Make Cities Livable to make them great


Book: Great Cities of the World: Their Government, Politics and Planning
Edited by
William A. Robson and D.E. Regan

Cities are providing the citizens that come looking for jobs, aspiring for a better life, prosperity and a dignity that they long for. But what describes a city includes its government, politics and planning. There have been generalized studies on the metropolitan governance in recent years, but very few focused on the cities that are driving the life across the globe. The problem that we confront while reading any scholarly work on the’great cities’ is that it’s mostly by American scholars and in turn is oriented towards the American scene. But, here you have on hand a book ‘Great Cities of the World’ where authors from across continents have come together with their experience and knowledge and have put together this volume presenting a picture which is so true and hits straight in your face.

The Great Cities

The scope of the book has been deliberately kept world-wide, negating over attention on European and North American cities. It’s not easy to find relevant information about a city all the time and that is evident while going through the book, nonetheless, authors seems to bring a true account of the cities they are writing about. A good aspect about the book is that it is not just about locations, history, tourist sites but actually  talks about governance of the cities that makes them great and livable. Cities and towns have been founded, discovered, reinvented in the past but when we talk about great cities of the world in a modern phenomenon it brings its own import. The rising population numbering in millions in these cities would not have been possible without the railways, the cars, the cargo driven by steam or oil in old days and now by aircrafts. In the modern times, a great city is not about its history, monuments and places to visit. Today greatness is about a city’s ability to sustain itself. Isn’t it fascinating that a book was talking about garbage collection, sewage disposal service and others fifty years back while talking about great cities of the world.The cities described in the book cover a wide range of size related to the population and the territory contained. Zurich, with a population of half a million then made to it to the list. Such a small population could be best described as a medium sized city in the United States. But, the economic significance, commercial and financial power becomes a dominant factor. Equally important is its cultural eminence. Arts and science is always a strong pillar of a great city without which the quality of greatness gets weaker. However the political significance of a city is important but not paramount.

In the words of the authors the political importance of the great cities does not necessarily derive from its position as a national capital. Indeed, only fourteen of the twenty seven cities dealt with in this book, are national capitals. It arises rather from the massive concentration of highly organized power which the great city is able to exert. When the concentration of power and resources is associated with the prestige and authority of a capital, the result is formidable in the extreme. There lies the problem. Many consider that potential dominance of the great cities in the context of national politics. This needs careful consideration because, the western way of life tends to ignore the political problems needs urgent rethinking.

Culture, Industry and Government

In the modern sense of the term, a great city ought to be a metropolitan area. William Robson says that ‘it must connect to commercial, industrial, cultural or governmental center surrounded by suburbs, housing estates, dormitory towns or villages. Large number of people who work in the city reside in these outlying areas beyond its boundaries. The book takes you through Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, India, Italy and many more countries describing how they are governed through their municipalities, local government and institutions. One of the famous authors on the metropolis, Dr. Victor Jones defines it as “a mother-city from and toward which people move to suburban aggregation on the periphery. Many of the people who live in the suburbs work in the central city; and they and their families use the cultural, recreational, trade, professional and commercial assets of the mother-city almost as freely as do those who live within its boundaries”.

In most metropolitan areas, the tendency is for suburban areas to grow more rapidly than the central city because the livable area is simply not available. The great cities distinguish themselves from others by their constitution vis-à-vis their relations either with national or state governments. Paris could be as different from Tokyo, though both may be capital cities. London has a two tier structure to govern the city but Delhi has three tiers of governance. The city governance in Rome differs from local governments of other Italian cities. However, one thing that comes across is that financial power is heavily invested in the central government.

The separation of power is essential for the functioning of the cities. It makes the city work and move forward. What separates national capitals and cities which still make it to the list of great ones is that local governments are quite powerful. But there are always exceptions. Capital cities these days tend to enjoy a high level of local governance than other cities. You don’t have to travel far to seek an explanation. Capital city is the seat of national governance, has representatives of foreign countries, security is a key responsibility and on top of it the possession of capital is crucial to exercise control over the country.But in these times cities are struggling. Local government councils have failed to remove obstaclesin the standardization of emoluments and conditions of service.

The rapid urbanization and importance of city council or municipality is the key to make a city great. What is required is to remove the inherent structural weakness of its social foundation. We need to remove the wreckage of past hopes and fears. Perhaps the answer lies in the devolution of power. In principle, a collection of agencies, both public and private would perform the task. The devolution of powers will have to be made with discretion and logic and will require active public participation. A participation that would manage its own affairs and cannot be denied any further. This is crucial to defy the dangers of proliferation of the agencies. There must be a very firm hand to guide and co-ordinate their services over the city. What is significant is that there must be a pool of voluntary bodies to perform a leading role in the activities and must be supported by a highly trained cadre of technical and professional officers. In order to make our cities not just great but livable as well, we must bring the citizens at the core of it. Physical planning controls should rest with all users, local, state or center to ensure that they can make the city great.