The Centre for Emerging Markets Solutions at the Indian School of Business (ISB) organized a panel discussion on the challenges of ensuring that the city works for all its stakeholders. Panelists included Mala Rao from Indian Institute of Public Health; Jockin Arputham from National Slum Dwellers Federation; Manoj Kumar from Naandi Foundation and Jerry Rao from Value and Budget Housing Corporation.
Inclusive Cities: A Utopian Idea?
Historically, cities were not built; they grew by themselves centered on an employment-generating hub. As more people came, more layers were added and the need to plan for growth arose. The city was planned by the educated few but it was built by the labourers, who found themselves being pushed to the periphery. This inequality continues to plague Indian cities, so much so, that sometimes the poor just have to leave. New Delhi got rid of its slums before the Commonwealth Games. Those that were not displaced found themselves behind bamboo screens. Poverty can be smoke screened out of view but reality lets in the poor so that they can service the cars, mow the lawns and cook the meals of the rich. These entwined needs of city dwellers call for a plan that is inclusive in its outlook. Anything else would lead to chaos. Jockin Arputham, President, National Slum Dwellers Federation, has been working with the Indian government to rehabilitate families of one lakh slum dwellers from the vicinity of the Mumbai airport. He is familiar with the problems arising out of such large-scale dislocation. “Even if I relocate these families you will have 100,000 encroachers around the airport in the next few years, due to the needs of the airport alone.”
Cities with heterogeneous populations come to life as they foster a vibrant exchange of ideas between its citizens of varying socio-economic strata. Any plan for an urban city must encourage this symbiotic relationship. Building affordable housing is the first in the series of steps that can lead to seamless integration.
Developers face unique challenges when building for the marginalised sections of the society. “Most of our customers are self employed. So they don’t get bank loans. That is a big constraint,” states Jerry Rao, Executive Chairman, Value and Budget Housing Corporation. Rao has been building houses for people making about one lakh a year. His customers know what they want: access to English-medium schools, all covered spaces and an indoor toilet.
Hygiene is a compromise that the poor willingly make – it affords them a living. But, the growing disparity in the living conditions does not really spare the affluent. Germs do not stop at their gates, instead they cause serious diseases. Likewise, the Hyderabad slum dwellers also suffer from middle class ailments such as diabetes. While hospitals figure prominently in city plans, there is little emphasis on creating an environment that takes into account the well-being of its occupants.
Healthcare is only a tiny part of what accounts for health. There are several factors including local community, environment and genes
“Healthcare is only a tiny part of what accounts for health. There are several factors including local community, environment and genes,” stresses Mala Rao, a health practitioner who has been associated with urbanization and health for over a decade.
The importance of planning for open green spaces and reduced traffic is further validated by studies that have shown that the density of social networks decreases as the speed levels in the streets increased. Social networks are imperative for overall well-being.
The mandate over land rests primarily with the government. Arputham wants the central government to part with some of its land. “To remove the slums in Mumbai it requires less than 8% of the land it occupies today,” he states. Collaboration between NGOs and the community could help in rehabilitation efforts of slum dwellers.
In many states, developers are legally bound to build for all segments of the society but the enforcement of these laws is inadequate. Furthermore, rental options are limited. The existing laws not just fail to protect, but also limit the ability to build for the poor. “So how will the poor be able to occupy the space in new cities even if a 350 sq ft home are built for them?” questions Jerry Rao.
Can creating new cities solve old problems? Both Jerry Rao and Jockin Arputham disagree. Better governance in existing cities in addition to building smaller townships should serve the disadvantaged by integrating their lives with that of the community.