Opinion

Building resilient cities

Shivanshu Chauhan | Updated on October 28, 2020

A localised approach will be more inclusive and sustainable

The dual threat of Covid-19 and economic recession is transforming lives across urban spaces. People in urban areas continue to largely remain in their homes, cautiously venturing out only for essential activities. As economic activities resume gradually, the question of how urban life will look like in the post-Covid world is being discussed and debated.

Will people still prefer to travel in crowded buses, local trains and metros? Will residents trade off high-density compact living with less-crowded suburban neighbourhoods in the future? Will malls and office spaces be sustainable, or e-commerce and teleworking would be mainstream? How would cities ensure a safer livelihood for the migrants and blue-collar workers? Such transformation in urban lifestyles might completely change the face of our cities. Local communities are expected to play a big role in the anticipated transformation.

The pandemic has resulted in the development of a greater consensus amongst citizens and policymakers on the need to consider environmental sustainability, focus on inclusive growth and strengthen the social security net to make our cities more resilient. Globally, the rise in green investments and the switch to eco-friendly modes of travel are inspiring examples of how ‘building back better’ with increased focus on environmental sustainability ’is gradually becoming a reality.

The neighbourhood model

There is no set roadmap for a resilient future, but there are varying perspectives evidently emerging from the global patterns. But it is clear that if leaders and communities want to build stronger cities, the planning has to begin with the fundamental unit in the city — the ‘neighbourhood’. The top-down ecosystem of city planning and governance has to change. There is already a growing focus towards a localised approach, becoming self-reliant and resilient. Here are three interrelated recommendations that could forge deeper and stronger social recovery at a local level.

First, cities should be encouraged to embrace the 15-minute neighbourhood model which revolves around simple forms of active mobility and ensures that everyone can easily access essential goods and services. Such complete, self-contained and walkable units which effectively combine diverse land use, varying income groups and intergenerational spaces could probably help resolve the systemic and structurally deep-rooted urban issues of pollution, poverty and vulnerability.

Such neighbourhoods could be built by developing localised strategies to ensure adequate safety and well-being of the residents and growth of local businesses to make them resilient. This 15-minute neighbourhood is fundamentally similar to the neighbourhoods in any of the medieval cities in India which were complete and close-knitted resulting in an inclusive and vibrant urban fabric.

Second, it’s important to engage the citizens in rebuilding cities by incorporating their needs and visions in the local agenda and the city as a whole. Residents, businesses and the local governments/leaders could play an active role. Hyper-local governance could transform the local economy and enable better crisis response. India already has a robust institutional model of decentralised planning and governance with the provisions of constituting ward committees and local area planning committees.

However, very few cities have been able to enact on the existing provisions. As we start rebuilding our cities, there is a need to look at innovative models that address the current constraints, enable the communities to mould their development agenda and customise it as per their culture and needs.

Third, there is a need to accelerate the building of integrated urban systems by utilising innovative digital technology for intelligent management and efficient delivery of urban services.It would enable the regional and local government, communities and businesses to seamlessly connect with each other and ensure inter-departmental collaboration both within the city and across territories. This could further enable a wider network of changemakers to co-create the cities of tomorrow.

The writer is Partner, Urban Infrastructure, PwC India

Published on October 28, 2020

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