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Communities need to be at heart of urban well-being

The Better Life Index measures access to basic health services, education, clean air and water, besides feeling safe walking alone at night.

gurgaon Updated: Mar 28, 2019 08:18 IST
Kalpana Viswanath
Kalpana Viswanath
Gurugram
communities,heart,urban
Urban well-being is a term that refers to peoples’ sense of wellness and happiness in a city. It is, of course, very difficult to measure, and is, hence, not a static concept.(HT File)

Urban well-being is a term that refers to peoples’ sense of wellness and happiness in a city. It is, of course, very difficult to measure, and is, hence, not a static concept. Further, different people experience the city in diverse ways which affect their perception of well-being. Discussions on well-being focus on a range of issues, including safety, health and environmental factors. There are several elements to measuring well-being.

The Better Life Index measures access to basic health services, education, clean air and water, besides feeling safe walking alone at night.

Cities are living entities and need to be compassionate and caring spaces. On March 20, the world celebrated International Happiness Day. It went largely unnoticed in India, which is not surprising as we rank 133 out of 156 on the World Happiness Index.

If we look at some of the happiest cities in the world, we find their polices put people and communities at the centre. Social cohesion is also an important indicator of urban well-being. Traditionally, communities in India did have social cohesion, though divided on caste and religious lines.

This continues today in our cities and class has become another divider. The recent incident in Gurugram, where an entire family, including small children, were beaten up is reflective of this increasing divide and intolerance. Violence, fear and crime significantly affect peoples’ feeling of well-being.

Providing good infrastructure and services is another important indicator. In India these days, the discourse is all about smart cities, innovation and technology. While city governments are investing heavily in these, funds must be directed towards a better quality of life, which includes good housing, adequate services, clean air, good sanitation, education, health services, safety, good public transport and vibrant public spaces.

Gurugram has to traverse quite a distance to provide all this to its residents.Further, these must be provided to all citizens and not only in pockets. The vast majority of our urban residents live in slums and slum-like conditions with poor infrastructure, lack of services, and insecurity. According to 2011 census, Gurugram has over 16% slum population and this has probably increased in the past eight years. These areas need to be addressed on priority to create a more equitable society. Inequality does not foster well-being.

Another element of well-being is people need to feel that their elected representatives hear them and are working for their welfare. Gurugram has a very nascent municipal government which needs to be strengthened so that local governance is inclusive and transparent. Residents of cities need to be partners and co-creators in the development process. The “mai-baap” model of government based on dependency must become a thing of the past.

When we put people at the centre of urban well-being, it becomes evident that it is not just an individualised concept, but one that is related to social and cultural factors. Well-being is linked to connections and sociality. It comes from being part of a community and city and having a political voice. Cities need to be designed to accommodate the needs and patterns of a wide diversity of people to ensure the well-being of all. Therefore, urban policies need to be designed within a framework that addresses the right to the city of diverse sets of people as central to urban well-being.

@SafetipinApp (Co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 02:34 IST