Building Sustainable Cities

Is there a need to reinvent, redesign and rebuild our cities for sustainability, resilience, and happiness?

Last year, India achieved the milestone of becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and announced the ambitious goal of achieving the five trillion dollar economy by 2025. Indian cities are playing a major role in this transformation and their contribution to India’s GDP ought to be much more than 70 percent by the next decade.  Although the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the world economy, nations are trying to revitalize economic activities in a phased manner balancing with health needs. Indian cities are also slowly picking up pace but Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of Indian cities which cannot be ignored at any cost while restoring them to the status quo. Instead, we need to ask a question “Is there a need to reinvent, redesign and rebuild our cities for sustainability, resilience, and happiness?” Let us look at the problems and challenges Indian cities facing at this moment.

All major cities were affected by a high number of Corona infections, but the problem in Mumbai and Delhi was severe and complicated, high rate of virus infection marked by visuals of unprecedented numbers of migrant workers returning their home without adequate provisions. One of the reasons behind the high rate of Covid spread in megacities is the high population density especially in urban slums. But scientists and health experts claimed the main reason is the weakened immunity of people due to prolonged exposure to air pollution.  Delhi is continuously in news for poor air quality and a recent statement by Greenpeace South Asia is more shocking and revealing. Air pollution in Delhi is linked to the loss of around 24,000 lives and 5.8 percent of GDP in the first half of 2020, the report said.1 Cities are finding it difficult to provide for the needs of an exorbitantly growing urban population due to migration from rural areas. There are various complicated and intertwined problems such as housing to new migrants, managing limited land spaces and green spaces, congestion and traffic, improper and unscientific waste management, increasing demands for supply of clean water and power, adequate health and education infrastructure. NITI Aayog report on Composite Water Management Index (2018) highlighted the urgent need for action as it claims that 21 cities of India including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting around 100 million people.2 In addition to this, the intensity of climate change and global warming events in India such as floods, water shortage, cyclones, rising temperatures, and droughts is increasing continuously. Chennai floods (2014), the heatwave in northern India (2019), repeated flooding in Bangalore & Mumbai in every monsoon, and rising sea level concerns for Mumbai, Surat, Kolkata, and Chennai are some examples of this.

It is an imperative and absolute necessity that India takes major steps to achieve the targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 11- Sustainable cities and communities as India will be harbouring 68 cities with a population of more than 1 million, 13 cities with more than 4 million and 6 megacities with a population of more than 10 million or more by 2030.3 Sustainable cities are those which with rapid economic development ensure quality life at a physical, social and emotional level for its residents. It demands paradigm change in the philosophy of “fitting people into cities” to “building people-centric cities”. SDG-11 envision cities with a safe and user-friendly transportation system, inclusive and affordable residential places, a scientific and integrated pollution control system, sufficient number of green and public spaces, mechanism to protect cultural and natural heritage centers, and equipped with holistic disaster risk management, by 2030. Working on SDG-11 automatically has direct spill-over effects on other SDG’s such as “poverty alleviation”, “good health and wellbeing”, “industry, innovation and infrastructure”, “clean water and sanitation”, “climate action” etc., therefore even New Delhi is viewing this challenge as an opportunity to build new India.

The government started Smart City Mission, The Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY-Urban), and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) in 2015. Smart City Mission is being implemented in 100 cities to transform parts of the city through new, efficient, and sustainable planning. The second part of the mission works to improve city governance through the application of digital technologies (Integrated command and control centre built for smart cities played major role in handling the Covid crisis for smart cities). PMAY-Urban aims to build more than 1.2 crore affordable homes in urban centers. AMRUT scheme focuses on the universal supply of clean water to 500 cities having more than 1 lakh population through modernizing water and sewage infrastructure. UN-Habitat (India) is helping Indian planners to deliver efficient, effective, and innovative solutions through continuous research and groundwork. New Delhi is putting massive efforts to build sustainable cities, but one cannot miss the fact that people’s participation is not at the forefront. Most of the schemes are implemented through the Special Purpose Vehicle, bypassing local bodies does not serve the purpose well. There is a need to make local bodies more powerful in terms of finances, physical capacity, and technological know-how to create sustainable and resilient cities.

City is dynamic, complex and interconnected as imagined by Le Corbusier while conceiving the master plan for Chandigarh, the first planned city of India. The city was treated as analogous to the human body. Recent time demands to upgrade the brain, rejuvenate the heart, revitalize lungs, and improve the efficiency of circulatory systems of the city. There is a need to innovate low-cost building materials and devise rental housing accommodation facilities to ensure affordable housing for all. Public Transport must be strengthened and people should be incentivized for using it through National Level Universal Card schemes such as One Nation One Card. Green infrastructure and equipments should be promoted. An innovative way of creating Green spaces such as vertical farming should be used, spaces must be protected from political encroachments and preserved through people’s participation. The potential of rooftop solar panel installations and rainwater harvesting at mass level should be explored in collaboration with corporates and academia. Altering workplaces timings or shift timings will ensure hustle free travel to employees, more productivity for businesses and efficient utilization of transportation system. One last thing, urban – rural linkages must be integrated and strengthened, as throughout the historic times starting from Harappan civilization, engine of urban cities is fuelled by peripheral villages, therefore sustainable cities would remain a distant dream if we don’t pay enough attention on building sustainable villages

Notes:

1. https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/24-000-pollution-related-deaths-in-delhi-in-first-half-of-2020-report-120071000058_1.html

2. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/21-indian-cities-will-run-out-of-groundwater-by-2020-report-2056129

3. Page no. 15-16, India’s Urban Awakening: Building inclusive cities and sustainable economic growth, Mckinsey Global Institute Report

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Ajinkya Madkaikar

Ajinkya Madkaikar is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti

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