From Srirangapatna, A Data Lesson For India’s Cities


How many public taps are currently in the city and where do new taps need to be installed? Where do new public toilets need to be created? Which houses do not have daily garbage collection?

These are questions that confront city officials all over the world every day. The solution to these questions depends on the existing infrastructure in the city: the number and spread of existing water taps, public toilets and garbage-collection facilities.

In other words, data on infrastructure and service delivery is crucial in planning for future services. One of the biggest challenges with decision-making in Indian cities is the lack of data.

Above is an excerpt from a guest post which we had written for India Spend. Click here to read the full article


The Practice of PPP in Urban Infrastructure

By Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

The recently released volume on urbanisation titled “Urbanisation in India” edited by Dr. Isher Ahluwalia, Dr. Ravi Kanbur and Dr. P. K. Mohanty, contains a chapter authored by Vikram Kapur, Commissioner of Chennai, and me, dealing with the practice of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in urban infrastructure in India. In this paper, we undertake an assessment of private participation in the provision of public infrastructure and services – participation in the form of financing as well as in developing, managing and operating public services. This post provides a synopsis of the chapter.

The environment for urban infrastructure provision has undergone a sea change in the last two decades. Prior to 1991, the government (along with government-linked institutions such as para-statals and public sector institutions under direction from the government) was the financier, developer and operator of all urban infrastructure and services. While this created some much needed infrastructure in cities, the absence of accountability in this top-down, centralised approach led to the development of infrastructure of poor quality, without concern for the needs of citizens.

However, since 1991 there has been a substantial re-think on the mechanisms for the development and financing of urban infrastructure. The passage of the 74th constitutional amendment gave statutory basis for ULBs and placed the third tier of government in India on a firm pedestal. All states created enabling legislation to transfer responsibilities of local infrastructure and service delivery to this tier of government. This development was followed by the emergence of new models of financing, developing and operating public services in India.

In view of the high deficits of central and state governments, new mechanisms to leverage private capital were required. The emergence of municipal and pooled bond markets have provided municipalities, large and small, with avenues to access private commercial funding to finance public infrastructure. While these markets have seen some hiccups, they have the potential to provide access to substantial financing for urban infrastructure. However, the policy environment must actively support the deployment of debt capital for public infrastructure creation. In this context, the flagship JNNURM program must incentivise the leverage of government grants with funds raised from the capital markets, as well as other reforms that deepen private sector participation in urban infrastructure and services. Additionally, the role of HUDCO must be revamped and it must refocus on its core mission of enabling financial resources generation for urban development. Instead of acting as a subsidised lender, HUDCO could become a market maker through the provision of guarantees and investing in subordinate tranches of municipal bonds or directly providing subordinate debt to projects to supplement private capital.

There has also been a sea change in the philosophy of models of public service delivery and consequently the role of the private sector in the development, management and operation of public assets. While the private sector has been recognised as being able to bring in management and technical capabilities as well as increased efficiencies, the historical experience of PPPs in India has been decidedly mixed. India has seen success in projects that are technically simple with small gestation periods; and with lesser uncertainties in demand estimation. Projects with greater management and technical complexity, long gestation periods and difficulties in estimating demand have faced problems. However, there is some evidence that newer projects are absorbing the learning’s from earlier failures and structuring risks in a way that reduce the probability of disruptions due to unexpected events in the course of a project’s life. Over the past decade there has also been increasing policy focus on PPPs with the Ministry of Finance’s model laws and guidelines, setting up of state PPP cells and legislation by some states to enable PPPs. While these are important measures, they will need to be supported by fundamental reforms in governance, institutional structures, laws and regulation to create an environment that is conducive for the creation of critical public infrastructure through the design and implementation of complex PPPs in India.

To read the full paper please click here.


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.


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.


The Urban Organism – Cities as living beings

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

For the first time in the history of the world, more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. In the next 13 years, a billion people are expected to migrate to cities, twice as fast as the rate just 30 years ago. Yet, as William Solecki1 argues in a recent article our understanding of the process of urbanization remains fragmented at best. This can partly be attributed to the fact that each academic discipline approaches the study of cities using a narrow analytical lens that precludes a holistic understanding of the process of urbanization and how it interacts with other systems like the environment for instance.

Some recent work has tried to bridge this gap in our understanding by looking at cities as complex adaptive systems. This perspective has been in vogue since the advent of cybernetics, which inspired a study of cities as machines or engineering systems. However, what these studies lacked was a scientific basis as theories of cities. With the increased availability of data on cities, research has now been able to move towards a science of urbanization2.

Biological Metaphor of the city

Researchers have long applied the biological metaphor to the city and likened them to living systems, organisms and eco-systems. In a recent paper, Bettencourt et al argue that this biological or evolutionary comparison cannot be dismissed as just a qualitative metaphor for the city3.

It is well established that almost all physiological characteristics (like metabolic rate, heart rate) of biological organisms scale with the body mass of the organism. As the authors note, “Conceptually, the existence of such universal scaling laws implies, for example, that in terms of almost all biological rates, times, and internal structure, an elephant is approximately a blown-up gorilla, which is itself a blown-up mouse, all scaled in an appropriately nonlinear, predictable way. This concept means that dynamically and organizationally, all mammals are, on the average, scaled manifestations of a single idealized mammal, whose properties are determined as a function of its size.

The authors examine whether similar scaling relationship can be found between cities and its social and material resources using data on cities in US, China and Europe. Using population as the measure of city size, the study finds three categories of scaling:

i. Linear scaling: Parameters of individual need like total housing in the city, total employment, electrical consumption and water consumption scale linearly with city size.

ii. Sub-linear scaling: Parameters of material resources or infrastructure scale sub-linearly. This means that doubling the population of any city requires only about an 85% increase in infrastructure like total road surface, length of electrical cables, water pipes or number of petrol stations. The 15% savings happens due to economies of scale, which enable more efficient and economically viable provision of services.

iii. Super-linear scaling: Social and economic parameters like GDP, total wages, new patents, number of inventors, R&D employment all increase by approximately 15% more than the expected linear growth. The same holds true of instances of crime and new cases of diseases like AIDS.

The most striking result of the study is that social and economic variables show super-linear scaling with respect to city population. However, it is pertinent to note that population size must be seen not as a causal force, but rather as a proxy variable that captures a set of diverse socio-economic mechanisms made possible by the co-location and intense interaction of people. As the paper argues, “these indicators reflect unique social characteristics with no equivalent in biology and are the quantitative expression that knowledge spillovers drive growth that such spillovers in turn drive urban agglomeration, and that larger cities are associated with higher levels of productivity.” Thus, the central idea is that cities are large social networks, not merely a large collection of people. The complex web of social interactions makes the city more than just a sum of its constituent parts.

Extending the biological metaphor, Bettencourt and West argue that cities are approximately scaled up versions of one another4. This is shown for 360 US Metropolitan areas in Figure 1 below.

Source: Luis Bettencourt & Geoffrey West. A unified theory of urban living. Volume 467. Nature. October 2010. Pp 912-13

These results present the first steps towards creating a scientific theory of cities and understanding the process of urbanization in greater depth. Although the theories we have discussed may not be prescriptive for policy-makers, “a new quantitative understanding of cities may well be the choice between creating a ‘planet of slums’ or finally achieving a sustainable, creative, prosperous, urbanized world expressing the best of the human spirit.

Additional resources on the subject can be found at http://www.santafe.edu/research/cities-scaling-and-sustainability/papers/

An interesting TED talk on the subject titled ‘The surprising math of cities and corporations’ can be seen here: http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_of_cities_and_corporations.html

  1. William Solecki is the Director of City University of New York’s Institute for Sustainable Cities. The article is available at: http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2013/January-February%202013/urbanization-full.html
  2. The Kind of problem a city is. Available at: http://www.santafe.edu/media/workingpapers/13-03-008.pdf
  3. Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities. Available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/17/7301.abstract
  4. A unified theory of urban living. Available at: http://www.cabdyn.ox.ac.uk/complexity_PDFs/Publications%202010/Nature_Cities.pdf


So what is a Smart City?

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

For urban planners and city officials “Smart City” seems to be the buzzword that they believe will prepare them for the increasing urbanization that cities will be witnessing in years ahead. With around 75 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, such belief and concern seems justified, but the direction taken towards this end needs critical thinking. The definition of “Smart City” seems fluid and the contours aren’t clearly drawn.

In January 2012, a 20-story office building in downtown Rio, Brazil, collapsed. The city’s Operations Center got into action and coordinated a quick response across different departments (Fire, Electric, Civil, Traffic, Subways and others). Such coordination and quick response time would not have been possible but for the Operations Center.

The Operations Center built by IBM, integrates data from 30 agencies and video streams that it has implanted across the city. All the data and streams are reflected on a giant display from which city officials can get a real-time view of what’s happening across the city.

Songdo in South Korea, the much-trumpeted ‘Smart City’, is being built from ground-up on a reclaimed land near the Yellow Sea. The $35 billon dollar project has technology embedded in its genes. From schools powered by Telepresence to sensor-equipped elevators that move only when it detects humans nearby to homes powered by Smart Meters; the city is intended to be a model ‘Smart City’, and has Cisco as its digital architect.

There is great merit in seeing corporations investing their resources in making cities better and it’s obvious that they see a lucrative market that they wish to tap. However it begs the question are city mayors and officials right in handing over corporations such over-arching control and deploying what these companies call off-the-shelf solutions and computer models to a system as complex as a city?

Smart enough?

While technology certainly will play a crucial role in building smarter systems that makes the lives of citizens better, its integration and application needs to be well thought out. Deployment should not translate into wide-eyed optimism.

As Greg Lindsay, co-author of “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next“, puts it in this opinion piece:

“The bias lurking behind every large-scale smart city is a belief that bottom-up complexity can be bottled and put to use for top-down ends — that a central agency, with the right computer program, could one day manage and even dictate the complex needs of an actual city.”

Further accentuating this argument is a forecast study “The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion,” commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, where it argues:

“Global technology companies are offering “smart city in a box” solutions. Governments are responding to their pitch: a smarter, cleaner, safer city. But there is no guarantee that technology solutions developed in one city can be transplanted elsewhere. As firms compete to corner the government market, cities will benefit from innovation. But if one company comes out on top, cities could see infrastructure end up in the control of a monopoly whose interests are not aligned with the city or its residents.”

There is merit in the argument but one cannot discount the fact that large corporations bring their vast resources, expertise and not to mention scale in addressing problems as disparate as that of a city.

The need therefore is for an intersection point where corporations and grassroots innovations can flourish – something that should form the genesis of a “Smart City”.

Getting Smart

While “Smart City” tag is largely labeled to cities that have adopted or implemented new mash-ups of technology in their day-to-day context, the term should mean more than that.

It should originate from a city’s desire to make best use of its existing resources and an identification of a clear roadmap as to where does the city see itself 5 to 10 years down the line. Such futuristic roadmap, developed in consultation with the local citizens, should be the fundamental guide in planning any technological deployment or otherwise that the city undertakes.

Though valuable as a guide, such planning should be fluid enough to take shape as things emerge, which is essential in the context of complex city systems, the behavioral aspects of which cannot be accurately modeled.

With a clear direction in place, the role of a city mayor or city officials is crucial. It is essential that they create a fertile ground for innovation (Read: Standard data sets, APIs etc.) that sees them making best use of this intersection point involving corporates, academic researchers and the local community of entrepreneurs, hackers, and other urban enthusiasts.

While they can engage the corporations on one hand to create applications or procure devices, they also have to encourage citizen innovation by way of organizing challenges, crowdsourcing solutions, hackathons, unconferences etc. Something folks at World Bank call “Co-Creating Solutions”. Such co-creation would allow citizens to have a stake in the city’s development and can be a source of rich dialog between them and city planners, resulting in interesting innovations and continuous loop of feedback.

In her book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ Jane Jacobs wrote “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because and only when they are created by everybody”. As with any urban planning exercise or civic engagement, this quote could hold true for any smart city initiative too.


Making Room for a Planet of Cities

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

In a report titled “Making Room for a Planet of Cities”, Shlomo Angel et al examine how the prevailing planning paradigm of containment, which is predicated on the containment of sprawl in cities, is unsuitable for rapidly urbanizing countries like India. The report is based on a study of the historical evolution of urban land cover in 120 cities, including 30 cities for which maps and data are available from 1800.

The key findings of the report are:

  1. Persistent Decline in Urban Density: Analysing a global sample of 120 cities, the report finds that average built-up area density reduced from a mean of 144 p/ha (people per hectare) in 1990 to 112 p/ha in 2000. Examining a representative sample of 30 cities (for which data is available from 1800), it becomes clear that declining urban density is a feature observed throughout the 20th century. Urban densities peaked circa 1894. Densities have declined from their peak of 430 p/ha to an average of 100 p/ha in 2000.
  2. Reduced fragmentation of City footprints: Fragmentation or discontinuous development of the city (often referred to as sprawl) has been measured using two complementary metrics- openness index is a neighbourhood level scale that measures the average share of open space within a walking distance circle (1 km2 in area) about every built-up space in the city and city footprint ratio, a city level metric, defined as the ratio of city footprint (the total built-up and open area in a city and its suburbs) to the city’s built-up area. The mean value of the openness index in the global sample reduced from 0.47 in 1990 to 0.42 in 2000. The mean city footprint ratio also reduced marginally from 2.01 in 1990 to 1.93 in 2000.This means that on average, cities today contain as much urbanized open space as their built-up area.
  3. Growth in urban land cover outpaces growth in urban population: In the global sample of 120 cities, urban population growth averaged 1.60% p.a between 1990 and 2000. During the same time period, urban land cover grew at 3.66% p.a. At this rate, the world’s urban population will double in 43 years while urban land cover will double in just 19 years. Accra’s explosive growth (below) provides us a glimpse of the scale of urbanization challenges facing the world.

Why has the containment paradigm failed?

The containment paradigm believes that it is in the public interest to contain unrestrained urban expansion, typically decried as sprawl, and to make cities more compact. It argues that

  1.  the current density of urban land is too low and needs to be increased;
  2. there is an excessive amount of vacant land within the built-up areas of cities that needs to be filled in; and
  3. land on the urban periphery needs to be left largely undisturbed.

The classic example of this planning paradigm is Seoul, where the establishment of a green belt in 1971 which prevented the conversion of land to urban use in a 1482 km2 area surrounding the city (Figure 2). As the map shows, urban growth has burgeoned in the permitted area and led to the development of satellite towns and edge cities outside the greenbelt area. This has led to increased commuting distances and higher carbon emissions. Within the city, restricted supply of land has led to sky-rocketing house prices. Seoul’s rent-to-income ratio was 0.35; second highest in the world and twice the global average of 0.16.

Figure 2

In Sao Paulo, restriction of urban growth seeking to protect the entire countryside surrounding the city has led to virtually no available open space within the city (Figure 3). Sao Paulo has an openness index of 0.18, the lowest among the global sample of 120 cities.

Figure 3

Making Room Paradigm

The making room planning paradigm rests on four tenets:

  1. Realistic projection of urban land needs: New York City (NYC) and Barcelona are prime examples of cities that have realistically projected land needs. In 1811, NYC (with a population of 100,000) prepared an expansion plan projecting a 10-fold increase in population. Similarly, Ildefons Cerdá envisioned a 10-fold increase in Barcelona’s population. Assuming a 1% annual density decline, the report forecasts that 22 countries will multiply their urban land cover 10-fold between 2000 and 2050. Cities need to realistically project their urban land needs to prepare for such expansions in the future.
  2. Generous metropolitan limits: Metropolitan limits have to be large enough to accommodate 20 to 30 years of urban expansion based on realistic projections of population growth, density decline, and changes in fragmentation levels. The study argues that Beijing, with an administrative area 11 times its built-up area, is a best practice example of this tenet.
  3. Selective protection of open spaces: Instead of protecting too much land from urban development at no cost to the public (like Seoul and Sao Paulo) and ending up with no open space at all, this strategy aims to protect some land at a minimal cost to the public so it remains open in perpetuity. The report cites the example of Singapore that has a number of parks and open spaces distributed throughout the city area.
  4. Arterial grid of roads at 1km apart: Cities must prepare for urban growth by to securing the rights-of-way for an entire arterial road and infrastructure grid in the area within the new administrative boundaries. Toronto serves as an example of a city that has been able to build and maintain an effective public transport system that extends along an arterial road grid far into the suburbs. It now has the third-largest transit system in North America.

Financing the Development of Small and Medium Cities

The current edition of Economic & Political Weekly, features a paper written by Anand Sahasranaman of IFMR Finance Foundation on financing the development of small and medium cites.

Abstract from the paper below:

Urbanisation in India is currently marked by two fundamental trends: lopsided migration to the larger cities and unbalanced regional economic development. In this context, this paper makes a case for the concerted development of small and medium cities as the key focus in the strategy to ensure sustainable urbanisation in India. As cities plan for the long term, among the most critical components they need are the availability of land and the provision of infrastructure and services for a growing population. This paper suggests the need for land banks and land readjustment mechanisms, and assesses the efficacy of current mechanisms for infrastructure provision in small and medium cities. There is also a rationale and need for the creation of new cities, either on the peripheries of large cities or around industrial clusters, with private participation and financing.

To read the full paper click here.


Choosing Srirangapatna

By Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

While there is growing acknowledgement of the importance of small and medium cities for sustainable urbanisation, we also need to develop a deeper understanding of the processes through which such cities can meaningfully plan for economic growth and sustainably finance public infrastructure & services.

At IFMR Finance Foundation, we felt that the best way to understand the process of developing a long-term vision for a small city and designing appropriate infrastructure financing solutions would be through a deep, ground-level engagement with a real Indian city.

We approached the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC) with our proposal to work with a city on sustainably financing its long-term vision for infrastructure development. They were particularly interested in our focus on small and medium cities and helped us set up visits to meet the Deputy Commissioners of Mandya and Mysore districts. The DCs recommended possible candidate cities to situate our initiative in, and we visited five such cities in the Bangalore – Mysore belt: Ramanagara, Krishna Raja Nagara, Nanjanguda, Srirangapatna and Mandya. After our visits, we zeroed in on Srirangapatna as our city of choice.

A number of factors such as population, infrastructure issues, accessibility and interest evinced by city officials went into the choice of city for this initiative. An additional factor that helped swing our choice was the historicity of Srirangapatna, with the challenges of heritage conservation adding a whole new dimension to the nature of infrastructure challenges confronting the city as it prepares for increasing urbanisation.

We are currently in the process of drawing out a long-term vision for the city in partnership with citizens and the local government – specifically focusing on issues of land, water and housing. Our engagement with the city will be a deeply participatory process, with involvement of local citizens, community groups, businesses, slum residents, students and others. At the conclusion of this phase of local engagement, we expect to be able to draw out a unified vision for the future of Srirangapatna – as articulated by local stakeholders. While this vision for Srirangapatna will be the major output from the first phase, we also hope that our work will provide some insights into the nature of processes that can drive ground-level participatory data and information collection.

The objective of the second phase of this initiative will be to design and sustainably finance public infrastructure projects (in the areas of land, water and housing) that are derived from this unified long-term vision. These projects are envisioned to be in the nature of ‘minimal’ investments that the city will need to make today, in order to be reasonably prepared for the coming urbanisation. This will enable a planned approach to urbanisation in Srirangapatna, so that the city does not have to constantly play catch-up – as is the case of our larger cities today.


Small cities and India’s future

By Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

It is a well-worn cliché to call cities the engines of national growth. Like many clichés, however, it contains a kernel of truth. The import of this cliché is particularly resonant in the crossroads that India finds itself in now.

It has been estimated that India will have an urban population touching 600 million in 2030, up from 340 million in 2008 – almost a doubling of the urban population in little more than two decades. This statistic alone must give us pause to think about the state of our cities today and their ability to absorb the coming population deluge.

Urbanisation has rightly been recognised as being among the most important issues facing India today. As a result of this realisation, there has been increased policy interest and attention being focused on the issues impacting urban India. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is the flagship Govt. of India program aimed at improving the provision of urban infrastructure. This increased attention to urban India is however skewed towards the large metropolitan cities. These cities are the engines of economic growth today, but are plagued by severe challenges to their civic infrastructure as their populations have exploded. They are beset with a range of institutional, operational and financial problems and city managers have been left struggling to cope with the ever-increasing demands for infrastructure and services.

We believe that in order to have sustainable urbanisation in India, the focus of urban development must be on small and medium cities. This is driven by two primary imperatives – growth and equity. Current patterns of migration – from rural areas to the larger cities – are unsustainable because metropolitan centres are already buckling under the weight of their current populations. Additionally, economic growth in the country has been geographically skewed towards the large cities and the southern states, and so there is need for more balanced, equitable regional growth.

Therefore, in order to sustain the growth momentum and deepen the process of inclusive growth, it is imperative that small and medium cities become the crux around which the strategy for urbanisation in India revolves.