COVID-19 and Urbanisation: Reimagining our Urban Development Goals

Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth (CVV) in association with the Centre for Public Policy and Research (CPPR) hosted a webinar on 9 June 2020 on ‘COVID-19 and Urbanisation: Reimagining our Urban Development Goals’. The guest speaker was Ms. Raj Cherubal, CEO – Chennai Smart City Ltd., and Director of Projects for Chennai City Connect (CCC), where he has facilitated various projects on traffic, sustainable transportation and urban planning.

Ms. Praseedha Mukundan, a Senior Research Associate at CPPR, introduced the guest and gave introductory remarks for the day’s topic. She also moderated the discussion. The discussion primarily focussed on the possible learnings from the current pandemic in relation with overall urban development as well as with urban sectors like transport, health, livelihood, housing and utilities.

Mr. Cherubal initiated the discussion by presenting how the development of older cities like London and Hong Kong have made it easier for learning the topic of urban development. When it comes to the development of Indian cities, he insisted on the need for common planning between State departments such as water, transport, power, housing and other utilities. This in turn, would reduce costs, wastage, prescribe detailed mechanisms for implementation and also ensure sufficient and effective allocation of required funds to each of the departments involved.

As a result of COVID-19, it has been advised to follow social distancing norms while using public transport. The guest speaker presented the challenges ahead in increasing public transport vehicles while there already exists a shortage of them. This would further result in crowded buses, trains and share autos thus affecting the fight against the virus. He also addressed the migrants’ issue from an urban developer’s perspective, wherein he put forth alternative ideas for housing and shelter for the poor while ensuring a low cost, proper sanitation and access to other infrastructure and facilities. He was clear that distress migration has made it difficult for the successful implementation of such plans in recent years.

He commended the contribution of digital infrastructure and innovative technology in developing a city. Usage of drones and satellites to monitor water bodies, smart metering of water supply, Smart-bike and other PPP projects add immense benefits to the life of urban-dwellers. He presented decentralisation to be the key for effective urban development and insisted on the provision of more power to the local governments allowing them to spend their funds on innovative tech and ideas for development. He identified the lack of capacity of our Indian cities for development to be a major challenge and said the impact of the pandemic can be reduced provided we have a proactive, organised and smart approach towards urbanisation in the near future.

Prof. Vanisree Ramanathan of CVV delivered the concluding remarks. She indicated that along with smartness in environment protection, handling social differences, and governance of urban cities, it is necessary for an urban city to be developed considering pandemic preparedness. She thanked Mr. Cherubal and Ms. Mukundan for an engaging discussion and the participants for their active involvement.