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We need to have long term vision for our cities

Every year Cities in Motion Index (CIMI) ranks cities around the world on the basis of various parameters and this year too they have published the ranking top cities in the world. As usual, Indian cities occupy lower portion of the ranking list (though some minor improvement is found in the ranking over last year) we have a (very) long way to go before we call ourselves a superpower. Nevertheless, the ranking brings out some startling facts which may be of some help to our leaders, city planners and bureaucrats.

The ranking shows that the size of the city, both in terms of population and area, is irrelevant. Five of the top ten ranked cities are mega cities with population more than 10 million while only one city with less than 600,000 inhabitants finds place in the top ten. All other smaller cities with population less than 600,000 have ranks below 20. While smaller cities enjoy better social cohesion bigger cities have better economic dimension. However, mega cities have performance deficiency on environment front. In other words, it means that a high level of economic development is detrimental to the well-being of the environment if cities do not take ecological criteria into account during that development. However, there are many cities that have done well on both the fronts. A large number of European cities, such as Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Oslo and Zurich, as well as Asian cities such as Tokyo and Seoul, and cities from Oceania such as Sydney and Wellington are some of the living examples. On the other hand, cities like Kolkata, Lahore and Lagos are the examples for those that have failed on both the fronts.

Further, our cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata also show less progress on mobility and environment criteria. Of course, the common man is experiencing the effect of failure on both these fronts.

The ranking has brought out another interesting fact about technology and social cohesion which our town planners need to keep in mind. It was observed that, with the exception of London and Tokyo, the most-populous cities that achieve a good performance in technology have a poor performance in social cohesion. However, cities from emerging markets like New Delhi score poorly on both the fronts indicating that much needs to be done at the ground apart from just sloganeering.

On the whole, there is much to learn for our town planners from the findings of the CIMI rankings. One strong message from this exercise is that technology is not the main (or only) ingredient of a smart city and one needs to take into account other critical fields that define the urban situation. If a city does not see the whole picture, it will be difficult for it to become a smart city.

Cities also need to define their identity and establish a strategic plan. One of the most important (and difficult) questions that must be asked is what kind of city you want in the future. The answer will not only define its identity but also set out the path of transformation that one must travel to achieve it. That is, one must consider what their strategic plan will be. In fact, a sound strategic plan will prevent changes that may veer the city away from its identity as circumstances or governments change, and the plan must be unique and individual for each city. This means that local governments must escape from the one-size-fits-all approach and define a specific long-term vision for the city.

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