustainable – indeed, a very good example of a participatory approach between the Centre and the State. The Smart City solutions identified for the selected cities would have a far-reaching demonstration effect for the entire range of towns and cities across India.
As such, the Smart City project leverages on the information and communications technology (ICT) to bring together people and governments. It eventually makes a city smart with productive engagement to enhance the quality of life and ensure a sustainable economic growth and optimised resource management. What eventually makes a city smart is an integrated effort in smart technology, smart users and smart governance. The role of the local agencies, hence, becomes paramount in this regard.
Side by side, it is not to be forgotten that urbanisation is not a curse in as much as it creates huge wealth and opportunities, enabling the better use of assets and creating new ones. In most developing countries, urbanisation – being a continuous and spontaneous process – is bringing about enormous changes in the spatial distribution of people, resources and in the use and consumption of land. The unfortunate part is that, though such a process is strongly linked to development (social, technological and economic), many countries lack the appropriate policies and framework that can leverage it for increased development gains and can guide it towards sustainable patterns. In a word, these are not harnessed for development, and de facto urbanisation's challenges often seem to outpace the development gains.
Obvious enough, economic growth will increasingly come from the strength of innovative activities instead of factor accumulation as in the past. Recent researches also suggest that such innovative activities remain concentrated in high-tech clusters in globally-linked cities.
Clearly, the near future of globalisation and urbanisation will bring enormous challenges as well as opportunities to both developed and developing countries. Noted urban planner Douglass rightly opined that development is likely to be polarised in a limited number of urban regions. That is to say, while the convergence of production and income may happen across countries, divergence is likely to occur within each country as globalisation will bring a concentration of activity to a few sites. The emergence of mega-urban regions with the development of world cities and links among them is a strong possibility. The formation of transborder regions, the development of international corridors, and the significance of international networking cannot be ruled out.
Following Mila Freire, World Bank, it may be located that the main challenges include (a) the need to keep urban planning and management flexible and ready to adapt to new developments in the economic or social front; (b) getting the best possible technical analysis; (c) pushing the agenda of excellence; (d) thinking big and long-term; (e) looking at the big picture – overall competitiveness, labour market, environmental quality and standing as regards to capital and human capital; (f) engaging the private sector; (g) understanding and discussing with community leaders about the amount of limited-resource local governments can offer; (h) establishing contracts vertically with the central government and horizontally with other municipalities
There is an utmost need for the integration of urban development in national sustainable development policies. Such policies serve as enabling frameworks for transport corridors, job creation and, at the same time, development of (within and between) cities. Plus, they can also empower local authorities to work more closely with the national government. The importance of developing national urban policies as levers for sustainable development remains beyond any shade of doubt.
Clearly, successful national urban policies have the ability to yield multiple results: the identification of urban development priorities towards socially and economically equitable and environmentally friendly urban and national development; future development of the national urban system and its spatial configuration concretised through national and spatial plans for regional development; coordination and guidance of actions by national functionaries vis-à-vis lower levels of government in all sectors; and, of course, increased and well-coordinated private and public investments in urban development, which, in turn, lead to the consequent improvement of cities' productivity, inclusiveness, environmental conditions and people's participation in the development process.
Side by side, it is crystal clear that the near future of globalisation and urbanisation will bring enormous challenges as well as opportunities to both developed and developing countries. Development Specialist Douglass (2005), rightly located that development is likely to be polarised in a limited number of urban regions, which shows and indicates that while convergence of production and income may happen across countries, divergence is likely to occur within each country as globalisation will bring a concentration of activities to a few sites. The emergence of mega-urban regions with the development of world cities and links among them is a strong possibility – the formation of transborder regions, the development of international corridors and significance of international networking, among others. We must seek to address major urban challenges and transition towards smarter, more sustainable cities in a rapidly urbanising world. Actions must be taken by the government, the private sector and civil society to achieve sustainable urban development, and include best practices and innovative solutions from around the world.
(The author is a noted Management Economist and International Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs. The views expressed are strictly personal)