ActionAid Association: People’s Vision of the City

ActionAid Association: People’s Vision of the City

Cities are seen to be crucibles of creativity, innovations and prosperity. They are, historically,  the most dynamic creations of civilisation, offering both challenges and opportunities. Globally, the world has seen an increase in urbanisation vis-a-vis rise in the number of cities – 29% of population living in cities in 1950, to 50% of world population living in cities in 2010. In 1950, there were two mega-cities with 10 million or more inhabitants. By 2005, their number had increased to 20 and it is projected that there will be 22 mega-cities in 2015 out which developing countries will have 17 of these  mega-cities (World Urbanization Prospects 2005). Particularly for India, these figures are quite crucial – 18% in 1950 to almost 33% in 2010, and projected to reach 51% by 2050. In 1951, there were only 5 cities, with a population more than 1 million, which increased to 53 cities in 2011, and 3 cities with population of more than 10 million (IIHS 2011 based on Census of India 2011).

With such a huge chunk of population living in urban areas, cities are the primary engines of production, consumption and economic growth. This also entails a rise in urban GDP and investments and global capital flows in the cities. However, urbanization does not only include a rise in population, but also a dramatic change in the way of living, culture, society and political systems. With urban growth, cities also entail a set of risks, social and environmental hazards and vulnerabilities. Cities bear certain similarity to each other in terms of waste generation, urban violence, gender and poverty in various forms. They are also places of opportunities and proliferation and crucial to generation national GDPs.

It is thus undeniable that, cities are the next social, economic, and political centers of the earth, which are going to impact the rest of the globe. In India, the current flagship programme called Smart Cities Mission, has as its declared aims, the responsibility of ensuring socio-economic upliftment by promoting business opportunities, ensuring citizens’ participation and improving e-governance for better service delivery. The key features of a Smart City is the intersect between competitiveness, capital and sustainability.Given such an ambitious urban development programme in which it becomes essential to engage with people’s groups/constituencies to imagine their own vision and to make sure that it is their ideas and demands that go into the planning of their city.  Too often plans for cities been created without caring about the needs and aspirations of the citizens, without respecting their knowledge and their right to the city.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) gives us an opportunity and avenue to re-create and re-imagine cities for a better and prosperous urban life. The NUA draws a link between urbanization and development, making both crucial for achieving sustainable development. ActionAid India’s idea on People’s Vision of the City has a significant resonance with the kind of city one should advocate for , and can build for the interest of collective future. PVOC is expected to evolve an alternative model of city planning and development. It  is conceptualized within the framework of Sustainable Cities and the Right to the City, which demand a transformed and renewed approach to urban life. It advocates collective right to access and enjoy urban resources, and to build up collective efforts to re-structure the city space. Cities need to be viewed from the lens of sustainability, equity, safety, resilience, aesthetics etc.  The idea PVOC will consciously build upon economic/ecological /social justice and democratic principles in viewing the urban space from a feminist perspective.   The PVOC will engage in building alternative ideas of city building, and advocate for implementation, equitable distribution of resources, transparency and accountability, which will contribute to a sustainable form of development.

The Urban Thinkers Campus to be organized in Kolkata (11th September-13th September 2017), is based on the above idea of creating sustainable cities, along with different constituencies of the city. The programme is designed so as to involve different groups of citizens i.e. students, academicians, activists, thematic experts, grassroot organisations etc to design a common minimum vision of the city. The campus is organized with an objective of arriving at an action-oriented plan for implementing the NUA, for the Kolkata we need.

Article by: Dr. Pritha Chatterjee
Photo Credits: Surajit Neogi