There is no one-size-fits-all  solution to challenges cities  face today, said  panellists at a discussion on  urban infrastructure

The panel discussion on urban infrastructure challenges
The panel discussion on urban infrastructure challenges © LiveMint

Choices that cities make on leadership and management are extremely vital. If we look at some of the world’s examples here—the UK created an empowered, directly-elected mayor of London who sets policies and executes them through corporatized agencies such as Transport for London. China’s major cities have powerful political appointees as mayors and use focused special purpose vehicles, as in the case of Shanghai’s water supply, to build and run the urban infrastructure. Do you think our cities have to move to a new form of governance structure now?

Mehta: There are issues around each of them. There is no ultimate solution. Some cities have an independent authority. We have a model where there is coordination between different arms of the city government. Every system has its own model. Our cities are not held back, they are moving. Fundamentally, we need to create high-value jobs; housing is a crisis, and we need one million houses by 2024; we must build quality of life infrastructure.

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How would you reimagine an Indian city?

Udgirkar: I’ll pick my city of Gurgaon. It’s a high-income city. The concept of residence being close to work is well-planned. People don’t mind paying for services. But it’s one of the worst cities in India. It’s a concrete jungle and we blame the government, but this city was set up mostly by three private builders. There are no gardens, no cycle tracks; it could have had a good bus transport system. It looks like a fancy city when you fly above it in a plane but the moment you land, there is no civic system, there’s horrible traffic management and no consideration for the environment. But there’s so much we can do to make Gurgaon a smart liveable city.

Abhraham: Mumbai has an astonishing opportunity to reinvent itself with the port land. It has a single owner and it reports to the state government. We can create a special governance zone here and make this into a national financial capital region of India and have a special dispensation around it, like the DIFC in Dubai. This can be the engine for Maharashtra’s growth. 

Mahajan: Another opportunity waiting for us to be explored is the upcoming new airport in Navi Mumbai. They have already declared Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (Naina) as a third city, but they have messed up the plan. If I was a planner for Naina, I would adopt Cerda’s model for Barcelona, which was created in 1846. It is still working. He considered cities as an always expanding or a shrinking entity, not a limiting one, and you should facilitate it by modular aspects. We need to explore those kinds of models, which are suitable for different cities.New cities like Naina could integrate with villages and not like Navi Mumbai, which has kept aside villages and created two cities within the city. So we have to have integrative, exploratory and innovative models for each city.

Agarwal: I would place my bet on Amravati as a greenfield city. It’s absolutely fantastic planning going on there. It’s never easy to do a greenfield city and as they leverage off Vijaywada and Guntur; there’s a great opportunity to leapfrog ahead and not go through the same path Bangalores and Mumbais have taken, but indeed create something different.