Cities and Sustainable Development
Cities Development: A win-win proposition
21st is not only a century of cities but also century of dense cities. Cities have played remarkable role in rapid economic development both in developed countries and developing countries like China, India, Vietnam and Brazil. Pakistan can also make its cities as engine of growth by following suit. Cities are important for many reasons particularly for economic growth and job generation. Primary sector is already labor surplus; our young population will seek jobs in cities in future. These jobs can only be made available if our cities thrive. Despite rapid urbanization we have not yet fully organized ourselves into making our cities to thrive. Our policy makers still think it as anti-rural. Cities development is not anti-rural since latter’s prosperity is strongly linked with the former. Cities having culturally modern shopping malls and densely situated retail shops, cold storage and warehouses, a market for fresh agriculture foods in nearby neighborhood greatly help to reduce post-harvest losses. Due to increased demand for cold storage and warehouses, there will be more investment in modern infrastructure and will lead to economic growth. Prosperous and dense cities coupled with better connectivity will increase demand for agriculture produce and will help in reducing the transportation cost for the agricultural goods. Urban economy with high productivity can generate jobs in non-agricultural sector which are important eventually for increase in income and agricultural productivity as well.
Why we have failed to recognize the potential of cities? Policy makers and people in Pakistan are still confused whether cities are good or bad. Cities are considered as origins of problems like crime, pollution, disease etc. But cities are also origin of solutions of problems. Pakistani cities unlike many other cities of the developing countries have not served as origins of solutions of problems. Due to crude expansion and lack of investment in cities infrastructure have contributed to make our cities inefficient and less productive. Current trend in urban sprawl is making cities’ basic amenities like security, drinking water, transportation, sewerage etc, very costly. Crude expansion and urban sprawl have made cities as origins of problems like crime, pollution, traffic congestion, disease etc. Moreover, this has led to end of street life because old social bonds of neighborhood have broken down.
Cities are origin of solutions of problems we are facing. Cities are places of ideas, knowledge creation, innovation, creativity and diversity which are important components for a city to thrive. There is need to understand how these problems and solutions are interlinked. Some archaeologists and anthropologists state that cities are one of our main inventions. It is highly desirable to invest in infrastructure development i.e. better quality network.
Cities investments are win-win propositions. They reinvigorate our old centers and make our cities centers as hubs of business activities. They take the pressure off the new ones and result in a stronger system of cities. Cities generate job and attract poor and not the cause of poverty. Rural population is growing faster than employment in primary sector, so there is need to generate employment in non-agriculture sector. This will require institutional environment mainly in urban area that is conducive to multiple sources of employment and income generation. Cities are key to our health and welfare besides as engines of growth. The New Growth Strategy (NGS) Framework by Pakistan Planning Commission forecasted that Pakistan needs more than 7% economic growth in order to absorb the flow of workers into the labor force.
It is no more secret that cities increase economic metabolism of a country. Nevertheless, all cities are not equal. Dense/walkable cities with sufficient investment serve as engine of growth since they have economies of scale, benefits of specialization, diversity and large cooperation opportunities among economic agents. Cities are for densities. Due to zoning restriction and considering density as something highly undesirable, policy makers and bureaucrats who are in control of affairs encourage urban sprawl which makes it difficult to reap the benefits of cities. There is strong correlation between densities in cities and productivity. Since creation of jobs and high economic growth are the two major macro-economic indicators which needs to be improved. So when it comes to economic growth and the creation of jobs, denser the city better these indicators are. Denser/walkable cities have scale effects due to presence of large number of consumers and lot of turnover in business. Economists estimate workers in denser/walkable places are more productive and earn higher wages when other variables are controlled. These estimates in productivity range from 6 percent to 28 percent and some economists have claimed that half of the variation in output per worker across the United States can be explained by density alone. According to Ryan Avent in his book The Gated City “What makes a city a city and a not-city a not-city is the fact that a city is dense and a not-city isn’t.” Unless there is a change in the mindset of public policy makers, urban planners and general public from a typical dispersed city to modern uprising and mix-use city with an optimal density near its center, our cities will not become harbinger of growth.
 Author is faculty member at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org