Urban anxieties

  • 30/05/1995

WRITTEN for city administrators, these 3 books are meant to be handbooks which collate the facts of urban areas degeneration, the theories of a constructive approach to urban management, and state-of-art update of city governance.The facts reveal a chilling story of the facets of urban living conditions in developing countries. For instance, much opprobrium has been heaped on Union Carbide for the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal; fewer questions have been asked of the city administration, which allowed so many people to live so close to a chemical plant with a dubious reputation.

Conflicting jurisdictions of the local and central governments, antiquated laws governing land use, and institutional inadequacy rot the foundations of living conditions in most cities. Above all, a general lack of sensitivity towards the urban environment accounts for the deterioration. "In a review of all developing regions, only about 2 to 3 per cent of the urban research had an environmental focus," reported a study cosiducted by the Ford Foundation in 1983.

Land use is critical, since it determines the prices of property and its accessibility to the masses. According io the book, the main problem lies in excessive regulation. In other situations, governments have not formulated effective land use policies, laws and standards that deal with development in sensitive and hazard-prone areas, or that guide expansion I away from areas poorly suitedl to urban development.

Deft economic management makes the vital difference between entropy and well-adapted communities. According to a report of United States Agency for International Developent in Solo, Indonesia, the opportunity to own land (illegally', occupied) helped motivate slumdwellers to upgrade their plots and neighbourhoods, resulting in major improvements in water supply, drainage, sanitation, and solid waste management.

Resources are no longer a constraint, since money can be raised from capital markets by issuing municipality bonds, or from the sale of developed lands. Much of the development can be undertaken by the private sector, provided the commercial viability of projects is ensured. Most resources such as water and energy are currently inefficiently utilised on account of their politically- determined low prices. Governments are not inclined to pay a market price for land acquired from private holders and thereby create legal problems which hold up development.

--- Kishore Jethanandani is a freelance writer.

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