As the world grapples with the challenges of rapid urbanization, climate change, and economic recovery, the theme of World Habitat Day 2023, “Resilient Urban Economics: Cities as Drivers of Growth and Recovery,” resonates strongly in the context of India. In India, the concept of resilient urban economics takes on even greater significance, given the country’s diverse urban landscape and the unique challenges it faces. The Indian subcontinent is home to some of the fastest-growing cities globally, and they play a pivotal role in the nation’s economic development and response to climate change. India is the second- largest urban system in the world, with almost 11% of the total global urban population living in Indian cities1. In this article, we explore the importance of resilient urban economics, highlighting India’s efforts in creating climate-smart cities and fostering economic growth while addressing urban challenges, specifically citing the experience of Surat.
The Urbanisation Imperative
India is experiencing a massive wave of urbanization, with millions of people migrating to cities in search of better opportunities2. This urban growth, while a testament to India’s economic potential, also poses significant challenges. Overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure, pollution, and slum proliferation are some of the pressing issues faced by many urban centers in India. India’s internal migration story is skewed toward intra-state migration rather than inter-state migration3.
However, it’s essential to recognize that cities are not just challenges; they are also hubs of innovation, creativity, and economic dynamism. The key lies in harnessing this potential while addressing urban challenges.
Resilient Urban Economics
Resilient urban economics refers to the capacity of cities to withstand shocks and adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining economic stability and growth. In the Indian context, this concept is vital due to the nation’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and changing rainfall patterns. Building resilient urban economies is central to India’s sustainable development goals and climate mitigation efforts.
Climate-Smart Cities Initiatives
To promote resilient urban economics, India has embarked on a transformative journey to create climate-smart cities. These initiatives aim to integrate climate adaptation and mitigation strategies into urban planning and development, fostering both economic growth and environmental sustainability.
Understanding the need for sustainable urban planning and climate-informed development actions across Indian cities, the Climate-Smart Cities Assessment Framework (CSCAF) was developed and rolled out by the MoHUA.
1. Green Infrastructure: Indian cities are investing in green infrastructure, such as urban parks, rooftop gardens, and tree-lined streets, to mitigate the urban heat island effect and improve air quality. These measures not only enhance the quality of life but also attract investments and tourism. A nationally coordinated framework of strategy, policies, and investments for urban development is essential to enable India’s carbon-efficient cities of the future.
2. Renewable Energy: The adoption of renewable energy sources like solar power is reducing the carbon footprint of cities while creating jobs and investment opportunities. The Smart Cities Mission, launched in 2015, prioritizes clean energy solutions. Union Budget 2022-23 provides a roadmap for clean energy and climate mitigation – a development priority for the next 25 years.
3. Waste Management: Efficient waste management and recycling programs are not only environmentally friendly but also generate income through the sale of recyclable materials. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) is a notable example.
4. Digital Transformation: India’s digital transformation is changing the way cities function, improving efficiency and transparency in governance, and attracting tech-related investments. The digital transformation in India driving much of the expansion is unprecedented on the world stage, predicting that the value of India’s digital economy alone will surpass US$1 trillion as early as 2025. Smart city projects leverage technology to optimize resource utilization.
5. Transportation: Investment in sustainable transportation, such as metro systems and electric vehicles, is reducing congestion and emissions while improving connectivity and accessibility for residents.
Economic Growth and Job Creation
Resilient urban economics are intertwined with economic growth and job creation. Indian cities serve as economic powerhouses, contributing significantly to the country’s GDP. By focusing on sustainable development and climate-smart initiatives, cities can attract both domestic and foreign investments. India’s economy is resilient and better positioned than many parts of the world to face a global growth slowdown or even a recession9.
Additionally, the development of sustainable urban infrastructure creates a demand for skilled labor, thereby generating employment opportunities. Programs like the National Urban Livelihoods Mission aim to provide training and support for urban job seekers.
Resilience in Action: A Case Study of Surat
Surat, a diamond and textile city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, with over 7 million people, serves as an excellent example of resilience in action. The city has invested in robust disaster management systems, improved public transportation, and adopted renewable energy solutions. As a result, Surat has not only become more resilient to climate-related challenges but has also experienced significant economic growth, attracting businesses and investments. Surat is at the vanguard of this global movement towards greener, more resilient, and more inclusive urban development10.
India’s experience with resilient urban economics demonstrates the potential of cities to be drivers of growth and recovery. By embracing Climate Smart Cities initiatives and other resilience- building measures, Indian cities are not only adapting to a changing world but also thriving in it. Surat’s experience as a resilient urban economy showcases the importance of economic diversification, entrepreneurship, infrastructure development, disaster preparedness, and government support in driving growth and recovery in cities. The city’s ability to withstand shocks and adapt to changing circumstances serves as an inspiring example for other urban areas looking to build resilience in their economies.
As we commemorate World Habitat Day on October 9th, let us celebrate the progress made and renew our commitment to creating cities that are not only economically vibrant but also environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive. In doing so, we can ensure a brighter future for all urban dwellers in India and around the world.
Views expressed by Kamlesh Yagnik, Chief Resilience Officer, Surat, India