Over the next decade and a half the world will add a staggering 1.1 billion people to its towns and cities. About one half of this urbanization will happen in the regions of East and South Asia.
If history is any guide, this growth in urban population will provide tremendous opportunities for increasing prosperity and livability. One can look at the successes of a few Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore to demonstrate how, with the assistance of good policies, urbanization and economic development go hand-in-hand. More generally, no major country has ever reached middle-income status without also experiencing substantial urbanization.
Yet cities can grow in different ways that will affect their competitiveness, livability, and sustainability. The more successful cities of Asia have been effective at creating opportunities, increasing productivity, fostering innovation, providing efficient and affordable services for residents, and enhancing public spaces to create vibrant and attractive places to live. But many, many, more cities have neglected fundamental investments in critical infrastructure and basic services, and have mismanaged land, environmental and social policies. This has resulted in traffic congestion, sprawl, slums, pollution, and crime.
Among the many complexities of urban development that have contributed to success, two critical factors stand out – investing in strategic urban planning, and in good urban governance.
When India first started using technology for national development, it used technology to build a huge software industry which helped the economy grow in the 1990s. In the decades that followed, with a much improved economy, civic minded Indians set their sights on a much loftier goal – tackling corruption.
In July 2008 The Washington Post reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, "including human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder". The criminalization of politics causes a huge drain of public resources and the resulting loss of credibility for politicians dissuades civic minded citizens from stepping forward. Unfortunately the average voter often has little to no idea of the criminal background of some of these Parliament members and hence public opinion cannot be used to throw them out of power. The media, too, does not have capacity to focus on all the corruption cases and usually focuses on the most egregious violations.