Cities are the drivers of global economies. Urbanization in emerging markets has been the dominant force of global growth in the recent decade. Given the speed with which cities in emerging economies are growing, there is an entire generation of global cities, waiting to be realized.
‘Confluence’ is the thought leadership platform curated by Mahindra World City, with McKinsey India as Knowledge Partners. Confluence provides a forum for engaging with diverse stakeholders who participate in the creation of the fabric of urban ecosystems worldwide. The objective is to catalyze participation and collaborative learning, and facilitate the exchange of ideas on a wide variety of topics related to Urban Development.
Held on 15th February 2018, the latest edition of Confluence was anchored around Youth and Innovation, and sought to explore Cities on the Horizon, Confluence 2018 brought together a never-before collective of fresh perspectives and global urban innovation. The event witnessed participation by students, startups and experts from urban development, Government, citizen forums, academicians, and business leaders.
Over the course of a thought-provoking evening at the Royal Ballroom of the Oberoi, New Delhi, young innovators and thought leaders shared the stage with industry leaders and statesmen to present their views on emerging trends in cities across the world.
In the inaugural session Mr Shirish Shankhe, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company, put forth his viewpoint that three basic shifts were required for future urbanisation efforts to bear fruit -- direct funding for cities, five-year terms for politically empowered and directly elected mayors, and ‘placemaking’ or low-cost and high-impact, citizen-centric redevelopment (such as parks, streets, sidewalks, river fronts, etc).
Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State, Housing & Urban Affairs, Govt of India, delivered the keynote address and spoke about the nature of challenges India faces in developing its urban landscape. Population was described as one of the biggest challenges, as according to Mr Puri, India may have 600 million urban residents by 2030-31, up from around 300 million currently. “Cities have become engines of India’s growth,” he said. Mr Puri also spoke about three flagship programmes of the government – the Swachh Bharat cleanliness drive, affordable housing through the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), and the ongoing Smart Cities project – that are helping transform India’s cities, and hopefully, attitudes. “The popular narrative is cynicism. We need to change that,” he said.
Confluence was divided into three sessions, each of which tackled a core aspect of sustainable urbanisation.
Session I – The art of looking sideways
The first session of Confluence 2018 showcased innovative approaches that redefine and rethink the most pressing urban issues of today.
The session was set off by Mr Shashank Mani Tripathi, Chairman & Founder, Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day, 8,000-km train journey undertaken by 500 potential young entrepreneurs. Mr Tripathi shared his vision for supporting India’s youth with purpose, employment and an enabling ecosystem. “Enterprise is at the heart of any city,” he said. Unveiling the plan for creating a new entrepreneurial hub in Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, Mr Tripathi said that the enterprise-led route to urbanisation in India’s smaller towns could well be the answer to fuel growth in new cities.
Quality of life in larger cities will, however, continue to remain a challenge, and this was the issue raised by urban planner and land development expert Carla Guerrera. “Cities cover 20% of the earth’s surface. They contribute 78% of our energy consumption and 60% of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ms Guerrera. Talking about her experiences with a variety of urban revitalisation projects, especially the West Don Lands in Toronto, Ms Guerrera emphasised the need for creative solutions to make our cities vibrant and sustainable.
As cities grow, human connections become more critical; this is a subject dear to Juhi Pande, who co-founded City Story, a local discovery platform and city guide. “Cities are chipping away at human connection,” she said, adding that loneliness is closely linked to mortality, and giving people a sense of belonging and ownership should be high on our list of priorities when we talk about making cities better for the future. “Future cities will be more diverse and heterogeneous than we think,” Ms. Pande said, pointing out the need for shared stories and experiences to help connect new residents to older ones.
Safety is another critical issue and Dr. Nandita Shah, co-director and managing trustee at Akshara Centre, a Mumbai-based women’s rights organisation, spoke about making cities safe for women through their design. She shared examples of how involving government organisations and citizens can help create more inclusive cities of the future for women.
Session II – Connecting the Dots
The second session of Confluence 2018 sought a broader view on the need for technology in shaping a city experience. MIT professor and architect Carlo Ratti spoke about the emerging area of ‘Sense-able Mobility’ based on his research and work in the area. “We must build today’s cities that are compatible with tomorrow’s needs.”
Sharing the example of a project he worked on in New York City, Professor Ratti spoke about how traditional myths about transportation were busted with the help of big data. One such exercise projected that ride sharing could help bring down the number of cars on the city’s roads by 40%, a figure that wasn’t entirely believable until a few years ago. Today, Uberpool is a huge success in cities like New York and San Francisco, Mr. Ratti said, and this indicates how we must further work to decongest our roads and put cars to more productive use through a clever use of cutting-edge technology. “Technology and data can be used to make them more efficient,” he said.
Mobility and transportation solutions have been leading debates around what cities of the future could be like. Confluence speaker Harj Dhaliwal, managing director, Middle East & India, Hyperloop One, showed how new-age solutions like the Hyperloop pods could usher in a new era of transportation, and consequently reshape how we commute, work and live. Hyperloop technology can potentially cut down the Mumbai-Pune commute from the existing 3 hours and 25 minutes to only 25 minutes; a Delhi-Mumbai trip may be possible in 90 minutes!
“The way we move has a direct relation to how our cities have expanded,” he said. Hyperloop’s model of on-demand, direct-to-destination transport could have wide-reaching ramifications for cities and their economics. “It will radically change the way we plan our cities,” Mr Dhaliwal said. Moreover, employers will be able to access a wider talent pool, not limited by local considerations, and local businesses can tap into customers far beyond their current boundaries
Any talk about urbanisation must also take into account innovations in digital technology which have changed our day-to-day lives and will also impact the design of our cities. Confluence 2018 had two young innovators bringing this much-needed perspective to the event.
Vaibhav Lodha, co-founder of ftCASH, one of India’s fastest growing fintech companies, spoke about how new financial technologies and advances such as borderless banking, virtual banks and AI will be integral to urban futures. Saurabh Arora, CEO and co-founder of Lybrate, India’s largest mobile healthcare communication and delivery platform, helped connect the dots between urbanisation and healthcare models of the future.
Session III – The Paradigm Shift
The concluding session of Confluence 2018 was a lively panel discussion with Mr. Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group; Shri Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways & Coal, Government of India; and Professor Carlo Ratti. Moderated by Sangeeta Prasad, CEO, Integrated Cities and Industrial Clusters at Mahindra Lifespace Developers Ltd, the discussion took the audience through a variety of ‘hot’ topics around sustainable urbanisation – the much-needed ‘Paradigm Shift’ for urbanisation. Mr. Mahindra set the tone for the discussion, likening a city to a proverbial campfire of his childhood, which brings residents together: “The campfire was a place where you connected; there were conversations and there was security with the fire. Technology lights that campfire and takes me closer to it.” Professor Ratti agreed, adding that designing cities for the future must be about ‘putting not the technology, but people, at the core’. videos and images
Drawing on his experiences with technology adoption within the Railways ministry, Shri Piyush Goyal pointed out the need for context: “Technology should be taken for outcomes and relevance. When the outcome is significant, then don’t compromise.” Bringing in a policymaker’s view, he suggested that planning for cities must borrow from India’s villages, where the happiness quotient is higher, despite frugal living conditions. Technology must be used for the benefit for the masses, and that’s an area where future efforts must refocus on.
On the question of funding for India’s cities, Professor Ratti said, “Cities work best when the government funds them and citizens decide the allocation.” The country’s bottom-up approach to urban planning and development with public-private partnerships was ideal: “Instead of a new city, think incrementally, little by little, with the private sector. That’s the best way to go.” To an audience question on the potential socio-economic impact of autonomous mobility, Shri Goyal emphasised that every country will have to adapt to technology and its effects.
As with each edition, Confluence 2018 served to stir the collective imagination of participants and urban stakeholders across the world, sparking new ideas, conversations and approaches to sustainable urbanisation. As global cities accrue ever-increasing focus as hubs for innovation, commerce, culture and climate change, Confluence by Mahindra World City will continue to support the agenda for robust, resilient and future-focused Cities on the Horizon.