Canadian and Australian cities dominate global rankings of the best cities to live in. India, despite having 53 cities with a million plus population, including 8 megacities, doesn't have a single city in the top 100 global cities list. What can we learn from Canada and Australia?
Cities are engines of growth. Talent looks for good lifestyles, which can be nurtured by well planned and well executed cities. This is why Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne and San Francisco top the charts. Most Indian cities are growing at a rapid clip since they provide jobs. However, while jobs are being created and Indians are migrating to cities, lifestyles in most cities, for most citizens, is abysmal. Over the next two decades, our cities shall have unprecedented urbanization. Hence, Indian cities need to become much better much quicker.
Ever wondered why all the cities of India combined fail to attract fewer foreign tourists than the single city of Kuala Lumpur? For the record, Kuala Lumpur is targeting 10 million plus foreign visitors in 2015, whereas all indications are that India would be struggling to cross 7 million foreign visitors mark this year. And why for all the hype, the number of foreign tourists at the Taj has been dwindling in the last couple of years?!
Truth is, Indian cities offer extremely low quality of life. Most would qualify as quite un-smart cities. Along with economic opportunities, urban residents need decent housing with core infrastructure such as 24x7 water, power, a tap and sewerage connection in every home, parks and green spaces and a hassle-free commute to work, preferably walking to work or by public transport. Instead, we have slums, pollution, deficient public transport and unresponsive city governance.
We need a unified approach to city management, not multiple agencies. The other learning from Canadian, Australian and major global cities is that the Mayor is the champion of the city, and leads it to better times. The Mayor of London is responsible for making London a better place for everyone who visits, lives or works in the city. The Mayor is responsible for many areas from policing, transport, housing, planning and the environment. This aspect of empowered urban leadership is perhaps one major missing element in Indian cities--smart cities need smart leaders.
For urban Indian citizens, the daily grind of life is robbing them of their productivity and happiness. Sadly, four of our cities rank amongst the top ten most polluted cities globally.
Yes, there are showcase areas in almost every Indian city where the political and business elite live. These gated communities are picture-perfect, great visuals for advertising. Ironically they also represent a paradoxical side of our city life--isolationist exclusivity rather than desirable inclusivity.
This is why we have tried to incorporate inclusive living in our 125-acre development--'Bhartiya City'--in Bengaluru.
We believe that a smart city is a combination of science and art. We are enthused at the Smart Cities Mission for 100 Indian cities. The concept of smart city would be different for individual cities, as long as they have basic infrastructure, use smart solutions for making infrastructure and services better, and rely on area-based development. A smart city needs to promote culture of walking and cycling, which is the birth right of every individual. Also with the use of smart technology, we can offer solutions such as intelligent traffic management that helps optimize existing infrastructure, and increase efficiency.
India's urbanization pace is now going to pick up big momentum. With it, will come both challenges and opportunities. Good cities are known for enhancing quality of life. If not, they can make lives a lot more miserable. But cities change for the better. Think London in 1860, and New York in 1890 with poor quality of life, and how they have improved. The choice is totally ours. For me, Indian cities have no choice but to be intelligent.