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Urbanization Is Necessary, Inevitable, And A Growth Driver

A Crux study indicates rural ‘flight’ will ‘add, pack and wedge’ another 400 million to India’s urban landscape by 2030.

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City living should be rewarding and fulsome.

Most policymakers see urbanization as a side effect of economic growth, and a problem that ‘citizens’ must endure. Ideally, it shouldn’t be so.

A Crux study indicates rural ‘flight’ will ‘add, pack and wedge’ another 400 million to India’s urban landscape by 2030.

Urbanization is integral to economic growth.

People engage easily in dense environments, live better in proximity, and in a diverse setting. Urbanism is the healthiest mode of living, and if designed and governed well, the happiest. It is efficient, good for the ecology, better for the economy. Cities are an intersection of cultural, economic and historical facets of life and a collaborative exchange of ideas and energy; fulfilling and efficient.

Our cities are under siege

However, inequalities, cost of living, crime, bad infrastructure, lethal pollution, spatial segregation & high density, and community conflicts are undermining the quality of life, threatening our future.

Discussions regarding urbanisation are never comprehensive, often and dominantly focused around governance. Not surprisingly. Indifferent governance is visible, and poor governance tolerated. 

The more relevant, and significant issue of urbanism i.e. planning is invariably delegated to the side-lines. A well conceptualised, futuristic and holistic plan can boost the economy, better the environment, enhance equity & opportunity and elevate living conditions.

Urban governance is complex with several inter-connected sub-systems. Key is addressing the entire ecosystem holistically.

We invariably do not plan for the majority, often ignoring the urban poor and the marginalised, skirting the informal economy.  

Indifferent governance 

The elected mayor is glorified & titular.  Urban leadership is short in supply, so is talent. The administrative head has average tenure of less than 15 months and experience of less than two years. They neither have the expertise, nor the domain knowledge. 

And lack incentive. 

They are short of funds, manage meagre resources and quibbling functionaries, disgruntled executives, often working at cross purpose; protecting their turf. There is often no transparency. No accountability either.

Politicians plan grand, deliver small

They push the planners towards megacities and herd the citizens to utopian dreams. Massive plans make a good budget and win votes.  Bureaucrats and lowly elected representative, on the other hand, focus on ‘quick-fix’ ignoring the fundamentals.

India’s urban infrastructure needs INR 40 lakh crore in the next 5 years and substantial revenue expenditure for service delivery and operations. Our civic bodies earn a third of what they need. With almost no financial autonomy, they fall prey to and rely heavily on the state governments, entangling them into the political bureaucrat nexus. 

Crux research indicates effective urbanisation will absorb 80%   jobs, contribute 75% of the GDP. Economically feisty, sustainable, equitable and democratically engaged urbanism is a 5 multiplier and key to ‘5 trillion economies’. 

The archaic urban framework, ineffective implementation subtracts 4% from the GDP.

Supplementing rural economy 

Urbanization is a growth driver, supplementing rural economy, playing the role of a producer and consumer. The economic linkage and the reliance for services like hospitals, education, credit and commerce etc. is counterbalanced by and for sustained supply of food, raw materials and labour. 

There is a need to recognize that urban governance is technical, specialized, largely applied and should be the responsibility of a cadre of domain experts who coherently understand and holistically deliver urbanism.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr. Vikas Singh

The author is a senior economist, columnist, author and a votary of inclusive development

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