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How smart is the Smart City Idea !! A Thought on World Town Planning Day

How smart is the Smart City Idea !! A Thought on World Town Planning Day

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Indian Towns sans planning!

by Ananta Prasad

The main challenges of urbanization in India are shortage of housing which is 18.78 million according to the 2011 census which Mr Venkeya Naidu, also stressed at the Plenary Session of Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference of Housing and Urban Development (APMCHUD) in Seoul recently.

The official statement of Minister emphasized stating that though accommodating slightly less than one third of the total population, the urban centres in India contribute a substantial part of the Gross Domestic Product already with 63 per cent in 2007 and the same is expected to increase to 75 per cent in 2021. However, the new Modi govt has their vision of Houses for all by end of 2012.

It is expected that by 2050, almost 50 percent of Indian population will constitute the urban areas and the Government of India is charged up with comprehensive urban up-liftment through improving quality of public transport, providing drainage, sanitation, waste management, water recycling and wi-fi facilities for public and commercial areas, added in the official note.

It is noted that World Town Planning Day is being celebrated in 30 countries of four continents on 8th November. It is a special day to recognize and promote the role of planning in creating livable urban communities. For fast growing countries like India the scenario of Town Planning is a myth. Sadly the town planners are yet to bring inclusive city planning. It has been a major issue in Indian cities that the urban planners have continuously ignored urban slums and the children in specific. Children and adolescents living in slums have been ignored as active stakeholder of urban renewal policies and programmes.

 According to HUPA, in India, 70.6% of urban population is covered by individual water connections while in china this is 91%, in South Africa 86% and in Brazil 80%.  Duration of water supply in India cities is between one to six hours. According to 2011 census, 13% of urban population defecate in the open, 37% are connected by open drains and 18% are not connected at all. 7.6 million young children living in urban poverty in Indian sufferer due to improper town planning in the country.The air quality has also deteriorated sharply carrying with it concomitant health costs. It has impacted directly to the children causing several diseases.

 Strategy to integrate networking of slums to city infrastructure and developing investment plans for slum infrastructure should be given priority as facts shows that slums have 20-25% of population but use less than 3 percent of land. The poor especially the children do not have any formal stake over land and hence are not a part of the planning process indicates the gap between the planners and the reality. Time has come for the planners to visioning the world class cities with proper inclusion of urban poor and young children living in it.

  It is noted that the central government has two major policies such as JnNURM and RAY for urban development where there has been plans to redevelop slums and to make India free from slums. But civil society members across India are now advocating for an inclusive development for all where women and children have equal share in the planning process and ensure a safe living condition for all.

 Keeping in mind the above statistics and information, if we analyse the statement by Naidu at Seoul things are very much superficial. The government has plans to adopt modern scientific methods of town and country planning practices based on Geographical Information System (GIS) in urban development. It is worth mentioning here that many programmes such as RAY and BSUP is facing issues like ownership of land as many slums in India are in forest lands or having such dispute. Any such relocation of people from existing set up to a farer place is simply not solving the issue of achieving Slum free India.

Again plans of extension of metro services to important and major urban centres, development of twin cities and creating infrastructure in satellite cities are other priority areas where now the new government is focusing on which is in other way ignoring the middle class which constitutes more than 40 percent in any urban settlement.

While the last budget it was announced for 100 new smart cities, now many civil society organisations have been questioning on the smartness of this smart city idea. However, every single day poor living condition is forcing most inhabitants of urban India to a unhealthy and unsafe well-being. Despite strengthening the existing plans in terms of hassle free execution of Urban Developmental plans, the new idea of smart cities seems very unreal in terms of implementation as the budgetary allocation is not sufficient.

The existing issues  that every urban set up in India is facing is going to be doubled of these smart city plans execute because of the obvious reason of non inclusiveness of such an idea.

(The writer is a Bangalore based development journalist and researcher on Urban Planing and Slum Development in India)

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LogoLink calls for making citizen participation substantive

LogoLink calls for making citizen participation substantive

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Source: http://www.pria.org/blogs.php?action=view&blog_id=2901

LogoLink – Learning Network on Citizen Participation and Local Governance held the Partners’ Meeting on 22-25 September 2014 in New York City. In 2013, LogoLink undertook a review and analysis of policies and practices of citizen participation in local democratic governance as evolved in the past decade. This analysis suggested the need for a renewed discourse on citizen participation in different regions of the world in the changing context of democratic governance. Over the last year more than 500 organisations of civil society, academic institutions, local governments and their networks have been consulted in Asia, Africa and Latin America which resulted in the Global Charter on Right to Citizen Participation in Local Governance. A central message emerged from these consultations as the existing institutional spaces and mechanisms for citizen participation are inadequate to make participation meaningful and substantive. The decision making with regard to mobilisation and utilisation of public resources for common public good is still dominated by the elite groups in the society and polity across the world. The Global Charter, therefore, proposes a set of concrete actions for civil society, governments and donors. The Partners’ Meeting was an opportunity to deliberate on the emerging lessons on opportunities and challenges faced by civil society organisations across the world in promoting citizen participation in local governance institutions.The updates from various regions highlighted some common trends.

  • Societies and economies across the globe are experiencing profound economic and demographic dynamics, characterised by increasing inequalities and concentration of wealth and power with handful people and corporations; the developing world is experiencing an increased urbanisation, often in an unplanned and unsustainable manner coupled with a tremendous bulge of young people with different aspirations.
  • Despite decades of existence, the decentralisation of governance has remained uneven and incompletein many countries of the global south. Many observed that there is in fact a deeper tendency for recentralisationof governance and increased influence of corporate power over public policies.
  • Despite significant progress in the past century, democratic models under stress. There is increased concentration of power and control in the state and political parties, undermining the practice of participatory citizenship; there seems to be a deeper crisis of representation, as citizens are losing trust in the political system.
  • These trends of increasing centralisation, concentration of power, wealth and control and increasing inequalities are also being contested by citizens from the below as evidenced througheruptions of mass protests across developed and developing societies.
  • Emergence of digital technology is impacting the society in a profound way. Societies and people are getting connected with common interests and issues. There are opportunities to relate to the state directly, but often these engagements are individualised and isolated which undermine the values and strengths of collective engagement. On the other hand state is also exerting a new form of control over the citizens through technology.
  • The ‘deep-democracy’discourse is now equated with transparency and accountability. A major focus is on anti-corruption and making governments open. Many a times the global efforts (e.g. Open Government Partnership) are disconnected from the local civil society networks.

What do all these mean for citizen participation? The Partners’ Meeting explored this question vis-à-vis each major trend.

Uneven and incomplete decentralisation: In the last decade there have been proliferation of institutionalised spaces for citizen participation, however the question is how substantive are these spaces for substantive and meaningful changes, particularly that for the most marginalised and poor. As more often these spaces do not satisfy citizens’ needs and aspirations there is disillusion and disengagement from a large number of citizens. A new set of strategies must be in place to make these spaces inclusive and substantive and to transform the local governance institutions as schools for practicing participatory citizenship.

Stressed democratic models: The role of political parties and the nature of political system shape the nature of citizen participation and therefore cannot be ignored. In many contexts the local patronage networks determine the outcome of citizen participation. As the representative democratic institutions often fail to nurture citizen aspirations there have been a surge of mass protests by the citizens some of which also embrace violent expressions. However, such display of discontents also provides opportunities for harnessing greater assertion of rights and political expression by the citizens.

Digital technology: Technology holds great potential for re-engaging citizens and activating state response by linking locality and interest as basis for collective action. In recent times a lot of online civic engagement initiatives are enthusiastically being practiced; however there is also a hype associated with this technology at this moment. It must be acknowledged that apart from the uneven access to technology, the civic technology initiatives are also disconnected from one another. In addition, there is also limitation to enable ‘thick’ and collective engagement beyond ‘thin’ and individualized participation. However, with a thoughtful strategy, technology can create opportunities for linking these apparently unconnected initiatives for learning citizenship.

From democracy to transparency and accountability: In recent years there have been dramatic expansion and growth of social accountability practices. It offers useful tools for citizen engagement and institutionalises rights to information and participation to a great extent. However, many social accountability initiatives also promote a narrow focus on the use tools and not on politics which transforms power relationships. Its focus on monitoring of state performance to a large extent undermines the co-construction of development solutions by the state and citizens. Strategies must be in place to complement social accountability practices with other methods and practices of citizen participation.

The Partners’ Meeting calls for a renewed collective global action for promoting substantive citizen participation and identified three thematic areas, namely institutionalising spaces for citizen participation, urban governance and planning, and participatory development.

In the next phase of LogoLink, PRIA will assume the Global Coordination role with the help of an Executive Committee. LogoLink aspires to develop a new programme involving new actors and regions and invites like-minded civil society organisations, academic, local government officials, elected representatives and policy makers in this endeavour as partners and supporters.

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