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The challenges of a rapidly urbanising world and of providing people with equal opportunities in cities were the central themes at the just-concluded UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, in Quito, Ecuador. As a once-in-a-generation event, the Habitat conference sets a guiding compass for member-countries for the next 20 years, and attracts wide governmental and civil society participation. Yet, the process has to be strengthened to evaluate how countries have fared since the two previous conferences on issues such as reducing urban inequality, improving access to housing and sanitation, mobility, and securing the rights of women, children, older adults and people with disability.

Moreover, as services come to occupy a dominant place in the urban economy, the divide between highly paid professionals and low-wage workers, the majority, has become pronounced. All these trends are relevant to India, where 31 per cent of the population and 26 per cent of the workforce was urban according to Census 2011, with more people moving to cities and towns each year. Urban governance policies, although mainly in the domain of the States, must be aligned with national commitments on reduction of carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement, and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11.


India’s ambition to harness science and data for orderly urbanisation is articulated in a set of policy initiatives, chiefly the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. There is little evidence so far that these could achieve the scale needed to address the contradictions of building 21st century cities for 20th century industrial technologies. Today, these conflicts are reflected in the lack of adequate parks and public spaces, suitable land for informal workers who offer services in a city, egalitarian and non-polluting mobility options and new approaches to low-cost housing.

In the national report prepared for the Quito conference, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation identified subsidised redevelopment of slums (which represented 17 per cent of urban households in 2011) involving private agencies, and low-cost, disaster-resistant, prefabricated constructions as key to the ‘Housing for All’ policy.



This important programme should be pursued with a vigorous annual review that ranks States on the basis of performance. The Centre should also take its own National Urban Transport Policy on developing cities around mobility networks seriously, and liberate cities from the tyranny of traffic. UN Habitat plans to review country-level progress on its New Urban Agenda in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. India’s performance on improving the quality of life in its cities will be watched.


THE HINDU
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