Urban revitalisation - The collaborative approach to city futures
As per UN estimates, urban areas in India already contribute more than 60 per cent to GDP. Furthermore, an additional 300 million new urban residents are projected in India in 2050. Urbanisation thus appears imminent - an all-pervading natural progression driven by a combination of organic and inorganic growth factors (rural-urban migration, population growth, etc.) and involving both brownfield and greenfield development. New urban ecosystems will need to be built for the future, in a structured manner, and with adequate control on usage of natural resources and energy.
Our Prime Minister has spoken of how sustainable progress for one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world. As a nation that is strongly committed to the United Nations 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, including the success of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), we must therefore methodically plan our urban development journey.
To begin with, it will be important to acknowledge that cities are responsible for the consumption of energy and natural resources, for GHG emissions and are often home to rising socio-economic inequity. However, urban history has demonstrated time and again that cities can also be sites of innovation, environmental resilience and preparedness, commerce, research and cultural growth. If planned well, urbanisation need not be decoupled from resource efficiency, or environmental and socioeconomic responsiveness. In fact, urbanization can play a key role in eradicating rural poverty; research in India towards this end has indicated that an increase in urban population is directly correlated to a decrease in rural poverty.
India's plans to build a 100 Smart Cities and achieve Housing For All are transformative and visionary initiatives that aim to improve the quality of life across our urban areas. The Smart Cities initiative has already shown early results, with the first set of select cities having demonstrated proof of concept in a controlled environment. The initiative is in relatively early stages yet, with the results of the third round of the Smart City challenge soon to be announced. More than 730 smart city projects worth Rs. 40,000 crores-plus have been approved so far: an extraordinary accomplishment in the history of independent India in terms of urban infrastructure transformation. Our country's urban future is increasingly a focus area for not just experts representing government, business and academia, but also for civil society.
We must remind ourselves that we stand at a unique inflection point today. The status quo is defined by a juxtaposition of accelerating urbanisation and poverty; new planning visions and development challenges; waning resources and growing energy demands; and technological advances and inadequate infrastructure. We must clearly identify and articulate policies and tools that can transform our nation of fast-growing cities into a nation of fast-growing, sustainable and inclusive cities that can catapult the urban experience for all.
This is no easy task though, given the diversity of our urban populations and the infrastructural and environmental tasks before us. The challenge will be in meeting the ever-growing expectations of city capabilities. No longer will success be judged only on economic and architectural merit, but also on performance as a source of inspiration, productivity improvement and wellbeing support. This is perhaps where the private sector can play a deeper and more meaningful role. An enabling environment with a long-term vision encompassing collaborative development and governance models, the 'right' infrastructure and capacity building, can realise urban development that is sustainable, inclusive and equitable.
Innovation in urban development must first and foremost respond to the basic needs of stakeholders. We must begin by prioritising the integration of economic development, especially job growth, into our planning process, which in turn must be flexible and future-focused. City development programs will need to consider the natural advantages of given urban locations, capital formation, public-private cooperation, the connectivity quotient, as well as work-force readiness through education and job training. One might term this the 'Livelihood, Living and Life' approach, which incorporates infrastructural planning for job creation, community growth and environmental responsibility.
Private participants can contribute expertise and proficiency in areas such as urban planning, design, construction, technology, logistics, and Sales & Marketing. Typically, PPPs in urban development imply a long-term relationship that spans the project's lifecycle. Emphasis on output areas encourages innovation focused on developing new, sustainable and cost-efficient methods and models. Each party does what it does best; the Government can focus on its administrative and regulatory knowhow, and the private sector can focus on operational and execution aspects. Delineating lines can sometimes blur, with stakeholder-focused, strategic collaboration resulting in a win-win-win situation that benefits communities, economic growth and the environment.
There is a limitless world of possibilities for our collective urban future. Public-Private Partnerships are producing innovative and successful urban models not just in India, but around the world. For example, in 2015, Washington DC entered a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a renewable energy partner to prevent the release of air pollutants via alternatives such as wind power.
Sustainable urbanisation is today universally acknowledged as a vital contributor to achieving global climate change goals. As India seeks to reduce its emissions intensity, planned and holistic urban development that embraces both the environment and sustainable growth of the built environment will be key. A sharp focus on adaptation and resilience, driven by adequate infrastructural planning, clean energy, green construction, multi-format housing and technology as an enabler can help drive India's urban agenda in the right direction. This will require active participation by both the private and public sectors to promote responsible urbanisation and evolve sustainable frameworks that can collectively nurture the future of our cities.
We have before us the opportunity to accord urban planning and development the importance it truly deserves in India's growth journey. It is an opportunity for collaboration that has direct implications for future generations straddling stakeholder communities - an opportunity for many lifetimes that we cannot afford to miss.