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Are Indian Cities Ready for the Coming Migration Wave?

According to census 2011, roughly 31 percent of Indians reside in urban areas, and this number will only increase.

3 min read

Are Indian Cities Ready for the Coming Migration Wave?
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According to the World Urbanization Prospects of the UN Population Division, the percentage of people residing in urban areas is slated to rise to 60 percent by 2030 and to 66.4 percent by 2050, up from 54 percent in 2015. In 1950 the corresponding figure was just under 30 percent. This shows the magnitude of change happening across the world with an ever-increasing percentage of people residing in urban areas.

India, as a country, has been slow to urbanise. At present, according to census 2011, roughly 31 percent of Indians reside in urban areas. Over the next few years, India is expected to urbanise rapidly – and this percentage is slated to rise sharply.

A pertinent question that arises is: Do Indian cities have the wherewithal to be resilient in the face of such unprecedented migration?

The World Bank Has Some Ideas

At the core of finding an answer is a multi-stakeholder group comprising citizens, governments and businesses that can solve many of the urban issues that are being faced.

In the case of India, governments before the present dispensation have been trying to find solutions to these questions. The earlier Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (NNURM) and the Smart Cities Mission now are both part of the resolve to improve India’s urban ecosystem.

It is in this context that a recent book by the World Bank becomes pertinent. Regenerating Urban Land – A Practitioners Guide to Leveraging Private Investment has laid focus on a hitherto less-focussed-on area in urban affairs, which can be leveraged for better liveability and competitiveness, namely, regenerating urban land. The book details a conceptual framework for understanding the urban regeneration process, as well as mentions eight case studies of such projects from across the world.

According to this important work, urban regeneration is done in areas where there are pockets of under-used and under-utilised land, or distressed and decaying areas.

Do Indian cities have the wherewithal to be resilient in the face of such unprecedented migration? (Photo: iStockphoto)

A successful urban renewal process has four phases.

Phase 1 - Scoping

The first phase primarily provides decision makers with analytical tools to confront issues facing the city. It is both forward-looking and backward-looking. It looks backwards for the city’s history and DNA, and looks ahead to what is required.

The book goes on to cite Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront Development project (SRDP), one of the eight case studies, as an example of a scoping exercise that took a long time for completion.

Phase 2 - Planning

This involves ‘designing a web of actions and institutions’. The book explicitly mentions that a successful planning framework brings together an inspiring vision with a clear regulatory process. A planning process with the help of a scoping process must detail all the vital elements including land, community and environmental issues.


Phase 3 - Financing

Here, there are generally two types of tools available. Financial tools involve direct financial assistance such as value-capture methods (impact fees, special assessments, extractions). Regulatory tools utilise regulatory powers of a city to incentivise private sector participation in the form of tax-based/non-tax based incentives, zoning, land use planning and the like.

Phase 4 - Implementation

This phase translates the vision for sustainable change into financial, contractual and institutional relationships between the public and private sectors. This involves creating an organisational structure, which is sustainable and can exist through multiple political administrations.

More thinking and planning is required to make sure urbanisation is controlled and systematic. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The book is a welcome addition to the body of work for policymakers and development practitioners in India and elsewhere. It will aid development professionals and policymakers understand how urban regeneration projects can be conceived and can contribute to revitalising the economy and building its competitiveness for the future.

Over the next few years, more such thinking is required for countries like India to face some of the challenges that may arise due to their massive and haphazard urbanisation that is underway.

(The article is co-authored with Sankalp Sharma, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness, India. Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness & Editor of Thinkers. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at and tweets @kautiliya)

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