Do Smart Cities Matter More Than Smart Villages?

Poverty alleviation schemes of the government are often intended to serve the urban poor. The government’s 'Housing for All' and 'Smart City' missions are some examples of this.

Do Smart Cities Matter More Than Smart Villages?

The government intends to build infrastructure in the countryside, too. (Wikipedia)

Poverty alleviation schemes of the government are often intended to serve the urban poor. The government’s ‘Housing for All’ and ‘Smart City’ missions  are some examples of this. The practice to improve cities is popular across governments around the world. For instance, schemes to improve living standards in Brazil’s favelas have been around since 1900.

The village connect

While development programmes are often meant to improve cities, there is a broad consensus among policy makers in the country that “true India” is found in its villages. Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said that growth of India depends on its villages. This has influenced thinkers and policy makers to a large degree. When Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently said that the government would soon launch a smart villages mission to build infrastructure, transportation network, and improve farming techniques, it was another step to go back to basics.

Despite that, why are more and more government schemes focus on building city infrastructure?

  • The problems in cities are seen as national calamities. For instance, if malaria breaks out in Dharavi, it will be seen as a national calamity. There will be intense debates on how to improve living standards in Mumbai’s slums. This will lead to more investment in improving the living standard there. In villages, such disasters may get media attention but rarely as much as they do in urban areas.
  • People migrate from villages to cities because there is a greater concentration of infrastructure in cities. So, the people who migrate to cities from villages soon gain access to infrastructure. This is also a reason why all major Indian cities have large numbers of poor people.
  • When the government invests more in urban infrastructure, more people are able to share infrastructure. This attracts more households to cities in search of employment. This is why the attempts of governments to cure urban poverty often leads to more urban poverty because better cities attract more low-income households.
  • Investing in rural infrastructure is more expensive when compared with urban infrastructure. It is quite expensive to build primary infrastructure and transportation networks to every village in India. At the same time, if the infrastructure in cities is not adequately developed, not many people would be able to live in cities. For example, a common argument made against raising the floor area ratios in Indian cities is that the infrastructure is not strong enough to support it. (Floor Area Ratio is the ratio of the floor area in a building to the size of the plot.) If infrastructure in cities is improved, more people will be able to enjoy the existing infrastructure. Building primary infrastructure from scratch in a suburb or a village is more costly.

This does not mean that the government should not invest in infrastructure in villages or the periphery. By building infrastructure in farther areas, the government can increase the supply of valuable land. It is important to look at costs and benefits of investing in infrastructure in cities and villages, while allocating valuable resources.



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