14
Nov

Arts and the City

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

“Outside is where art should live, amongst us. And rather than street art being a fad, maybe it’s the last 1,000 years or art history that are the blip, when art came inside in service of the church and institutions. But art’s rightful place is on the cave walls of our communities, where it can act as a public service, provoke debate, voice concerns, forge identities. The world we live in today is run, visually at least, by traffic signs, billboards and planning committees. But is that just it? Don’t we want to live in a world made by art, not just decorated by it?”

So signed off Banksy, the elusive street-artist, from his month long residency in New York with this message having Frank Sinatra’s New York New York hauntingly playing in the background. His experiment garnered tremendous attention, almost frenzy, leaving people wondering whether he was a jerk or genius? Mr. Bloomberg though is clearly not a fan.

Graffiti has been in existence since Roman times, however its modern avatar emerged in the 70’s along with hip-hop music. From permanent markers to spray-painting to using stencils and stickers, street art has come of age. The fantastic documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” released in 2010 captures some of the leading street artists at work, and portrays a wonderful account of how the art form has evolved in recent times.

Judgment on Banksy’s work and graffiti as a art-form aside, the point that he makes in the audio message may have an important lesson for urban planners to ponder over.

Each city has a unique soul that obtains from the residents that inhabit it. With increasing gentrification of the urban landscape, and a developer rush to sell you “your dream home” adding to the concrete-metal jamboree, the whole notion of orderly development has caused the sense of “community” to take a backseat. Not to forget the “Smart City” fever that city governments are grappling with.

Artists in the context of cities

This lays out a fundamental question as to what do we actually love about cities? What is it that draws us to one? What is it that makes us connect to the cities or neighborhoods that we grew up in?

Answers to these in no small measure can be attributed to the arts and artists that originate from a city. Carol Becker writes: “Artists have always been central to the allure of cities, from classical Greek sculptors; to Impressionist painters; to the musicians, poets and artists of the Harlem Renaissance; to the Beats of Greenwich Village and North Beach. Artists gravitate to the intensity of cities and to each other. This proximity has created Bohemia — a condition of mind that we associate with cultural innovation and risk.

Citing example of SoHo in New York City, she talks about the role of artists in revitalizing the place and transforming it, only to find them gradually pushed out when it started getting attention from real-estate developers. And this could very well be a tale with a lot of other cities as well.

Artists form an inherent core of our society and more often than not are a reflection of the values and thinking that makes a place unique. For city officials and urban planners nurturing and leveraging artists in city planning and development is both fundamental and necessary, as without an arts scene and the ensuing vibrancy that it brings, cities of the future may become smart for sure but run the risk of being soulless. As Akit Biswas puts it: Smart cities? The truly great have soul.

Creative Placemaking

A recent report by MIT’s department of urban studies and planning (DUSP) called Places in the Making has brought focus on Placemaking as a tool for urban development.

Though it’s been in existence since 1960’s it’s emerging as a light, quick and cheap form of urban planning endeavor. The fundamental premise here is that it allows local residents to participate in and take stewardship of their immediate neighborhood through specific initiatives that are meant to engage and foster a sense of “community”. The focus here is as much on the “making” of a place, as much as on the place itself – with the intent being that residents should have a sense of ownership beyond their private homes and take pride in their immediate neighborhood.

Susan Silberberg, author of the report, writes “Placemaking puts power back in the hands of the people. The most successful placemaking initiatives transcend the ‘place’ to forefront the ‘making,’ and the benefits for community can be substantial and long-lasting.

Creative Placemaking aims to shape the social, physical and economic character of a local community by utilizing arts. The integration of arts in urban planning is both fundamental and necessary, and creative placemaking allows an opportunity to integrate arts in an urban setting in a manner that engages and in some ways creates a sense of community as well as being simple to execute.

Shreveport, Louisiana is an example of creative placemaking where the local mayor put the revitalization of the once neglected downtown neighborhood into the hands of Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC). The council set up a local team to create a vision plan that at its heart had arts as a means to revitalize the area’s historic and cultural assets. Few years on, the area now is dotted with public art and businesses have started opening shops in the long-abandoned storefronts. The council is promoting local artists through tax-breaks, mentorship and various other initiatives like hosting exhibitions and festivals.


On Texas Ave, Downtown Shreveport.

While Shreveport is an example of a long-drawn process, creative placemaking is also about temporary projects that leave a lasting impact on the neighborhood. Take for example Bristol’s “See No Evil” event that had the city council invite 72 street artists from across the world to transform Nelson Street over a couple of days. Another instance could be the Open Walls Baltimore initiative where the city had invited street artists to create murals, over a few weeks, on twenty walls of a particular neighborhood that they were trying to revitalize.

In India Street art is not a new phenomenon and has largely taken the form of social awareness, advertising, mythology or political nature. However off late there has been a growing trend of artists using public spaces to showcase their creativity beyond the typical confines. Also civic authorities are warming up to utilizing arts not just to protect walls from being defaced but also to bring them alive through mosaic of colors with a cultural backdrop.

The Wall Project in Mumbai, which had the support of the local city council, is a great example of how local artists had used the five-kilometer long wall along Tulsi Pipe Road as their canvas. Once just dirt laden with paan stains, the stretch is now an attraction in its own right. In Bangalore the city council commissioned street artists to paint 7.5 lakh square feet of wall on 63 main city roads. In Chennai, a few years earlier the city corporation had engaged local artisans to paint walls depicting local culture, cave temples, Tamil icons like Tiruvalluvar and village life; the future of these murals though is uncertain.

Slideshow below of some street art in India:

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Photos: AFP, The Wall Project, Anisha Oommen, mckaysavage & unlistedsightings

Banksy’s work may or may not have the art critics singing to his tunes, but one cannot help but appreciate the fact that he has brought spotlight on public arts and provoked a conversation on this subject; leaving city officials and urban planners with a Ronald McDonald size food for thought.

28
Oct

Urban Diary – Interesting reads

This post is a continuation of our Urban Diary blog series where we compile interesting reads and discussions from around the world on urban issues.

Kolkata Tries to Reduce Traffic in the Worst Possible Way

City officials recently decided to prohibit people from using bicycles on nearly 200 streets in central Kolkata during the day.

The open defecation challenge in India

WHO and UNICEF estimate that there are more than 620 mn people practising open defecation in India, or half the population.

Beyond the City Limits: Report Finds Rapid Suburban Growth in India, Potential for Sustainable Cities to Reduce Poverty

A new World Bank report on urban growth in India, launched recently in New Delhi, shows India’s urban areas growing much faster than expected, adding 90 million new residents in the last 10 years. By 2030, its cities are projected to be home to another 250 million people.

A Short History of the Highrise

“A Short History of the Highrise” is an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and issues of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world. The centerpiece of the project is four short films. Each film is intended to evoke a chapter in a storybook, with rhyming narration and photographs brought to life with intricate animation.

How do bike-sharing schemes shape cities?

Bike-sharing has its origins in 1960s when 50 “free bikes” were scattered around Amsterdam, but after this slow start bike-sharing has blossomed. Over the past decade the number of schemes has increased tenfold. Bike-sharing ventures now exist in more than 500 cities, from Dubai to Hawaii.

Tackling climate change: Copenhagen’s sustainable city design

Global warming poses a real threat to cities but planners in the Danish capital are taking visionary steps to ensure its resilience – and success – as far ahead as 2100

Urban Transportation: Stockholm’s Marvelous Mix of Transit Modes

Stockholm, the capital and largest city of Sweden, is a beautiful and well planned city and known for its setting among island waterways. What makes Stockholm’s transit system so good is its intermodal functionality, that is, the ease with which its riders can switch from a subway to a tram or commuter train, using the same fare card and with little walking or waiting.

18
Oct

Private financing of Public Infrastructure in India – Evolution and Way Forward

By Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

Given the magnitude of investments1 and expertise needed for sustainable development of urban infrastructure in India, it is essential that there be substantial private sector involvement. This post explores how there has been a greater thrust towards private funding models post-1990 and what how policy can incentivize cities to move further in this direction.

Evolution of urban infrastructure financing in India

Prior to 1990, urban infrastructure in Indian cities was financed largely through government grants and Plan funds of central and state governments. Decisions on local infrastructure investments were made by state and central governments. Because of the disconnect between local needs and infrastructure plans drawn up at higher levels of government, these infrastructure investments made were without any clear understanding of local demand. In the absence of inputs on both the nature and extent of local demands, the infrastructure that was built ended up being inadequate, of poor quality and often unrelated to people’s needs.

In addition to these direct government levers of grants and Plan funds, cities were also allowed to access debt from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), which was directed by the central government to lend to cities2. These borrowings from HUDCO were guaranteed by state governments, thereby de-risking the investment for HUDCO by ensuring that the lender was exposed to the state government’s risk and not the particular project’s risk. By design, such an arrangement ensured that the credit discipline that is associated with prudent, commercial lending programs was missing here. The incentives of the lender were completely skewed by disconnecting the lending from the project risk, and the incentive of the city to structure a viable project was also skewed by the knowledge that the ultimate risk of default lay with the state government. This financing structure fundamentally lent itself to the design of sub-optimal, unsustainable projects.

It is interesting to note that most countries, including the now developed ones, started subsidised lending to municipalities through specialized Municipal Banks or Municipal Development Funds. In Europe, specialised municipal banks were set up to provide capital and, in addition, a range of services to complement their lending, such as assistance in preparation of municipal budgets, designing and appraising investment projects, and even managing the municipalities’ financial accounts. The support services and subsidized credit provision were important in the early years of the municipalities’ tryst with credit markets and were made possible because of central government policies of subsidising municipal banks by giving them preferential access to low-cost, long-term savings or to accord them partial protection from competition. This ensured that once the state directed low cost funding taps dried up, these municipalities had the requisite capacity to approach the debt markets on their own. Unfortunately in India, while HUDCO has performed the job of providing subsidised debt to municipalities, it has not directed attention to developing municipal capacities for the long-term, thereby only spawning a culture of dependence and lack of accountability.

Post-1990, there has been a greater thrust towards exploring alternative funding models for urban infrastructure. The impetus for this came from three sources:

  • Passage of the 74th constitutional amendment has given constitutional status to urban local bodies (ULBs) and has devolved funds, functions and functionaries to the ULB level
  • Economic liberalisation and increased competition has forced more efficient allocation of capital by financial institutions and therefore a move away from inefficient financing mechanisms
  • State government finances have been under pressure and they have been unable to continue with a programme for subsidising municipal debt

Analysing the municipal financing environment in India, it is apparent that the last 15 years have seen a substantial evolution from a grant and soft-loan based infrastructure creation program to increasing usage of market based mechanisms that bring in private capital. In our earlier posts, we have discussed how cities like Ahmedabad and Bangalore have accessed municipal bonds. Smaller municipalities, especially in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have accessed capital markets through the issue of pooled bonds. Since 1997, 25 municipal bond issues have taken place in India, which have included taxable and tax-free bonds and pooled financing issues, mobilizing funds to the tune of nearly Rs. 1, 400 crore3.

Despite these developments, the critical lever for accessing private debt finance, the city’s internal revenue generation- especially through property tax and user charges- remains under-utilised. The Thirteenth Finance Commission estimates that property taxes collected constitute between 0.16% and 0.24% of the GDP, while revenues generated from user charges are also abysmally low in India, at 0.13% of the GDP4. To add to this gloomy picture, states in India have also slacked in terms of setting up State Finance Commissions, accepting their recommendations and implementing the same. The quantum and predictability of inter-governmental transfers are crucial in maintaining the stability of a city’s finances and thus, ensuring access to debt markets.

Way Forward

A major hurdle in the development of the municipal bond market is that the policy environment is currently dis-incentivising the use of market mechanisms to raise financing for public projects. One of the criticisms of the JNNURM has been that despite the large quantum of funds it is directing into urban infrastructure, very little, if any, of it has been used to leverage commercial capital. This has sparked concerns regarding the ‘crowding out’ of bond markets by government funds. Cognisant of the reality of the Indian scenario, where central and state governments run huge deficits and capital is very scarce, it is essential that all efforts to promote infrastructure development and service delivery need to incorporate mechanisms to leverage scarce grant funds with debt from the capital markets. Therefore, while all the JNNURM funds may not be suitable for leverage, a substantial portion must certainly be leveraged with commercial debt capital, as this will allow sparse central and state government funds to be spread efficiently across many more critical projects.

A related issue is the need for market makers of municipal debt, with HUDCO being a case in point. Set up to finance housing and infrastructure, HUDCO has shifted its focus to financing larger power and gas projects. As the HPEC (2011) Ahluwalia Committee report points out, its financing for urban infrastructure (to the extent that it does) is subsidised by its profitable lending to larger infrastructure projects. The focus of HUDCO needs to be re-oriented towards urban infrastructure financing, but away from being a subsidised lender. HUDCO could become a market-making institution for municipal debt, thus helping catalyse the municipal debt market. On this role, HUDCO could perform the role of a credit enhancer by activities such as providing guarantees or investing in lower rated tranches of municipal issues so as to enable commercial market investors to participate in low-risk, highly rated municipal investments. The essence of HUDCO’s market making nature should be determined by its arm’s length distance from the municipalities it works with, i.e. the provision of guarantees must be based on HUDCO’s own assessment of the credit risk associated with the municipalities, backed up by a credit rating. HUDCO can thus, one the one hand, expose the municipalities’ true creditworthiness to the market, providing for transparency and incentivising municipalities to address their governance and service delivery issues and on the other hand, help attract commercial funds into investing in credit enhanced municipal debt. This will be critical in view of the extent of investments required for urban public infrastructure development in India.

  1. The High Powered Expert Committee (HPEC) on Urban Infrastructure and Services estimates that the total capital investment and operations expenditure required for the delivery of urban infrastructure services over the next 20 years is Rs. 39.2 lakh crore.
  2.  Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) was also directed by the central government to direct credit for municipal infrastructure financing
  3. Sheikh, Shahana and Asher, Mukul G., A Case for Developing the Municipal Bond Market in India (October 1, 2012). ASCI Journal of Management, Vol. 42, No. 1, pp. 1-19, 2012; Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Research Paper No. 12-13. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2166159
  4. India’s city level property taxes and non-tax revenues amount to between 0.29% to 0.37% of GDP, which is a much lower level than cities in other developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa whose corresponding own revenues are at levels of 2.58% and 3.80% of their GDPs

9
Oct

Ekumenopolis – Istanbul and the Making of the ‘Global City’

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

Ekumenopolis, directed by İmre Azem is a hard-hitting Turkish documentary that reveals how the rapid growth of the city of Istanbul is engendering two polarizing visions for the future of the city. On the one hand, the Turkish state is intent on making Istanbul a global city; the cultural, artistic, economic and financial node of the region. This forms part of the larger vision of the ekumenopolis, a global network of urban areas that is expected to coalesce into a single, contiguous city-planet. On the other, the ordinary citizens of Istanbul, the migrants who come to the city seeking a better future, the quasi-visible proletariat who lubricate the city’s burgeoning service sector find themselves increasingly excluded from this vision. They want a future that they can claim a stake to- one that protects their right to the city and that they can shape themselves. This echoes of the conflict in most developing world mega-cities, including Indian cities such as Mumbai and Delhi which aspire to be global cities but at the same time struggle to provide the most basic services to large swathes of their populations.

The documentary explores spaces where the two fundamentally divergent visions clash- the urban renewal projects that disenfranchises original residents by resettling them to the periphery of the city, the proposed third bridge over the Bosphorus that could potentially precipitate the city’s impending environmental crisis and historic neighbourhoods that increasingly make way for gated communities, golf courses, shopping malls and speculative investments in land.

“Everybody deserves to live in a house with a swimming pool”

In many ways, the modern history of Istanbul’s meteoric rise starts post World War II. Armed with funds from the Marshall Plan, French urban planner Henry Prost devised a master plan, à la Haussmann that replaced a city prioritising tramways and public transport with wide boulevards that were meant to be automobile friendly. At the same time, the decline of agriculture in rural areas brought in cheap labour into the city that serviced the construction boom. The housing needs of this wave of migrants were met by permitting the building of ‘gecekondus’ or squatter homes that mushroomed throughout the city. A second wave of urbanization came in the 1980s under the regime of Turgut Ozal, whose neo-liberal policies quickly made urban land a tool for capital accumulation. Gecekondus that had come up on the highway leading to the first bridge across the Bosphorus were relocated to the peripheries of the city under the Turkish Mass Housing Corporation’s (TOKI) ‘urban renewal’ plans. The informal labourers that inhabited the gecekondus, whose livelihoods depended on easy access to the central industrial and business districts, found themselves marooned on isolated pockets of land, cut off from a city that could be accessed only by cars.

These developments share a strong resonance with the growth of Indian cities which have seen increased rural to urban migration over the past few decades leading to the development of large slums1. These slums, in many cases, occupy prime city land and have therefore been subject to periodic demolition drives accompanied by relocation of slum households to settlements in city peripheries. This approach was based on the central government’s Slum Clearance and Improvement Scheme passed in 1956, post which many state governments passed Slum Clearance Acts modelled on this scheme. States set up Slum Clearance Boards that were responsible for the eviction and relocation of slums. For instance, a recent study2 estimates that between 1990 and 2007, there were 218 instances of slum evictions in Delhi, displacing close to 65,000 households. The study also finds that the four primary uses of land reclaimed through eviction drives are vacant land, road and related infrastructure, parks and playgrounds, and government infrastructure. Close to a quarter of all reclaimed land remains vacant. Evicted families are mostly relocated to the edges of designated urban areas, leading to increasing peripheralization of the poor. More recently there has been a growing realisation of the deleterious impacts of slum clearance, such as the large-scale disruption of livelihoods and the destruction of social and economic networks.

The documentary shows how households driven to the outskirts of the city fall rapidly into poverty, forcing them to pull children out of schools and work on minimum wage, even as they await the apartments promised under TOKI’s social housing scheme. Most families return to their former neighbourhoods, looking for their old jobs in order to survive. Meanwhile, many of the former gecekondus are being converted into high rise apartments or hyper-luxurious gated communities, replete with shopping malls and golf courses. Their real estate advertisements promise the viewer a seductive escape to the ekumenopolis; a land where everybody deserves to live in a house with a swimming pool. In a poignant scene towards the closing moments of the film, a labourer working on a construction site that overlooks his former home tells the viewer how much he deplores having to make a living by building over the ruins of his former home, exposing the iniquities of the global city.

“Can you build a hotel in Central Park, New York?”

Azem also sheds light on the environmental disaster that awaits the city. Sandwiched between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul’s development was largely restricted to the southern parts of the city. The building of the second bridge over the Bosphorus shifted the axis of development northward and led to large scale deforestation to accommodate the construction that the new roads brought with it. The fastest growing districts of Istanbul in the past three decades have been areas that are closest to the second bridge. The proposed third bridge over the Bosphorus remains a bone of contention between the state and civil society as it threatens to decimate what remains of the northern forests. Critics of the bridge argue that it is a continuation of the automobile-centric planning that will destroy the city’s last remaining breathing spaces; a plan as preposterous as building a hotel in Central Park, New York. They call for a revision of Istanbul’s planning paradigm that has seen car ownership increase ten-fold in two decades, leading to a 15% drop in use of public transportation. The resultant carbon emissions from road transport have increased 37% in a decade.

A city of close to 15 million residents, environmentalists fear that Istanbul has already exceeded its natural ecological limit. For instance, Istanbul faced a series of flash floods in 2009 that left 31 people dead and low-lying areas completely inundated. Much of the destruction was said to be a result of unbridled construction along the river bed. The documentary brings to the fore the class dimension of this ecological crisis- the wealthy live who live in luxury condominiums built on forest land, jog around artificial lakes serviced by groundwater and grow plants on their balconies are considered ‘green’ while the poor living in gecekondus and shanty towns are polluting, too dirty to belong to the lofty vision of the global city and therefore marginalized to its fringes.

The European and Asian parts of Istanbul separated by the Bosphorus Strait and wedged between the Sea of Marmara to the south and the Black Sea to the North. The two bridges over the Bosphorus are also visible.

The clash between the two divergent visions arguably reached boiling point during the Taksim Square protests earlier this year. The government wanted to convert Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in the city and the adjoining military barracks into a shopping mall and luxury residences. The documentary, filmed two years prior to the protests, contextualises and offers the best examination yet of the root causes of the protests.

Orhan Pamuk, writing on the protests in the New York Times says, “I’ve been living in Istanbul for sixty years, and I cannot imagine that there is a single inhabitant of this city who does not have at least one memory connected to Taksim Square. In the nineteen-thirties, the old artillery barracks, which the government now wants to convert into a shopping mall, contained a small football stadium that hosted official matches. The famous club Taksim Gazino, which was the center of Istanbul night life in the nineteen-forties and fifties, stood on a corner of Gezi Park.” This perhaps best captures the inherent conflict in Istanbul’s rapid transformation– a city that wants to build its dreams over the memories of its residents.

There is an astonishing uniformity in the forces that underpin the growth of the world’s mega-cities. As David Harvey, noted social theorist, argues in his book Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, the growing polarization in the distribution of wealth and power is being indelibly etched into the spatial forms of cities. The wealthy are increasingly looking to separate themselves from the reality of their urban environment through the formation of fortified fragments or self-sufficient micro-states, while the poor- as Ekumenopolis shows- struggle constantly to establish the legitimacy of their urban existence in the wake of slum demolitions and renewal plans. There is an urgent need to reclaim the collective right to the city and shape our urban future in a manner that is equitable and sustainable.

Watch the trailer of the documentary here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEzqu_z9fRo
The entire documentary can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maEcPKBXV0M



1 – It is estimated that close to 55% of the urban population in Mumbai, 33% in Kolkata and 20% in Delhi and Chennai live in slums. Source: Slum Census of India, 2001
2 – Gautham Bhan and Swati Shivanand. (Un) Settling the City-Analysing Displacement in Delhi from 1990 to 2007. Vol XLVIII no 13, Review of Urban Affairs. Economic and Political Weekly. March 2013

3
Oct

Urban Diary – Interesting reads

Beginning this post, in this new blog series we will bring together interesting reads and discussions from around the world on urban issues every fortnight.

How to Design a City for Women

In 1999, officials in Vienna, Austria, asked residents of the city’s ninth district how often and why they used public transportation. The majority of men reported using either a car or public transit twice a day — to go to work in the morning and come home at night. Women, on the other hand, used the city’s network of sidewalks, bus routes, subway lines and streetcars more frequently and for myriad reasons. Writing for Atlantic Cities, Clare Foran takes a fascinating look at how Vienna, Austria redesigned its city to accommodate women. What unfolds is an exercise that all Indian cities can learn from.

Can Urban Planning Help India’s Cities Reduce Sexual Violence?

Janaki Sharma, 24, a producer with a radio station, commutes for about 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, from her home in West Delhi to work across the city. Ms. Sharma uses multiple forms of public transport — subway, bus and shared auto-rickshaw, to get to her office. And the last stretch of her commute is a mile-long walk on a desolate stretch to reach her office. This article compiles expert opinion on how to make our cities safe for women.

Spatial plans to play key role from 2014 in urban renewal projects

The government is likely to ask city authorities to justify projects based on their impact on a comprehensive, spatial view of the city in order to receive funding in the second phase of JNNURM.

An ex-soldier leads Yangon from backwater to megacity

Every evening, long after Yangon’s office workers have squeezed onto packed buses for gruelling commutes to the suburbs, a single room remains lit up on the top floor of City Hall. Read the incredible story of Toe Aung, a former army major who almost by accident bears one of the biggest responsibilities in reform-era Myanmar: planning Yangon’s unstoppable transformation from a regional backwater into Southeast Asia’s next megacity.

City forgotten

Through the eyes of residents, local activists and civil society members, ‘City Forgotten’ documents the story of Malegaon’s fall from what was once the ‘Manchester of India’, to a town blighted by communal violence and in serious decline.

Nigeria to build biomimetic ‘smart city’ to celebrate its centenary

In 2014, Nigeria marks 100 years since it gained independence from the UK. To mark that occasion, plans are afoot to build a centennial “smart city”, following the design principles of bio-mimicry in everything from city planning to architecture to energy production and beyond.

Striking Photos Show the Ghosts Of New York City’s Seedy Underbelly

New York City today is rapidly gentrifying, with crime becoming more and more rare. A unique, new project mashes up the old, dangerous New York with today’s sanitized version by overlaying classic photographs of mid-century New York atop images of contemporary locations.

This lens man captures Chennai one day at a time

The heritage sites have been talked about, the statues and mementos have been written to death, the history of Madras has been dissected to its final thread. But Ramaswamy, in his 1,700-odd collection of photos, posted each a day, brings out the city in its crudest form, having the frames capture the common man, the narrow streets and the slightest of bustle.

Tomorrow’s cities: Rio de Janeiro’s bid to become a smart city

Rio de Janeiro’s famously chaotic favelas are as much a landmark of the city as the Christ statue or Sugarloaf Mountain but few would see them as the natural home to smart technologies. Now, a UNICEF coordinated project looks to bring tangible change by using teenagers to document the problems of favelas using cameras mounted on kites.

The Moscow Metro Is Like a Gorgeous Russian History Museum

The Moscow metro is one of the most extensive and heavily travelled subway systems in the world, transporting about 9 million people around the city each day. One photographer peeks into an average day in the life of the metro.

Artists and Urban Development

In this post Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts, writes about the importance of artists in the context of cities and how they have always been central to the allure of cities, from classical Greek sculptors; to Impressionist painters; to the musicians, poets and artists of the Harlem Renaissance; to the Beats of Greenwich Village and North Beach.

26
Sep

The City that Lost its Soul: New York City in “Naked City”

By Rachit Khaitan, IFMR Finance Foundation

In the early years of the twenty-first century, New York City lost its soul. Some people doubt that the city ever had a soul, because New York has always grown by shedding its past, tearing down old neighbourhoods and erecting new ones in their place, usually in a bare-faced struggle for financial gain. Others just shrug because, today, all big cities are erasing their gritty, bricks-and-mortar history to build a shiny vision of the future.

Sharon Zukin explores the notion of authenticity in a city that by placing a high premium on it is effectively destroying it. New York’s quest for authenticity might be seem contrary to the concept of “Manhattanization,” that signifies everything in a city that is not thought to be authentic: high-rise buildings that grow taller every year, dense crowds where no one knows your name, high prices for inferior living conditions, and intense competition to be in style. The city, however, presents a classic case of the conflict between its dwellers’ desire for authentic origins – a traditional, mythical desire for roots – and their new beginnings in terms of the continuous reinvention of communities with the physical fabric of the city constantly changing around them.

As bistros replace bodegas, cocktail bars morph out of old-style saloons, and neighbourhoods as a whole create a different kind of sociability, a city is left to hold on to its sense of authenticity by creating the experience of origins. By preserving historic buildings and districts, encouraging the development of small-scale boutiques and cafes, and branding neighbourhoods in terms of distinctive cultural identities, gentrified and hipster neighbourhoods of New York City today have become the models of urban experience. Zukin makes the case that this pursuit of authenticity, which is now a consciously chosen lifestyle and a means of consumption by the new urban middle class, is also fuel to the rising real estate values and the vast inflow of investment capital that ultimately displaces the original inhabitants – artists, mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, and homeless people – that lent New York its sense of authenticity to begin with.

How Brooklyn Became Cool

Zukin refers to the borough of Brooklyn to show how “uncommon” spaces or neighbourhoods with distinctive histories and traditions to show how origins and new beginnings create a sense of authenticity. Brooklyn underwent a major shift in its perception in the early 1990s from its sorry reputation of a place where factories were Dickensian sweatshops of dirt and squalor and social life was lived on the street to a new ethnically white, cosmopolitan image centred on the north side of the borough. The shift was characterized by a residential influx of rich people into an unlikely neighbourhood, a classic process of gentrification, but motivated by the “down and dirty” hipster culture more than other factors. This gritty and industrial appeal of neighbourhoods like Williamsburg stood in contrast to the bland homogeneity of corporate offices and suburban homes, and being a resident was a statement against Manhattanization and corporatism.


Brooklyn Heights; Image Source.

The story of Brooklyn also reflects the deliberate absence of economic involvement by private developers and public officials, who ignored manufacturers’ pleas for protection from landlords when they refused to renew their leases or dramatically raised their rent when they saw the new higher paying residents coming in. In fact, when the New York City Planning Commission rezoned 170 blocks in Williamsburg in 2005, they explicitly aimed to upscale the waterfront, riddling it of its remaining industrial uses and reclaiming the prime space for high-rise residential construction. The upscale real estate development that followed, shows not only the effects of capital investment and government policies, but also demonstrated the cultural power of the media and new middle-class consumer tastes. It produced a sense of Brooklyn’s authenticity that combines hipsters and new immigrants, lifestyle media and blogs, and the desire to become the next cultural destination and yearning for an urban village that disappeared after World War II. For each generation, though, the idea of Brooklyn’s authenticity shows an aspiration to connect the place where people live to a timeless urban experience.

Union Square and the Paradox of Space

Zukin refers to Union Square to explore her notion of “common” spaces such as public parks, streets, and community gardens characterized by a timeless ideal of authentic public space that is free and democratic. Where Union Square might appear as an endless arcade of possibilities, reflecting and refining city dwellers’ creative abilities to shape their own, spontaneous social place, it hides a paradox. The public space of Union Square is controlled by a private group of the biggest property owners in the neighbourhood, the Union Square Partnership, which carries out the public functions of financing, maintaining, and governing public space. Its main purpose is to keep the space clean and safe at a time when city government budgets are grasping for funds and city dwellers are repelled and frightened by the litter, odour, panhandling, and other nuisances they find when they step outside their front doors.


Union Square; Image Source

More importantly, however, it works to raise property values in and around the square, a prerequisite of which is the eviction of the homeless people sleeping on park benches, cleaning up the graffiti on walls, and providing basic services of street cleaning, trash collecting. On one hand, the public gains the use of a clean, safe space, and on the other, loses control over it. The very idea of private management betrays the public’s trust in that private organizations control public spaces more severely than government dares to do and these control strategies consequently exclude socio-economic groups such as homeless people, push-cart vendors, and street artists. Privatized public space, in other words, tends to reinforce social inequality. It makes the centres of cities more like the premier privately owned public space of our time, the shopping mall: clean, safe, and predictable.

The Crisis of Authenticity

Zukin’s work explores other uncommon and common spaces such as Harlem, the East Village, and Red Hook to find that though people think authenticity refers to a neighbourhood’s innate qualities, it really expresses their own anxieties how places change. She argues that the shift that New York saw from the 1950s isn’t just a structural shift from an industrial to a post-industrial society or the result of a periodic boom in investment and construction, but a paradigm shift from a city of production to a city of consumption, and from a resigned acceptance of decline to a surprising disillusionment with growth.

Calling these changes “gentrification” minimizes and oversimplifies the collective investment that is at stake. Real estate developers, joint partnerships between the public and private sectors, and community organizations have led organized efforts to transform gritty streets, old loft buildings, and former docklands to gold. Together capital investment and consumer culture encouraged both city governments and city dwellers to think they could have it all: a post-industrial revolution with no human costs, both a corporate city and a new urban village. New Yorkers experience the conflict between the corporate city and the urban village as a crisis of authenticity.

19
Sep

Land based financing for cities – Lessons from Latin America

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

In a recent report titled “Implementing Value Capture in Latin America- Policies and Tools for Urban Development“, Martim O Smolka of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy discusses a wide suite of land financing instruments that have been used in Latin America. The report focuses on instruments of value capture, which are based on the principle of recovery by the public of land value increments (unearned income) created by actions other than the landowner’s direct investments. Although all such increments constitute unearned income, value capture instruments focus primarily on the increment created by public investments and administrative actions.

The tremendous opportunity of using value capture to fund urban infrastructure is evident from the case of Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. Barra da Tijuca, an extension area of the city’s high income zone covering 82 km², was earmarked for development in 1967. By 1974, the creation of expensive public transit lines including an elevated expressway and direct access through tunnels led to skyrocketing land prices (the appreciation is estimated to be nearly 1900% between 1972 and 1976). However, the absence of plans to capture this appreciation in prices led to the control of 30% of the area by only three owners and presented a substantial loss to the city. The rest of the post focuses on examples of successful implementation of value capture policies from the report. The post concludes by looking at land financing tools used in India.

Betterment contributions

A betterment contribution is a charge or fee imposed on owners of selected properties to defray the cost of a public improvement or service from which they specifically benefit. As noted in the previous post, Bogota, Columbia is a prime example of a city using a system of betterment levies- almost a quarter of Bogota’s revenues consists of betterment contributions. A lesser known example is that of the municipality of Cuenca, Ecuador, which over the last decade issued 1,800 contracts for public works projects and collected close to US$200 per capita, much higher than Bogota’s US$150 in the same period. 90% of households in Cuenca made their contributions in less than four years, with 95% of the projects collecting 60% in betterment contributions.

Betterment levies are considered anti-poor by many critics, who argue that the well-serviced parts of a city are occupied by high-income residents, who were not charged when the services were provided. They advocate that it is unfair to charge people who receive these amenities later. However, evidence from Lima, Peru suggests that low-income households are often willing to pay against a guarantee of service. The city introduced a successful program featuring 30 projects that used a contributory tool to finance public works in the early 1990s. Ironically, it was the high-income households that failed to pay the contributions.

Exactions and other regulatory charges

Exactions are the most common value capture tool used in Latin America. Landowners are obliged to make cash or in-kind contributions to obtain special approvals to develop or build on their land. In-kind exactions may require the land developers to set apart some of the land for public facilities, including streets, schools, parks, or environmental conservation areas. The most common example in the region entails the land owner releasing between 15 and 35% of the area for public uses.

Gautemala uses an innovative instrument known as Impacto Vial, whereby the responsibility for road improvements is shifted to private developers. When a large private development project requests for a license, the municipality undertakes a road traffic study to gauge its impact on the community. An infrastructure plan is then designed to mitigate any negative impacts, together with a calculation of the share of the cost the developer should cover. The work is then executed by the developer under municipal supervision. If the cost of the work is higher than the developer’s estimated share, the value of the license is used to make up for the difference

Building Rights

This instrument of land financing is predicated on the separation of building rights from land ownership rights, which allows the public to recover the land value increment resulting from development rights over and above an established baseline. For instance, building rights in Brazil (known as Outorga Onerosa do Direito de Construir, OODC) is based on a basic FAR cap on the landowner’s building rights. The landowner is charged a fee for the right to build above this basic FAR on her land. Between 2002 and 2004, the city of Sao Paulo reduced FAR coefficients in most parts of the city to 1 and in 2012; the city generated about US$ 175 million in OODC payments. OODC payments are deposited in the Urban Development Fund (FUNDURB), which implements special plans and projects in urban and environmental areas. Projects created using OODC payments include bus terminals, transportation corridors, parks and green areas, slum regularization, historical preservation, and drainage.

Given the numerous difficulties in valuing a change in building rights, cities in Brazil estimate the willingness to pay of developers under market conditions by issuing Certificates of Additional Potential Construction Bonds (CEPACs). The idea is that new development potential, such as for different types of uses and additional buildings, created by rezoning and public investments in a well-defined area should not be available for free, but auctioned to developers interested in taking advantage of the economic benefits resulting from the public interventions. Municipalities in Brazil issue CEPAC bonds corresponding to specific building rights for purchase by competing developers through public electronic auctions. The total number of CEPACS issued is a function of the total additional development that an area can support. Between 2004 and 2010, Sao Paulo sold close to 640,000 CEPACS valued at around US$720 million.

Privatizing Public Land for Redevelopment

In 1989, the city of Buenos Aires proposed to redevelop 160 acres of the old port area of Puerto Madero. A corporation was created to spearhead the project with a mandate to promote economic growth and job recovery in the area. Over the last 2 decades, about 1.5 million m2 of floor space has been developed in this area. The state contributed the port land, which generated more than US$2.26 billion in private investments. By 2011 the corporation sold around US$230 million worth of land and the proceeds have funded public works worth US$113 million. Till date, the project has contributed 4 major waterways covering 39 hectares and 28 hectares of green space for the city, making Puerto Madero a leading tourist destination of Buenos Aires.

Use of land financing instruments in India1

Development impact fee is a onetime fee imposed by ULBs on new developments to fund a portion of the cost of infrastructure facilities necessitated by that development. In India, development charges are usually based upon the area of the land and the buildings, rather than on the actual demand for infrastructure generated by a new development. For instance, under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act of 1961, charges development fees that range from Rs. 20 to Rs. 75 per square metre of land area, and Rs. 2 to Rs.10 per square metre of building area. The state government is now in the process of revising the fee to 18 per cent and shifting the basis for charging the fees from area to value.

Lease or sale of landholdings is a common tool used by ULBs in India. For instance, the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) has garnered substantial funds by selling land in the Bandra Kurla Complex. The funds are being used to finance infrastructure investments in other parts of the city. MMRDA has also used the sale of additional FSI to raise funds. A major owner of land in India is the Ministry of Defence which is estimated to hold close to 2 lakh acres of cantonment land. Cantonments were initially set up outside city limits, but as cities expanded over the years, they have come within urban agglomeration. If cantonments can be resettled to outside the city area, large parcels of land would be freed, helping bring down the escalating prices of real estate in urban areas.

Land Pooling and Readjustment (LPR) is a process whereby a local government consolidates small parcels of land, without paying compensation to the land owners and undertakes collective planning of their land. The authority designs and sub-divides the consolidated lands for urban use and retains a portion of this land for creation of public infrastructure like roads, parks, gardens etc. Some portion of this land is then set aside for public sale to ensure the recovery of development costs and the remaining land is returned to the original owners. The owners gain from the increase in the overall value of their land. In India, cities in Gujarat are using these instruments (called Town Planning schemes) for city expansion. For instance, Surat and Ahmedabad have completed more than 100 such schemes each. In Surat, these schemes have covered 137 sq. km and appropriated 32 sq. km of that for public use. Surat has additionally constructed 617 km of roads and 10,000 houses for the poor.

Despite examples of use of land based financing tools listed above, Indian cities are yet to unlock the full potential of these instruments for financing infrastructure. Indian cities can learn from the experiences of their Latin American counterparts to better prepare our cities for the future.


1 – The section is based on Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services (2011)

6
Sep

Land as a source of financing urban infrastructure

By Aditi Balachander and Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

At a fundamental level, it can be argued that internal revenue sources are the most critical funding levers available to a municipality because without effective, predictable generation of internal revenues, it will be impossible to attract new, external sources of funding. External sources, whether in the form of bank loans, bonds or other capital market instruments, will be available to municipalities only on the basis of the internal revenues they generate now and are expected to generate in the future. Additionally, the internal revenue generation of a municipality is but a reflection of the quality of its governance, and the transparency and accountability of its administration. Any assessment of the internal financing capability of a municipality is, therefore, a judgment on its governance standards. A better governed municipality implies better information availability, better assessment capability and better collection efficiencies that are then reflected in the quantum of revenues generated through internal funding levers. Therefore, any attempt to substantially improve the infrastructure provision scenario in India will need to begin by giving a significant thrust to improving the assessment, enforcement and collection of internal revenue levers.

While the generation of internal revenue is critical for a city, the use of land as a source of financing urban infrastructure can be a very useful supplementary mechanism. Traditionally, urban infrastructure has been financed by savings of local government, grants from higher levels of government and capital borrowings. However, at a time when government budgets are hard pressed and large-scale borrowings are hard to come by, land-based financing presents an important option for local infrastructure finance. By leveraging the sensitivity of land values to urban economic growth and the principle that benefits of infrastructure are capitalized into land values, land-based financing instruments have come to play a key role in complementing other sources of capital finance.

Land-based financing introduces significant advantages to infrastructure financing decisions, reducing dependence on debt and its associated fiscal risks. It has the advantage of generating revenues upfront, sometimes before the infrastructure is undertaken, making it easier to finance infrastructure projects that call for massive investments. The scale of land-based financing is also much larger in magnitude when compared to other sources of urban capital finance. Further, mobilizing finance from land transactions strengthens efficiency of urban land markets and rationalizes the pattern of urban development by sending out price signals to the market.

While land-based financing holds the potential for closing the infrastructure financing gap and supporting the sustainable development of cities, its role is restricted as an instrument of capital finance. It is not a permanent and recurring source of revenue as land sales cannot continue indefinitely. Thus, revenues from land financing should ideally not be used to finance operating expenses and must be directed only to the capital budget. Further, we need to keep in mind that the volatility inherent in land markets could simply reflect an asset bubble and world-wide economic conditions. Thus, extrapolating past trends to prepare future investment plans could be risky. Also, the magnitude of revenues raised from land financing breeds the risks of favoritism, corruption and abuse of government power if land-based transactions lack transparency and accountability.

Land financing has been widely used to finance urban transportation projects or the infrastructure required to service new urban developments. It has been less frequently employed to finance investment in existing basic infrastructure services such as repair or upgrading of water supply, waste-water collection, or solid waste removal. The fact that water supply and other basic services agencies do not own excess land that can be sold or developed explains the lack of land-based financing in these areas. A possible solution would be to establish a consolidated capital budget that could automatically allocate part of the land finance proceeds for the delivery of basic services. Also, when governments are responsible for providing the entire range of infrastructure services, employing land financing to pay for particular investment projects frees up funds for investment in basic services. This calls for special measures to be taken to make land-based financing support investment in existing infrastructure services.

Categorising land-based financing instruments

Land-based financing instruments can be broadly classified under three categories: developer exactions (including impact fees), value capture (betterment levies, land sales) and land asset management (including private investment in public infrastructure). The following table discusses the working of land financing instruments and recounts select cases of their employment.



23
Aug

Snooping into the everyday life

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

A scene from Minority Report gave us a flavor of what the future of personal advertising might shape to be. Renew, a start-up, has taken this concept to heart and installed what some say “Smart”, but mostly say, “Spy” bins in the city of London.

Having installed around 100 recycling bins with digital displays around London before the 2012 Olympics in the city, the company recently started to tinker a dozen of them by installing a device that tracked commuters who passed by it. Such tracking was done without people being aware of it. The technology behind the tracking device is captured in the video below:

First reported by Quartz, the technology and user privacy that it breached caused a furor prompting the City of London authorities to issue cease and desist instruction to the company over such tracking.

The technology’s premise is simple – when a commuter walks with his smartphone past one of these bins, a unique media access control (MAC) address of the phone is recorded, provided the phone has Wi-Fi enabled. Such specific recording will let the system know about the habits of the commuter and develop patterns in the long run based upon which marketers eventually can serve tailored ads that are relevant to specific mac addresses (people).


Image Source: Renew

For city officials what Renew had done is to convert a harmless (though hugely expensive) bin into a mini spy station, which caught the authorities as well as the citizens unawares.

The technology could by itself be labeled into one of those “Smart City” initiatives – the very definition of which seems to be fluid. Thus bringing into focus important issues of data protection and privacy especially when taken in the context of an entire city.

The advent of smartphones, sensors, surveillance cameras and other tracking modes has enabled generation of vast realms of information, “Big Data” if you may, which certainly can help in managing a city better, however one cannot wish away the challenges that it poses. In the context of city management, such oversight of public and private spaces needs to be tempered with proper planning and clear citizen outreach about what is being done and why. Likewise, with cities procuring off-the-shelf Smart City solutions from technology vendors, the onus should rest with city authorities in ensuring that at no point issues around data protection and user privacy are compromised – something they should embed in their processes as a periodic check or if it’s something they do not have enough technical capability for, in that case, they should look to set-up an independent team that vets on these aspects periodically.

Issues on user privacy and data protection have obviously larger debates going around them, and with availability of DIY tools like CreepyDOL, it takes another dimension. However in the framework of city planning and urban infrastructure management, city officials while deploying technology would do well to pay heed to these concerns, as their end objective should be not just smart cities but smarter citizens as well.

14
Aug

The century of the city – “Urbanized”

By Rachit Khaitan, IFMR Finance Foundation

“There’s an optimism about cities in this century. There’s a sense that we’re creating something that is truly global. And we’re creating networks of people, not experts, but people of all strata of society who are involved in the building of something special. This is the century for the city lover; this is where it happens.”

Gary Hustwit’s documentary film, Urbanized (2011), presents an optimistic overture about the future of cities, but is not unchecked with caution. It paints an interdisciplinary picture of the design and development of a variety of cities in both developed and developing economies. Central to its analysis is the premise that cities are ultimately the physical manifestation of big and multifarious forces at play – economic, social, and political – where the flows of people, money, and goods have coalesced since the inception of the concept itself.

Through conversations with the world’s foremost architects, urban planners, policymakers, developers, artists, activists, and thinkers, each with their own perspectives, agendas, and roles, the film thematically explores key issues in urbanisation while showcasing model solutions and success stories.

Addressing unchecked urban migration

A key issue that many, especially rapidly-growing developing countries face is the unsystematic migration of people from rural to urban areas. The film documents that in 2010, 50 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. Based on historical trends, it forecasts that by 2050, 75 per cent of the world’s population will dwell in urban areas, putting an enormous strain on existing systems with limited resources. On one hand, the construction industry in the recent years has produced a housing boom for the top 10 per cent of the socio-economic strata, building swanky apartment complexes touting luxury living. On the other hand, it has increased the crisis for the bottom of the pyramid which is forced to resort to informal living arrangements with severe lack of basic amenities and inadequate conditions of health and hygiene. An important causal factor of this phenomenon is that the existing urban plan does not systematically take into account the existence or the incentives of the migrating poor. Informal settlements oftentimes get ignored by city officials and policymakers; with no space allocated for growth, slums consequentially get denser and conditions get worse.

As a model design-based solution, the film presents the case of the Lo Barnechea project, a low-cost social housing project produced by the organisation Elemental in Santiago, Chile. Prioritising location to enable access to schools, transportation, and jobs, the project leveraged elements of design to keep low costs of living in an expensive locality, while maintaining access to vital networks in the city. Using the $10,000 subsidy that each family received from the state, Elemental bought the land, provided the infrastructure, and built a set of houses. Instead of producing tiny units, the organisation produced “half houses” i.e. houses with bare necessities that families would have otherwise been unable to afford, and left the rest of the house for families to build at their own pace and according to their own needs. An interviewed resident revealed that she didn’t need to modify anything since she moved in because she got to choose everything that she wanted for the house. Over time, however, she plans on adding a “nice-to-have” tiled floor. What makes this architectural project unique is that it allowed families to afford housing in a prime location, while actively participating in the design of their houses from the ground level.

This also got me thinking about the need for development of rental housing markets and how they were critical, especially for poor households. In view of the fundamental income uncertainties that surround many low-income households – such as income volatility, asset allocation challenges and migration needs – rental housing is a much needed solution for the bottom of the pyramid. My colleagues have written more about this here.

Modern urban design and the issue of transportation

The film provides an expose of modern urban design which is built on the tenets of simplicity, order, rationality, and function over form. It was influenced by the Garden City movement, of the late 19th century, which espoused the idea of separating out the different functions of cities with concentric roadways and greenbelts. An archetype of this school of design is Brasilia, Brazil. While Brasilia as viewed from an airplane might look pretty and organized, Jan Gehl of Gehl Architects argues that on the ground it is a disaster. Every distance is too long, and going from place to place involves driving along many miles of straight roads. Principally, the design of Brasilia failed to take into consideration that having to make every single trip by car would not allow people to simply zip around the city. In fact, it would entail too many cars on the road ultimately causing people to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.


Brasilia, Brazil. Image Source

The mayor of Bogota, Colombia presents a few model solutions to congested roads. He argues that the best way to avoid traffic jams is not to invest in bigger roads, more flyovers, or elevated highways, but to simply restrict parking in a city, in order to restrict car use. In terms of investing in an alternative form of public transportation, he showcases the bus rapid-transit system (BRT), dubbed the TransMilenio, which is as efficient as a metro system but built at a fraction of its cost. With dedicated lanes for such buses, the system enables thousands of people to get across the city every day, while a new name removes the stigma of riding in buses which in many developing countries is associated with poor people. Such a system is flexible and works especially well in younger cities whose centre is not well-defined and is shifting over time. The mayor also showcases Porvenir Promenade, a 24 km street built exclusively for pedestrians and bicyclists, connecting very low income neighbourhoods to the richest area of the city. He believes that such high quality infrastructure for cyclists not only increases their safety, but also their social status.

Challenges and opportunities for the future

The documentary presents many more interesting cases that characterise the complexity of developing cities and urban areas. It highlights the pattern of suburbanisation in Post WWII America which may have eased the pressure on cities at the time, but eventually created vast tracts of sprawl putting an enormous strain on non-renewable resources and environmental systems. It shows that where safety is a major concern in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, there is a large role that technology can play to facilitate coordination between the various departments of the city in order to ensure prevention and prompt action. On the flipside, it illustrates the case of Stuttgart, Germany which has ambitious plans and commensurate resources to make itself ready for the future, but faces immense opposition from a large population whose interests lie in preserving historical landmarks that are vital to the city’s heritage. With numerous vested interests and diverse forces at play, Rahul Mehrotra, architect and professor at Harvard GSD, predicts that the physical plan of cities will hardly determine their successes. Rather, the critical challenge will lie in managing demography and the intersections of architecture, mobility, and creating a humane environment through design and technology.