Author : Rumi Aijaz

Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Apr 27, 2023
City planning and development agencies must take steps to resolve problems faced by vulnerable urban populations
Making cities more inclusive Cities offer various types of work opportunities, thus, attracting a large number of people on a continuous basis. The range of opportunities available is so diverse that people from various social and economic backgrounds are successful in finding a job. Even those without any, or minimal, educational attainments or skills get work in activities such as cycle rickshaw pulling, construction, and numerous other services required in residential, institutional, and commercial areas. Indeed, cities are playing an important role in meeting the aspirations of diverse population groups. Such trends are quite common in Indian cities and have led to the settling down of a heterogeneous population in urban areas. It may be said that the overall personality of Indian cities is shaped by the prevailing social diversity. Although these trends are encouraging, a strong case exists for better management of such a varied population. City governments have formulated policies and plans to address the issue and numerous initiatives have been implemented, but the benefits are not reaching several population groups. The present situation can be described as that of ‘urban social inequality’, wherein a significant proportion of the city population does not have adequate access to basic necessities and this, thus, leads to an inferior quality of life. In this regard, many scholars hold the view that urban policies and initiatives are ‘exclusionary’ in nature and the current approach should be to address the concerns of deprived sections of society who are playing a critical role in the functioning of cities. This deficiency in governance is an important reason for the repeated emphasis by leading global organisations on making cities ‘inclusive’.
City governments have formulated policies and plans to address the issue and numerous initiatives have been implemented, but the benefits are not reaching several population groups.
Despite the realisation, the progress towards ‘inclusive cities’ is disappointing. In advanced economies, this is observed from the racial crisis, where citizens, other than the native population, are often subjected to racial slurs, harassment, and discrimination. At times, the tension leads to violent social conflicts. In other parts of the world, the exclusionary tendencies are different. As mentioned previously, the vulnerable population does not receive adequate support from the administration to lead a decent life. These includes women, differently-abled persons, cyclists, pedestrians, and those economically weaker sections of society. Let us review some urban planning deficiencies in Indian cities that exacerbate this problem. First, women’s safety in public spaces is a big concern; this is observed from the frequent incidents of violence and crime. The Crime Statistical Report of Greater Mumbai Police provides information on various types of crimes against women occurring in the city, such as rape, kidnapping, murder, harassment, acid attack, molestation, and eve-teasing. One place where incidents occur is first/last mile connectivity to public transit systems, such as city buses and metro rails. The absence of infrastructure—street lights, CCTVs, etc.—and physical patrolling in such areas allow criminals to operate freely. The lack of safety has adverse effects on women; it reduces their ability to contribute to city life and limits opportunity. The prevailing conditions call for gender-responsive interventions, including safety audits.
The vulnerable population does not receive adequate support from the administration to lead a decent life.
Secondly, in the housing sector, the most common problems are affordability and land allocation for housing the urban poor. Low incomes do not allow many people to buy or rent a house in planned residential areas. Further, affordable housing projects are usually located at city peripheries due to land availability, but employment opportunities, basic infrastructure, and services in such areas are deficient. Thus, a large population prefers to live in slums and other poorly built structures located in central areas of the city. Efforts are underway to minimise housing inequality in cities through initiatives such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban), a housing scheme that aims to provide decent housing (including rental housing) to all residents. The official statistics show that until April 2023, up to 40 percent of the sanctioned houses were yet to be completed under the national scheme. This work needs to be expedited by resolving problems related to the timely release of national government funds and arranging housing loans for poor communities. The third issue is related to the working conditions of people engaged in informal economic activities. In cities, a majority of the workforce comprises informal workers. Those engaged in the sale of goods in public areas experience numerous difficulties. Due to their informal status, they are often harassed by the administration. Moreover, proper vending spaces and facilities (drinking water, sanitation) have not been created for them. Such conditions are affecting their livelihood and health. Many informal workers operate from roadsides and footpaths, and this practice affects the mobility of pedestrians and motor vehicles. Therefore, the informal economy needs to be better managed through the earmarking of vending zones, construction of temporary multi-level shops, and provision of public convenience facilities.
A large population prefers to live in slums and other poorly built structures located in central areas of the city.
Fourthly, a large number of people are not in good health. They suffer from problems such as blindness, hearing and speech impairment, and hand and feet disabilities. Indian cities do not sufficiently cater to their needs. A few buildings, public areas, travel corridors, and transit systems have infrastructure and services for their convenience, such as ramps, lifts, and pavements with raised surfaces to protect them from accidents. However, a city-wide planning and governance response to the problems faced by the differently-able population is lacking. This issue needs to be urgently addressed as untoward incidents where differently-abled people are affected seem to be rising. In Pune, two blind students suffered severe injuries after being hit by a bus. The accident occurred because they were walking on a section of the road which was without a footpath. Another example of exclusion is the non-provision of public services/amenities, such as public transport, drinking water, and sanitation. This is observed in peri-urban areas where residents have to make their own arrangements to deal with the problems, despite payment of taxes to the government. Therefore, city planning and development agencies must take steps to resolve problems faced by the vulnerable population. Conducting interviews and field studies of their daily activities can help in designing effective reform strategies.
Rumi Aijaz is Senior Fellow at the Urban Policy Research Initiative, Observer Research Foundation
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