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The future of mankind is dependent on the cities that we live in. This is why cities are called the powerhouses of the world, as they are responsible for generating more than 80% of the Global GDP and are home to more than 50% of the world’s population.
However, it is these powerhouses of the world which have witnessed the most severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to reasons like the huge concentration of population in the cities and the lack of social distancing norms. Additionally, this impact on cities has been witnessed in an inequitable manner where the people with poor socioeconomic backgrounds have been affected the most.
BCG Managing Director Suresh Subudhi walks us through the past, present and future of the cities where he discusses in-depth the ways to plan a bright future for the cities around the world.
Before the pandemic, there was a very clear path of urbanization, where people were migrating from the rural areas to the cities for better living prospects. However, since the pandemic, cities have witnessed reverse migration where an increasing number of people are moving out of cities into rural areas because of the increased digital connectivity and hybrid nature of work. Governments around the world have been trying to tackle these issues by providing multiple incentives like stimulus packages for citizens and increasing the liquidity of funds through leveraging public debt while re-prioritizing the city’s capital expenditure across different industries.
The last time cities faced a crisis like this was during the Spanish Flu in the 20th Century. Cities around the world were radically altered as a result of this pandemic. However, all the cities around the world were gradually able to reinvent themselves by bringing in many reforms and through various infrastructural developments. Spanish Flu accelerated the adoption of automobiles among the people as they wanted to avoid using public transport. Furthermore, the concept of tele-calling to order goods and services and the initiation of doorstep deliveries were also started in 1919 as a result of the pandemic. Overall, a lot of innovations took place around the different cities in the world.
Now, to overcome the current situation around the world, the cities would go through different innovations as they did back in the 20th Century.
These innovations would broadly have 7 dimensions:
1. URBAN SUSTAINABILITY
There will be a change to more green mobility and open green spaces, vertical farms and more food security in the cities along with a low carbon ecosystem.
2. 15 MINUTE NEIGHBOURHOODS
Paris’ mayor and deputy mayor discussed plans for a city where all the needs of a person should be met within 15 minutes of travelling from their house and that no one should travel beyond 15 minutes to get access to health, education, entertainment, and food. This would be a hyper-local concept consisting of mixed-use of real estate around the city. Under this concept, there will be changes in the usage pattern, where places like schools can be turned into entertainment facilities at night. Only this way can we repurpose the existing infrastructure to make 15 minutes neighborhoods possible.
15 minutes neighborhood would consist of “Rezoning” of areas. For example, if some area of a city is highly developed for residential purposes, then now the focus should be placed on commercial development in that area to create a mixed zone containing all facilities for living and working simultaneously.
3. INCLUSIVE CITIES
Rich people of the cities are dependent on people who work towards achieving a higher economic status. So, the cities need to be inclusive, for which there needs to be affordable housing and equitable access to key services for all the people of the city. To ensure inclusivity in the cities, housing for the middle-income groups is being constructed around high-income neighborhoods, because of each group’s interdependency on the other. However, if we change this trend of development, then it can lead to multiple social and political issues.
4. RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS
There will be volatility in how cities experience external conditions like pandemics or climate shocks. This is why it is important to build real-time data tracking and surveillance of cities. Cities need to have climate-smart infrastructure which is resilient to extreme weather conditions.
5. DIGITAL PUBLIC SERVICES
During the coming years, cities will become completely online. Examples of such changes can be seen in cities like Seoul and Las Vegas which are rapidly moving toward becoming “Metaverse” cities. Such cities will have digital twins, where citizens can interact with government officials in virtual reality through their online avatars, thereby eliminating the need to go to government offices. Gradually, all the public services would become digital.
6. INCREASED OUTDOOR ORIENTATION
Nowadays, people are getting more health-conscious, and this has increased the demand for outdoor and leisure spaces like gyms and parks which are slowly becoming the new city centers. Earlier, it was the offices which were the city centers and people were living around them, but now we are witnessing a change in behavior of the people.
7. CONNECTED SUB-URBAN CITIES
There will be a strong digital connection between the suburbs and the main city, with a burgeoning local economy with the availability of key services. After all these changes, cities will become a physical-digital platform, which will accommodate all the physical and digital platforms, and this is the next stage of the evolution of cities.
INDIA’s MODEL FOR FUTURE CITIES
These were broad dimensions of innovations that need to be inculcated in the cities. While working on these innovations, India should focus on upgrading the existing cities. Currently, India is largely dependent on 6 to 7 mega cities which accommodate and provide employment to millions of people. The focus should be on creating a model where each state should have at least 6 to 10 good cities which create employment opportunities for the people, as this would take the burden off the mega cities.
In India, people are rapidly adopting digital services, which is bridging the digital divide with the rapid adoption of technology.
IMPLICATIONS OF INNOVATION ON THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Implementation of various innovations would come with different implications where cities would need to think about the economic recovery and contingency planning while ensuring the constant engagement of citizens in various events of the city. Cities would also need to widen the talent pool by creating remote work opportunities so that people outside the city can gain access to jobs in the city via remote work.
IMPLICATIONS OF INNOVATION ON THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Business leaders should also craft their strategies keeping in mind the trend shaping the future of cities. Such strategies would include the planning of the number of offices in a city and the location and sizes of such offices. Businesses should also think about whether to promote remote work over traditional work from the office. Additionally, the business leaders need to re-think their retail and distribution strategies, about whether to build massive stores like Ikea, or small chains of stores spread throughout the city or totally eliminate physical stores by just focusing on doorstep deliveries.
BUILDING CITIES SAFE FOR WOMEN
Lastly and most importantly, the development of cities should include safe living conditions for women. Currently, the governments around the world are primarily focusing on surveillance to make the cities safe for women and other citizens. However, we need to change our vision and create cities which focus on the following aspects in the same order to ensure a safe living environment for the women
1. EDUCATION- Deep focus should be laid on education and the proper upbringing of the children of the city. This would form the bedrock for the safety of women and other citizens.
2. CIVIL BEHAVIOUR- 95% population needs to be brought in through deep-rooted civil behavior in them. Good education would automatically lead to good civil behavior among the citizens.
3. SURVEILLANCE- Currently, the government is focusing on surveillance because it is difficult to change the mind of already educated people and hence to control their behavior, surveillance becomes essential.
Suresh Subudhi is a Senior Partner and Managing Director at the Mumbai office of Boston Consulting Group and leads BCG’s infrastructure, transport, and cities work globally. He is part of the leadership team for the firm’s Public Sector and Industrial Goods practices.
Suresh also co-leads BCG’s Global Center for the Future of Cities and Center for Mobility Innovation with the mission of positively influencing the future of our cities.