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Urban Development

In Search of India’s Smart Cities

Jon Kher Kaw's picture


“Smart city” has become a buzzword in India ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined his vision for creating a series (a hundred, to be exact) of them. Since then, there have been many debates to unpack, understand and define the smart city. “Smart cities” joins the long list of many other often overused city descriptors such as “creative cities”, “sustainable cities”, “eco-cities”, “resilient cities” and “livable cities”.

Rural jobs allow people to escape poverty; urban jobs are a ticket to the middle class

Yue Li's picture
South Asia is sometimes known as the land of extremes with opulence surrounded by poverty.

How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.

And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers. 

​When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.  

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