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Design Cities Where Citizens Are The Protagonists

Any urban planning must be based in the design of a holistic long-term strategic plan, which in turn is based on a broad consensus between all levels of governance, stakeholders and the proper inhabitants

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I belong to Bilbao Urban & Cities Design, a urban Strategy Think Tank formed by professionals in different fields like urbanism, architecture, engineering, enegy efficiency, environment and mobility.

We are following very closely the huge urbanization process that India is seeing nowadays (urban population expected to reach 600 million by 2031, an increase of nearly 40 per cent from 2011).

Urbanization is an important determinant of national economic growth and poverty reduction, but in India urban population is growing above the capabilities of its current cities in terms of inhabitants, peoples’ needs, sufficient and good quality housing, sanitation, transportation or parks and community spaces.

Therefore, any urban planning must be based in the design of a holistic long-term strategic plan, which in turn is based on a broad consensus between all levels of governance, stakeholders and the proper inhabitants.

The Indian government, in this sense, designed a good strategy with the launch of the Smart Cities Mission, as a way of encouraging city rulers to start planning the transformation of their cities.

Recently, we read a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Urban Development, which said that no more than 1.8 per cent of funds released for the Smart Cities Mission had been utilised since its launch in 2015 and that just 3 per cent of projects–23 of the 642 selected–were completed by February 2017. But we must grant hat the development of projects cannot not be the same for all the cities under the Mission.

Anyway, as urban planners and thinkers, we think that the most important role of the Mission should be to encourage city planners and rulers to design a long-term vision strategy for their cities and urban areas. However, in the Smart Cities plans we found that different projects were earmarked for certain areas of those cities, but they lacked a general vision and strategy.

Bilbao is considered a success in terms of urban and economic transformation. It is a small city by Indian standards and even so, the urban transformation process took 25 years to be completed.

And it was finally successful due to a strong and committed leadership which kept following the initial plan despite changes in the local government. And this should be the key for Indian cities too.

India will urbanize more in the next five decades than ever before and the challenge is to ensure a sustainable, inclusive and innovative urbanization, so there should be no short-term thinking.

In doing so, sometimes two important aspects get overshadowed by smart technological solutions. The first is environmental remediation -- the environmental damage is a competitiveness loss and needs to urgently improve in Indian cities.

Second, sanitation and drinking water systems are basic needs that are still not available to  many citizens.

And finally never forget to design compact cities, creatng districts with all the public services nearby so there is no need for transportation.

Also, remember to provision for adequate common property, including streets and open spaces, together with an efficient pattern of buildable plots, thus avoiding the informal settlements.

Definitely, design human scale cities, where the citizens are the protagonists.

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.

Xabier Arruza

The author is General Coordinator, Bilbao Urban & Cities Design Group

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