By the year 2025, one billion people in cities around the world will enter the global “consuming class” with incomes high enough to become significant consumers of goods and services. According to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report titled Urban World – Rise of the Consuming Class, the world’s top cities will generate 65% of global GDP growth during 2010 – 2025, and of these, 440 cities from emerging countries, with a population of 600 million or so will generate close to half of this growth.
Even more dramatic is the likely contribution of what McKinsey terms as ‘middle-weight cities’ – with a population between 200,000 to ten million. The report predicts that these 400 cities would contribute USD 17.7 trillion in GDP growth by 2025.
Cities have always been engines of economic growth, attracting skilled workers, generating capital and helping scale up productive businesses that benefit from economies of scale. A nation’s level of urbanisation and rise in its per capita income generally tend to be in sync. What is new about this mega-trend is the scale and speed by which cities are transforming the global economy leading McKinsey to point out that “…we are witnessing the most significant shift in the earth’s economic centre of gravity in history”.
The Indian government’s announcement to set up 100 new smart cities is, in a sense, recognition of this mega-trend. But to get it right, the government will have to – above all else – focus on one critical element – urban planning.
In India, the path to urbanisation has been rocky, largely owing to unplanned growth. A Planning Commission Approach Paper to the 12th Plan pointed out, “Very few Indian cities have 2030 master plans that take into account peak transportation loads, requirements for low-income affordable housing and climate change. In general, the capacity to execute the urban reforms and projects at the municipal and state level has been historically inadequate.”
By 2030, India’s largest cities will be bigger than many countries today and there is a need for meaningful reforms that enable true devolution of power and responsibilities from the states to the local and metropolitan bodies.
Among the measures suggested by the Planning Commission is an overhaul of India’s urban governance. India’s current urban governance is in sharp contrast to large cities elsewhere that have empowered mayors with long tenures and clear accountability for the city’s performance. India also needs to clearly define the relative roles of its metropolitan and municipal structures for its 20 largest metropolitan areas. With cities growing beyond municipal boundaries, having fully formed metropolitan authorities with clearly defined roles will be essential for the successful management of large cities in India.
The most critical reform the Planning Commission suggests is centered on Planning. “India needs to make urban planning a central, respected function, investing in skilled people, a rigorous fact base and innovative urban form. This can be done through a ‘cascaded’ planning structure in which large cities have 40-year and 20-year plans at the metropolitan level that are binding on municipal development plans. Central to planning in any city is the optimal allocation of space, especially land use and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) planning. Both should focus on linking public transportation with zoning for affordable houses for low-income groups. These plans need to be detailed, comprehensive, and enforceable,” it says.
The Commission noted that reforms will have to address the development of professional managers for urban management functions, who are presently in short supply and will be required in large numbers. New innovative approaches will have to be explored to tap into the expertise available in the private and social sectors. Another measure suggested by the Commission is to build a cadre with technical and managerial depth in its city administrations, perhaps on the lines of the Civil Services, as well as allow for lateral entry of private-sector executives. It points out that, “A real step-up in the capabilities and expertise of urban local bodies will be critical to devolution and improvement of service delivery.”
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