IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Reinventing cities: On urban planning and disease spread

19th November, 2020 URBANISATION

Context: A new urban development paradigm should focus on cutting disease spread

  • Prime Minister call for a reimagining of urban planning and development to make cities and towns healthy and liveable after COVID-19 reflects the reality of decrepit infrastructure aiding the virus’s spread.
  • At the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, he emphasised resetting the mindset, processes and practices for safe urban living, and acknowledged that governments actually do little for the working millions.
  • In the first hundred days of the pandemic, the top 10 cities affected worldwide accounted for 15% of the total cases, and data for populous Indian cities later showed large spikes that radiated into smaller towns.
  • Rapid transmission in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai was the inevitable outcome of densification and an inability to practise distancing norms.
  • In globally recognized Dharavi, which has one of the world’s highest slum densities, epidemiologists attribute a seemingly low viral impact to screening and herd immunity.
  • Good, affordable housing is the cornerstone of a sustainable and healthy city, but it also represents India’s weakest link.
  • Unlike speculative housing investments, well-designed rental housing that is key to protecting migrant labor and other less affluent sections remains poorly funded.
  • Mumbai is estimated to have added only 5% of rental housing in new residential construction (1961-2000), and that too led by private funding.
  • The post-COVID-19 era, therefore, presents an opportunity to make schemes such as the Centre’s Affordable Rental Housing Complexes deliver at scale, focusing on new good houses built by the state — on the lines of the post-war reconstruction in Europe, Japan and South Korea.
  • The Ministry of Housing, could work on this imperative with the States, digitally aggregating and transparently publishing data on demand and supply for each city.
  • It is also an open secret that laws on air pollution, municipal solid waste management and water quality are hardly enforced, and tokenism marks the approach to urban mobility.
  • Past scourges such as cholera, the plague and the global flu pandemic a century ago led to change — as sewerage, waste handling, social housing and health care that reduced disease. Governments are now challenged by the pandemic to show the political will to reinvent cities.