In many countries, urbanization is still not considered a national development opportunity. In general the overall understanding of cities in national development is also very limited, and so is the appreciation of the structural transformations represented by the dynamics of growth in urban centres. It is often forgotten that framing a national urban policy is the key step for reasserting urban space and territoriality and for providing the needed direction and course of action to support urban development.
Where Is the Forward-Looking Urban Development Policy?
A forward-looking national urban policy should provide the general framework to orient public interventions in urban areas and be a reference for related ministries and service providers and should also be the key reference for legislative institutional reform. Such a realistic national urban planning policy is also a good instrument for public and political awareness of the gains to be obtained from sustainable urban development, as well as an opportunity to promote consultation with urban stakeholders. In a word: national urban policy provides an overarching coordinating framework that address the most pressing issues related to rapid urban development [including slum prevention and regularization, access to land, basic services and infrastructure], urban legislation, delegation of authority to sub-national and local governments, financial flows, urban planning regulations, urban mobility and urban energy requirements, as well as job creation.
In fact, an appropriate regional growth strategy sets a vision for how the region can manage growth sustainably for the next decades, aiming at improving livability, protecting the environment and getting the right infrastructure in place. The requirement is to identify priority areas for implementation; refine the classification of centres, business areas and corridors; complete plan changes; develop and trial new approaches to encourage quality residential and business intensification and large-scale urban transformation; coordinate infrastructure planning and investment; improve communication, monitoring and information sharing among others. The aim is to help our region secure a better quality of life, and at the same time create a sustainable future socially, culturally, economically and environmentally.
In order to be able to plan effectively the need is there to continuously monitor. For example, the growth rates of population and economic growth may change considerably from what is currently predicted which, in turn, could alter the nature and intensity of the region’s sustainability challenges quite radically and would require current responses to be reviewed. Scenarios planning thus come into play in order to identify the circumstances that may trigger a review.
A lot depends on how infrastructure requirements are financed. The amount required on this score, needless to say, is a big one. How that is met is definitely a question, but where is the way out? Fund arrangement must be made so that the assets created become extremely useful in future. A number of instances may be shown where the fund invested virtually went a begging in as much as the investment made was on relatively less important arena. Opportunity cost aspect was not adequately studied.
Clearly, successful national urban policies has the ability to yield multiple results: the identification of urban development priorities towards socially and economically equitable and environmentally friendly urban and national development; future development of the national urban system and its spatial configuration concretized through National and spatial Plans for regional development; coordination and guidance of actions by national functionaries vis-à-vis lower levels of government in all sectors; and, of course, increased and well coordinated private and public investments in urban development, which, in turn, lead to consequent improvement of cities’ productivity, inclusiveness, environmental conditions and people’s participation in the development process.
Successful Drives Must Not Take a Back Seat
In South Africa, Brazil and China, a clear urban policy has reflected to be a key tool to orient action, address inequality and at the same time energize the development process itself. Mention may be made of UN-Habitat that has supported several urban policy development processes [even in Burundi, Malawi, Sri Lanka and Mongolia]. India, with its well-qualified techno-savvy trained planners [excepting the cultureless corrupt non-performer who misuses the power, misbehaves with the public and reluctant to sit on a discussion table to update the age-old knowledge level], can do the same thing in a better manner on this score.
Whatever is: let us have a look at Africa where overall infrastructure investment needs are estimated to be US$93 billion per year – largest infrastructure deficiency being in the energy sector, whether measured in terms of energy consumption, generation capacity or security of supply. Most African countries face acute ‘energy poverty’ with lack of access, especially in rural areas; low purchasing power; low energy efficiency and over-dependence on traditional biomass for meeting basic energy needs.
A recent report evaluates the role of infrastructure in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa. Rightly, it argues that strong urban economic development is essential for the provision of adequate housing, infrastructure, education, health, safety, and basic services. According to the report, Africa is the world’s largest consumer of biomass energy [biomass accounts for two-thirds of total African final energy consumption, with 65 per cent provided by firewood]. Interestingly, the report noted that the development of renewable energy options could be financed in part by more effective use of the ‘cap and trade’ mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The report also notes that only South Africa, Mauritius and the five North African countries have taken advantage of the CDM-facilitated international carbon trade opportunities, while most Sub-Saharan African countries lack the expertise to do so. The report indicates that capacity building is needed to enable these countries to prepare CDM-eligible projects and to negotiate carbon emissions credit.
The utmost need is thus there for integration of urban development in national sustainable development policies. Such policies serve as enabling frameworks for transport corridors, job creation and at the same time development of [within and between] cities. Plus, they can also empower local authorities to work more closely with national government. The importance of developing national urban policies as levers for sustainable development remains beyond any shade of doubt.
Dr. BK Mukhopadhyay
(The writer, a noted Management Economist and an International Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs, can be reached at [email protected])