Making cities sustainable & livable: M Venkaiah Naidu

The world is witnessing urbanisation at an unprecedented pace and scale today, setting off several challenges to policy-makers and planners in building futuristic, but inclusive and sustainable cities and urban areas.

The challenges are on several fronts – social, demographic, environmental and economic – to redesign and develop the burgeoning cities into vibrant, environment-friendly urban areas that provide access to resources and basic amenities to all citizens on an equitable and sustainable basis.
Therefore, the need of the hour is to implement the ‘New Urban Agenda’ by pursuing appropriate policies and addressing the challenges in terms of physical spaces and other issues for urban, peri-urban and rural areas at all levels — international, national and local.
Equity basically is an issue of social justice, which ensures access to citizens in the public sphere, even while meeting the goals of sustainable development. And there is every need to have an institutional arrangement.

Sustainable urbanisation means sustainable development by putting in place right policies, providing urban-rural linkages and inter-linking social, economic and environmental dimensions to make societies more prosperous and inclusive.

As I stated earlier, unprecedented urbanisation is taking place. It can’t be reversed even if one wishes to do so. By middle of this century, four out of every five people will be living in cities and towns. Urbanisation and development are inter-linked as urbanisation is the driving force for growth and development. 
In 1976, 37.9 per cent of the world population was living in towns and cities. This increased to 45 per cent in 1996 and 54.4 per cent in 2016. In India too, the pace of urbanisation increased in recent years.
Let us now look into some basic details relating to cities and towns. While the cities and town occupy only two per cent of the total land, they contribute 70 per cent of the GDP—they are the main engines and drivers of growth. However, the galloping urbanisation at the same time is throwing up several challenges.
For instance, cities and towns consume 60 per cent of the global energy and contribute 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The “greenhouse effect” is one of the main causes for global warming.  
The enormity of the challenge shows that urbanization cannot be allowed to continue in business as usual manner and requires a massive global effort to ensure sustainable human settlements, where every citizen is provided basic requirements to lead a comfortable life.
There is a need for plan of action to achieve such sustainable human settlements—the plan of action should basically ensure adequate shelter, water, energy, sanitation and solid waste management, among others. The ‘New Urban Agenda’ emphasises upon the need to focus on these challenges.
What we require is sustainable action and that’s why the United Nations formed this UN-Habitat. The need for UN-Habitat was discussed in the UN General Assembly in 1978 to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns—these well-planned cities and human settlements will be required to have housing infrastructure, education and employment facilities and provide access to basic services like water and sanitation.
Later, the UN-Habitat was created. It is a global advocacy platform and mandated, among others, to provide policy and operational support for governments and cities in identifying reforms and adopting laws that regulate urbanization in regard to land use, urban planning, housing, infrastructure and safety.  It seeks to promote best practices and urban governance models that are equitable, gender-responsive and socially inclusive.
It also provides policy support relating to planning and design of basic services, slum upgradation, rehabilitation of displaced people and capacity building of urban bodies.  The Governing Council of UN-Habitat is composed of 58 members, who are elected by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a term of four years. 
The Governing Council is an intergovernmental decision-making body of UN-Habitat. It consists of five regional groupings –- Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean States and Western Europe and other States.
The Habitat-III conference held at Quito, Ecuador last year adopted the ‘New Urban Agenda’. This year at Nairobi, Kenya, where I was elected as President of the UN-Habitat, the theme of the conference was “Opportunities for effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda”, while the three sub-themes were: 1) “Towards inclusive, sustainable and adequate housing for better future,” 2) “Synergies and finances for sustainable urbanization”; and 3) ” Integrated human settlements, planning for sustainable urbanisation. 
It was indeed a rare honor given to India to preside over the Governing Council in 2017.

Simultaneously, India was also elected as Chair of Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, which is an inter-governmental mechanism to collaborate and cooperate in the fields of housing and urban development. The other members are Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Jordan and Nauru.

People are basically moving towards cities for five reasons –education, employment, entertainment, economic opportunities and enhanced medical facilities.  Besides it’s also a reality that agriculture is more mechanised now than in the past and is becoming less and less remunerative.  
For agriculturists, the terms of trade are no longer conducive to continue with the age-old occupation.  The vagaries of monsoon, unfavorable market conditions, exploitation by middlemen, lack of opportunities for value addition of agro-based products are among the factors that are rendering agriculture unremunerative.
Since urban areas are becoming the centres of development in the modern world and also contributing towards poverty reduction, people are choosing urban areas for better living. However, urbanization provides both opportunities and challenges.
The challenges include lack of prior and proper planning, ineffective functioning of civic bodies and paucity of resources for urban local bodies.  In a bid to address these shortcomings, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were passed to devolve more powers and the three ‘Fs’ – Funds, Functions and Functionaries.  However, it is not happening effectively in spirit. Similar conditions prevail in many other countries.
In my presidential address at the GC meeting in Nairobi, I had emphasised upon the need to empower the local bodies globally through devolution of three Fs. Also, the urban local bodies need to raise resources on their own through innovative planning and policies and provide better facilities and services to people through transparent and accountable governance. In other words, there is a need for a paradigm shift in urban governance.
The Modi-led NDA Government has been moving in that direction for the last three years. Its flagship schemes like the Smart Cities, AMRUT, Housing for All, HRIDAY and Swachh Bharat are aimed at not only addressing various deficits to provide better urban governance, but alsoseek to make the cities and towns throbbing hubs of growth and sustainable development.
A series of reforms through incentives and disincentives have been put in place to achieve the goals. Incentives for universal housing, giving  infrastructure status to affordable housing, allowing FDI and providing income tax exemption are among the important measures. 
In a historic announcement, Prime Minister, Shri NarendraModi had announced reduction in interest—6.5 per cent interest subvention for economically weaker sections, four per cent for low income group and three per cent for middle income group—because housing is the basic requirement for any sustainable development and a major component of inclusive development.
Also, the government is promoting innovative measures like waste-to-energy, waste-to-compost and reuse of construction and demolition waste as part of sustainable urbanization. 
Unless there is proper planning and various deficits relating to infrastructure, housing, slum upgradation, employment, education and health in urban areas are addressed on a war-footing through public and private participation, there will be utter chaos and cities will become uninhabitable.
The NDA Government will leave no stone unturned in converting our urban settlements and cities into inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable centres of innovation and prosperity.
As part of the determined efforts to make cities sustainable and livable, the ministries of Urban Development and Housing and Poverty Alleviation  have so far approved an investment of over Rs.4 lakh crore for improving urban infrastructure under the new urban missions. 
This includes Rs.1.38 lakhcrore under Smart City Plans for 60 cities, Rs.0.78 lakh crore under AMRUT, Rs.0.68 lakh crore under Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban), Rs.0.45 lakh crore under new metro projects and Rs.1.04 lakh crore for building affordable houses under PradhanMantriAwasYojana (Urban). 
Following the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, over Rs 87,000 crore is being directly provided to city governments as against only Rs 27,000 crore under the 13th Finance Commission.

Image: M Venkaiah Naidu is Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Poverty Alleviation and Information and Broadcasting. He was recently elected as President of the UN-Habitat’s Governing Council

Source: The Hans India

This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.