Cities of the future will be quite different from today. They will be different in their demographic composition, in their implementation of technology and in their wider ecological contexts. Therefore, the challenges of building cities sustainable enough to meet the changing needs of the future will require new ways of thinking and working, as well as new kinds of multi-stakeholder initiatives and partnerships.
Scarcity of water in summer and its abundance in Monsoon is now a common phenomenon in Indian cities. While people fight for a bucket of water in May/June, they use the same bucket in July to throw the water which has flooded into their homes. This has become an annual feature seen in almost all the major cities of India. These extremes of everyday reality in Indian cities highlight the present and portend the future because they are the outcomes of decisions taken and not taken in the past in the face of myriad other decisions and events.
Currently urbanisation ratio is less than 35% which is growing and at this rate, its projected, half the population will be living in cities in the coming days. Between 2014 and 2050, India is estimated to add 404 million urban dwellers. By 2025, 46% of Indians will live in cities with more than 1 million people. To accommodate the growing population cities will be growing upward and outward too. Our cities are dense by global standards and these densities are bound to increase further. Improving access to inclusive, high-quality services in our existing dense cities and ensuring that planned urban extensions meet similar standards are essential steps for cities to accommodate growth without consuming excessive amounts of undeveloped land.
The addition of 400 million new residents in Indian cities till 2030 will have profound implications for the region’s economy, society and environment. These residents will need jobs offering decent work and absence of job opportunities may create social unrest. They will need affordable housing with transport links to avoid the proliferation of slum-like conditions and urban sprawl that consumes agricultural and natural land. They will need the necessary water and sanitation infrastructure to prevent environmental degradation and public health risks. They will need to harness the potential of disruptive, digital innovations to drive positive social change. All these factors should have been part of our planning process but unfortunately were not given due considerations.
Its true that India’s urban economies have developed through largely environmentally exploitative models. Our urbanisation has been rapid, inefficient and unplanned. To add fuel to fire there has been unsustainable consumption patterns and changes in lifestyle over recent decades. These factors have predominantly resulted in environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, increased pressure on natural resources, generation of waste, exposure to pollution and disasters, and vulnerability to climate change, all of which require urgent integrated responses and political action. Significant amounts of marine pollution are the result of land-based activities, such as pollutants from waste, sewage and wastewater. While the vast share of this pollution still consists of organic matter, over time waste streams like plastics are becoming more complex and non-biodegradable and containing ever more toxic components, including e-waste. A sustainable future for cities in our country is needed more than ever.
Cities in India just happened and were never planned. This is the main problem with our cities today and we should not repeat that mistake in future. We should ensure that every building, every neighbourhood and every corner are the result of careful planning. In such cases, our cities can play a major role in supporting a more sustainable and inclusive future in our region. This requires decisive action in cities and urban centres right across the country.