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Inclusive social planning for poverty reduction

Feb 19, 2013

India's minister for social justice and empowerment, Kumari Selja, speaks of a vision to build a society where the marginalised, depressed and backward sections can lead productive, safe and dignified lives.

Kumari Selja

Urbanization across the globe is an inevitable and irreversible process and an outcome of current patterns of development and socio-economic evolution. We are today living in an urban world as more than half the global population is already living in cities. Countries in Europe, North America and Latin America, who have moved to a stable urban formation with more than 75-80 per cent of their populations living in urban areas, are also the most developed economies.

It is understood that by 2030, all developing regions, including those in Asia and Africa will have more people living in urban areas than in rural areas. About the same time, In India, nearly 590 million people will be living in cities. We would have around 68 million-plus cities by then.

Urbanisation also offers huge challenges and opportunities. Those who successfully address these challenges will surge ahead to a higher trajectory of economic growth and human development. Internationally too, countries in Europe, Northern America and Latin America, over the century have taken proactive steps through policies and investment strategies to address the challenges of urbanization so as to make the process beneficial to their societies and economies.

We, in India too, are committed to convert the urban challenges into opportunities. Since the launching of the Jawaharlal National Urban Renewal Mission in 2005, the Government of India has demonstrated its intention by embarking on a massive programme of support for investment and urban sector reforms in States to address the key urban concerns.

Cities – whether large or small, can be open or closed with regard to accessibility, occupation and creation of urban space, participation and voice in governance and politics. Cities can, therefore, be places of inclusion and participation, but they can also be places of exclusion and marginalization depending on the nature of the planning, governance and city building processes.

In our country, the traditional planning principles in the form of master plans have proved to be exclusionary. These have resulted in fragmentation of societies, unequal opportunities and large dichotomies in the character of spaces. The result of the current planning paradigm is there for everybody to see. Some areas are well provided with excessive supply of infrastructure, spaces and amenities, while other areas are severely deprived with inadequate housing, sub-optimal and scarce infrastructure and urban decay. These physical divides lead to invisible borders in the social, cultural and economic spheres in the cities.

Exclusion can have various dimensions and it can manifest in many forms. The result is poverty, educational shortfalls; dependency; gender-based discrimination, weakening of community relationships; gaps among citizens, lack in the provision of quality basic services; and loss of cultural expressions.

Cities, if properly planned, could also be vehicles of social change with equal rights and opportunities for all members of society. An inclusive city encompasses the social and economic benefits of promoting positive outcomes for each and every citizen. The crying need of the hour is to have inclusive planning and policies - policies that aim to achieve an integrated urbanization, which respects differences and social diversity. The policies that aim to counter segregation and cultural, ethnic or social exclusion. The policies which not only cover the spatial aspects but also the social, economic, cultural, environmental and other related aspects.

The inclusive spatial planning should be built on the premises of planning for mixed neighbourhoods, creating good public spaces and facilities for the neglected urban areas, removing architectural barriers for the under-privileged and differently abled and creating gender sensitive urban spaces are some of the key elements.

Inclusive social planning should aim at poverty reduction, generation of equal employment opportunities for all and an autonomous and decent life for the disabled. It should facilitate balanced working lives with opportunities for leisure, protection of children and the aged and access to culture and information. It should develop an urban model that promotes walk to work and sustainable mobility using public transport and promotes a democratic and a critical, participatory and co-responsible society.

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