The Smart South Asian City Makeover

Martin J. Ossewaarde, has an MSc in economics from the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, with a major in institutional economics and a minor in public administration. He designed and conducted several courses in the field of governance and development. His research interests include eco-cities and green economy. Martin established the Green Campus Movement in order to green AUCA’s culture in anticipation of the university’s move (in 2015) to its new, sustainable campus. SAGE is the proud publisher of his book Introduction to Sustainable Development.

South Asia is one of the least urbanised regions of the world (only a third), but this is changing fast. UNESCAP expects that by 2050, half the region’s population will live in cities, especially megacities. This means that hundreds of millions of people will be added to the subcontinent’s already over-stretched infrastructure. How could the region build its 21st -century cities on green economy foundations instead of locking itself into inefficient infrastructure for the rest of the age? 

UNESCAP emphasises that the challenge ahead is also an opportunity for South Asia to move straight into sustainable patterns of urbanisation. There is so much invaluable experience of visionary urban leaders worldwide. These apply sustainability thinking to the cities’ most urgent needs: decent jobs, improved water and sanitation, resilient infrastructure and green buildings, waste recycling, sustainable transportation systems, and a good measure of green space per inhabitant. Indeed, these reflect some of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. Sustainable urban development does not prioritise economic growth over everything else and leaves the ensuing problems such as urban air quality for later. It seeks to balance economic, social and environmental aspects of wealth development, inclusive ways to invest public resources, and participation of stakeholder groups in tackling the issues that affect the quality of their living environment. 

Unfortunately, many South Asian cities have a chronic shortage of staff who understand this new kind of sustainable urban development. Wouldn’t it be smart to fast-track improved higher education and training of urban planners and other professionals, so that South Asia’s urban expansion may not lead to decreasing quality of life for all? All through their education and professional practice, they need to wrestle with SDG implementation, aware of the many SDG interactions. Key is to acknowledge the roles of behavioural and institutional change alongside new technologies. Equipping and empowering people requires suitable teaching methodologies and materials. Perhaps my general ‘Introduction to Sustainable Development’ would be a good start and setting up entire course programmes around the SDGs would be even better. 

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