The model of today's cities in many developing countries is based on real estate values. This enables builders, developers and speculators to concentrate the city centre with high-value properties, ensuring higher profitability. The city development process also encourages the same in many ways, based on considerations of high taxes and other tariff returns. The intrinsic folly in such development models is the removal of the economically weaker section of the society to the peripheries of the city and development, forcing them to survive on virtually non-existent infrastructural, medical and other essential services’ support. This is the new caste system that bans the working class from the city, forcing them to endure horrendously long hours of travel to access their avenues of occupation. Many small-town developments, like in Maharashtra, are also witness to such a phenomenon.
The fallouts of such an exclusionary and profit motivated development model are many. Apart from giving rise to a city that banishes the poor to its outskirts and produces socially insensitive citizens (which is already happening very stridently in very many cities of countries like India, a country which can ill-afford its urban middle class to be desensitised towards its poor), there are very intrinsic practical problems to a development model like this:
- The service section of any city invariably comes from this economically weaker section. Banishing them to the outskirts creates a heavy burden on public transport systems coming from the suburban areas to the cities. Mumbai trains are a picture of this city rush, where millions of people are forced to travel everyday for at least a couple of hours to reach their work venues.
- This also has an immediate and far-reaching impact on the vehicular population that cities have to deal with. In Indian states such as Kerala, the entire footprint for cities like Ernakulam, its business capital, extends outwards almost to a radius of 50km to 70km from the city, requiring a large number of public transport vehicles to be dedicated to serving this ‘city rush’ crowd.
- The economic impact of such daily commute, compounded with the quality of life it produces — the long hours of travel being essentially unproductive time for these people already living on the fringes of subsistence — makes the overall benefits of such development very dubious from a social, egalitarian and humanitarian perspective.
- Just as the service class is inconvenienced, so is the service class, with high-cost impact as well as non-reliability of services provided.
- Equitable development patterns are hampered with major city resources going in to serve the richer parts of the city, leaving the poorer section with inadequate infrastructure.
A Sustainable Model
The unviability of this development model has already been established, albeit informally, by the near impossibility of implementing eradication efforts of slums from the city centre. Mumbai's Dharavi and Delhi's WHO slums survive and flourish despite all efforts to convert them to prime real estate. The only repercussion of this development thrust for these areas is the continuing grey legal status they inhabit, making city infrastructure like sanitation and water supply unavailable at the worst and illegal at best. In other examples, the burden of providing EWS housing has been shifted to private individuals where, out of sheer necessity, private house owners have resorted to providing housing for their service class — the drivers, the maids, the gardeners.
A sustainable city has to provide accommodation for all sections of society that are required to keep a city functioning. Mandatory percentages of housing for the economically weaker section have to become a part of all development plans. This development directive has to be then supported by adequate legislative and administrative actions to ensure implementation of the same. Such development and planning norms in places like New Delhi have been heavily compromised by illegal conversion to commercial spaces on high rent, often taken up by the same residents who own the higher-end housing.
Housing communities of mixed tenure also ensure citizens with higher levels of sensitivity towards all sections of the society, allowing planning norms to be driven by priorities of benefits to the larger society and not by narrow economic considerations.
- Cities for Children
- Rooftop Gardening
- Inclusive Societies
- Sustainable Communities
- Rain water harvesting
References and Useful Websites
- Learning from the Poor: Housing and Urban Land Markets
- NURM and the Poor in Globalising Mega Cities