The future lies in cities, but the transition will be tricky | HT editorial
Planners have to be thoughtful because cities are not just habitats, but also legacyUpdated: Aug 21, 2019 19:38 IST
A report titled India 2030 – Exploring the Future, by the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India and global property consultant CBRE has said that India’s future is urban, but the transition will not be easy. The report is in line with what the census data have been showing. According to the 1901 census, the population in urban areas was 11.4%. This increased to 28.53% (2001 census) and 31.16% (2011 census). The urbanisation process will not be without its own set of challenges in India’s cities: Poverty, lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and overcrowding, environmental degradation, and air pollution.
However, this is also an opportunity for the country to design a fresh and proactive approach to mitigate the strains that will develop as cities expand, and to maximise the potential economic opportunity that well-managed cities can offer. This is because the choices that India makes to manage the process of urbanisation will have profound consequences for its people and economic future. For starters, India must end the debate whether urbanisation is a positive or negative phenomenon, and whether the future lies in its villages and cities. This, as a McKinsey report on urbanisation says correctly, is a false dichotomy because villages and cities are interdependent and symbiotic.
While India will have its own process of development, it can learn from other cities that have faced similar challenges. Many countries, the McKinsey report adds, such as United Kingdom, South Africa and China, have turned around their cities in as little as 10 years with proper funding, governance, sectoral policies and planning. India must also be ambitious when it comes to urbanisation because cities are not just about building infrastructure, but also about the quality of life they provide.
This is what the best cities of the world are focusing on today - Rotterdam in the Netherlands is creating more public spaces for its citizens; Singapore is wrapping its numerous high rises with vertical gardens and building pocket parks; and China’s building a new green, low rise city ---- Xiongan. It will be built on 1,700 square km-stretch of swampy land, including a heavy polluted lake, around 104 km southwest of Beijing, and will be a model for things to come.
As India designs its response to urbanisation, it must pick and choose from this wide array of inspirational choices. Planners have to be thoughtful about shaping cities because they are not just building a brick-and-mortar habitats, but a legacy.