An article published in Hindustan Times this Sunday revealed the results of a recent survey done by the Economist Intelligence Unit called Hot Spots: Benchmarking Global City Competitiveness. The survey assessed many of the world’s large cities to determine global competitiveness by analyzing how cities fared in terms of their economic strength, physical capital, financial maturity, institutional effectiveness, social and cultural character, human capital, environmental and natural hazards, and global appeal. Through these parameters, the survey defined competitiveness as a city’s ability to attract capital, business, talent, and tourists. Though the Indian cities surveyed excelled in economic strength, their performance in other categories placed them all in the lower half of cities ranked, with Ahmedabad ranked at number 92 in the world, Bangalore at 79, Mumbai at 70, and Delhi at 68.
Urban experts who were interviewed for the article recommended different actions that Indian cities could take to raise their global appeal; the creation of safe public spaces, the geographical expansion of cities into their suburbs, an expanded political system that would emphasize local politics were some of the main suggestions offered. That said, none of these experts mentioned the dark underbellies of the solutions they proposed.
Creating public spaces involves clearing out lands where pavement-dwellers and slum-dwellers have made their homes, essentially evicting them. Expanding cities geographically demands uprooting people and relocating them to less-desirable locations in hopes that these new suburban areas will become more robust overtime. Empowering local politicians shifts public responsibility onto representatives whose stakes in the decisions on the ground are limited. All of the recommendations presented in the article are idealistic, top-down solutions, executive decisions made by those who will not need to personally endure the day-to-day effects of these reforms.
When considering how to best address the problems that cities face, agency must come from the urban poor themselves. People living in cramped, unsanitary, and deprived conditions know how to uplift their situations if they can access the basic resources they need for development. Rather than aiming to achieve a competitive edge by attracting tourists and business, perhaps cities should define competitiveness as a desire to become successful, to prosper on their own terms. The urban poor will stand at the core of this movement, as they are the ones who will benefit the most from urban successes.