Why is this the best time to enter the space of urban policy and city governance?

    • By,
      Ankur Vyas – Student, Kautilya

India has an advantageous demographic dividend – a young population that is ready to be a part of a new India. They are not only concerned for today but also for the upcoming generation and what legacy we leave for them. Alongside this, the government is recognizing the importance of expertise and slowly opening its doors for experts from outside the bureaucracy to address the challenges being faced. This shift has resulted in new career opportunities springing in the field of public policy and the youth of our country are excited about this shift. Governments at all levels, from central to local, are increasingly looking for professional help either from consultancy firms, NGOs, or individual experts. In the private sector too, companies are looking to hire public policy experts. This is due to the increased engagement of the private sector with the government or government policies. Political parties and politicians, all are seeking expertise in policy matters to build a brand image. Along with this, public policy opens up many opportunities in the area of research and development, with think tanks as policy advisors or analysts or political strategists or public policy consultants, etc.

Cities are small areas with high population densities. With an increase in opportunity and growth of the economy, migration to the cities has increased manifold. Every family has migrated from one place to another sometime in their lifetime. We try to stop further expansion of cities because we feel uncomfortable and start pushing for rural development but what we don’t realize is that migrated people are the ones who make our cities run.

Currently, urban policy and city governance are very niche spaces. Policy making and governance currently are in the hands of generalists (ie. Indian Administrative service officers) and there is a lot of political say. Now political say is necessary as they are the voice of the people but planning and management should now be led by a specialist. Planning currently is very disconnected from the people and is mostly top-down. Poor people are the most vulnerable when it comes to urban planning as they are the ones with minimal or no choices.

We need to realize that a little planning improves things drastically. Our concept of planning is liberal planning (ie. building cities from scratch) but we need to shift to negotiation-led planning (i.e., involving people to bring change to already existing structures). A policy practitioner’s role here is to write an effective policy draft, communicate it effectively and then ensure that it has the intended benefits. Evidence-based public policy takes the centre stage here and policy experts play a critical role. They study the land use and development underpinning urbanization. They study how the policy that already exists works with the fast-changing ecosystem and highlight the changes that are needed in these policies along with the upgradation. They also study how social issues have changed with time due to immigration, housing, poverty, race, etc. These practitioners also study the immigration pattern and how the neighborhood changes with it and how power and political dynamics affect urbanization.

In today’s day and age, stress is placed on the need to remove any state restriction and let the market operate freely but also create social infrastructure taking care and advantage of creative and informal networks. We need to realize that controlling design doesn’t mean good design but, the context is very important as to why planning is needed. We need skilled, evidence-based planning with a feedback mechanism. Supplementary or additional planning must be proactive, positive and always working to improve the existing standards.

As India progresses and moves towards being developed, a new category of policy leaders is needed – those who possess skills, vision and drive to bring about changes in India’s socio-political and economic landscape. It is extremely important that these new leaders understand the country’s complex and dynamic public policy challenges and are able to design effective and personalized solutions through the formulation of focused policies.

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*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.