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    Reviving cities’ urban fabric through art

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 1 September 2016

    Cities are socio-technical systems, precariously integral, capable of growing as well as becoming smaller and fragmented but still functioning. Even though they have a resilient inherent quality, many cities around the world are witnessing slow death. The reasons could be many – environmental and social degradation, diminishing opportunities for the young population, shifting economic centers, poor governance, loss of character, etc. The dying city is reflected in everything thereafter, in its form, function, and most important the functionaries – the city dwellers. The first sign of decay is visible in the urban form, which instead of undergoing a constant transformation, stops in time and becomes redundant.

    Photo 1: Abandoned Township, Lost fervour

    Photo 1: Abandoned Township, Lost fervour

    Smartening the Cities

    The smart city concept brought out by the current government in India, urges planners to design innovative future cities to address the urban transition India is experiencing. In 1900, around 15% of world’s population lived in cities where as in 2015 more than 55% lived in cities. By 2050 it is estimated that 70% of world’s population will be living in cities. According to United Nations, Cities are using only 2% of the entire planet’s land mass and 75% of the world’s natural resources, accounting for approximately 80% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge ahead for city planners is to accommodate the 70% population which will be living in cities by 2050 in the 2% of land available to them.

    Improved access to global markets, rapid advances in technology, as well as rising expectations of citizens is fueling the growth engines of urbanization. Cities around the world are embracing a smart agenda. There are several definitions of what it means to be a “smart city,” thus giving an opportunity to governments to define their own programs, policies and procedures, responding to their own unique priorities and needs. Famously, the word SMART as an acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based goals. Most of smart city frameworks in the developing world comprise projects and programs that feature smart grids, smart buildings, clean technology and smart governance. However, apart from meeting basic needs, smart cities need to also improve livability, give its citizen a sense of pride, ownership, identity and belonging.

    Reviving the urban fabric

    Every city has a peculiar character, represented by elements such as smell, form, colour, texture, sound and culture, commonly described as the urban fabric. A smooth texture, a ragged landscape, a dense weave, a focal point, an intriguing maze, etc., all represent the city’s unique character. Thus, just like a fabric, a city also has a print, a pattern and a colour and when it evolves with time, more often than not, it changes these inherent characteristics. In other words, by accommodating migrant population, welcoming new cultures and traditions, the city voluntarily or involuntarily absorbs elements – and loses its basic essence for better or worse.

    Delhi is a historic city, between 3000 B.C. and the 17th century A.D seven different cities came into existence in its location. The remnants of each of these seven cities can be seen today in structures such as Gates, Tombs, Water Bodies, Economic Activities and Streetscape, though most features have lost their fervor with time. An organic city by nature, Delhi has seen drastic changes in its urban form. Several rulers conquered Delhi and adorned it with their symbols, Turk introducing Minar, Mughal Domes, Persian coloured tiles, Maratha’s shikhars and British Bungalows with Gardens.

     

    Photo 2: Delhi’s old structures peeking out of the evolved streetscape today

    Photo 2: Delhi’s old structures peeking out of the evolved streetscape today

     

    However, in modern times, the urban design is not dependent on rulers and thus before a city involuntarily transform we need to plan the inevitably transformation. The launch of four flagship Missions (Smart City, AMRUT, HRIDAY and Swachch Bharat Mission) by Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India represents a realization of a paradigm shift which is taking place in addressing the challenges this evolving unplanned urban transition. These interlinked Missions built on broad overarching objective of creating clean, sanitized, healthy, livable, economically vibrant and responsive cities propagate ‘Planning’ as a fundamental tool for providing realistic direction and cohesive development.

    The question however still remains – will smart cities revive the decaying urban fabric? The cities of today need a renaissance movement to make them more inviting, sustainable and vibrant. Art can be instrumental in renewing the look of the city and thus the new trend of using graffiti in portraying emotions, conveying messages and giving dimension to the otherwise plain façade is an idea which is fast catching up in cities around the world. An individual’s expression, graffiti – triggers different reactions from onlookers. Where, many relate to them, some also find these obscure and obstructing. Besides, igniting different feelings amongst people they are being welcomed more and more as part of the urban form. In addition to urban features like, street furniture, signage, kiosks and structures; art and colour are becoming popular urban elements reversing the slow death a city is prone to undergo.

    Art on the walls of houses, schools and community spaces is not new to India. Women have been painting their homes from outside by drawing specific geometric patterns. Folk art and strings of mystical stories are common illustrations found in villages with lined mud houses, helping to differentiate the otherwise similar looking brown facades.

    Photo 3: Traditional paintings on the walls of Rural India.

    Photo 3: Traditional paintings on the walls of Rural India.

    Continuing with this tradition, Delhi has recently endorsed graffiti on its vertical frame changing the streetscape altogether. One of the first public intervention adopted by the residents of Lodhi Colony in Delhi has helped convert their residential area into an art district. Several Art Volunteers from across the globe have been tasked to reform the plain walls of the residential blocks into masterpieces. The art portrays – mythology, technology, nature, Indian ethnic patterns, future but above all it portrays pride. Pride which every citizen needs to feel for their larger abode – the city in which they live to respect and to protect the space.

    Photo 4: Recent promotion of Street Art by international artists in Lodi Colony, Delhi

    Photo 4: Recent promotion of Street Art by international artists in Lodi Colony, Delhi

     


    Daljeet Kaur is Associate Director – Knowledge Management with IPE Center for Knowledge and Development (http://ipeckd.com/ipeckd). IPE CKD is the knowledge management arm of IPE Global Limited (www.ipeglobal.com), which was established in 2013 to extend the frontiers of knowledge and promote experimentation for innovative solutions to global development challenges. Alongside her work, Daljeet pursues her passion of painting, sketching and drawing under the banner madhURBANi.

    Industrial development and business-civic leadership in Nigeria

    By Naji P Makarem, on 5 July 2016

    Why is unemployment and poverty rising in Nigeria, despite over a decade of robust economic growth? According to new research from, Naji P. Makarem, the organized private sector (OPS) has the opportunity to leverage its clout and political influence for urban governance. To do so however, it must strengthen its urban organizational capacity and shift its political attention beyond pure-efficiency to broader conceptions of functional urban agglomerations. A failure to do so risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

     

    Since its independence in 1960 Nigeria has been struggling to industrialize and diversify its economy away from low-productivity agricultural employment and dependence on Oil & Gas export revenues.  It has adopted numerous government strategies from import substitution to market liberalization; yet the economy continues to be highly dependent on oil reserves and imports of food and consumer goods from abroad.

     

    It is estimated that 70% of households are currently living on less than $2 a day and a similar proportion is employed in the informal economy. Impressive GDP growth and considerable diversification into new sectors such as ICT, Real Estate and Professional, Scientific and Technical services over the past decade have failed to translate into sufficient employment generation, with unemployment rising significantly over the period to well above 20 percent according to government figures.

     

    Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010 Source: NBS data.

    Figure 3 Unemployment in Nigeria, 1999-2010
    Source: NBS data.

     

    Jobless growth over the past decade can be attributed to two aspects of Nigeria’s industrial structure: About a third of the growth in output since 1990 has been driven by Oil & Gas, ICT and Real Estate, which together employ a mere 1.4% of formal sector workers. These are highly productive sectors with considerable impact on employment within the cities where they are concentrated, such as Lagos, but they do not generate sufficient employment to absorb Nigeria’s growing labour market.

     

    Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010 Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

    Figure 6 Contribution to Real GDP Growth 1990-2010
    Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

     

    On the other hand, manufacturing, which suffers from low productivity even compared to countries within the same development club, such as Kenya, India and South Africa, has contributed a mere 5% to GDP growth since 1990. Today Nigerians import the vast majority of the products they consume. They also import the machinery and high value inputs of the few products which they do produce, such as foam, steel pipes and pharmaceutical products. If Nigerians produced more and imported less (or developed favourable terms of trade) more of the money going into tills and ending up in the pockets of investors, entrepreneurs and workers abroad could be going to Nigerian workers, investors, entrepreneurs and the government. Tradable industries in general, and the manufacturing sector in particular, offer Nigerians the opportunity of generating employment, income and public revenues, which are all necessary for poverty reduction.

     

    Nigeria’s 55 year struggle to boost its tradable industry is hampered by the country’s chronic ‘low-efficiency’ trap. Consider the following thought experiment to illustrate: take a successful exporting firm in China and place it and its managers and employees in Nigeria. It would not operate anywhere near as efficiently. Here’s why: In Nigeria the same firm would struggle to find serviced industrial land, having to build or fix its own slip roads, dig its own bore hole to access water, build its own sewers system, run its operations on costly diesel generators and hope the land it acquired is not claimed by somebody else, it would have to contend with often negotiated and opaque duplicity of taxes, inconsistent government regulations, a user-unfriendly bureaucracy, competition from counterfeit products produced locally or that enter the market illegally through poorly regulated international borders, an unreliable judiciary, poor quality roads connecting cities across the country with multiple check-points for informal bribes, slow clearing of imported intermediate goods at ports, tariffs on imported inputs which are not locally available, the risk of arbitrary increases in import tariffs for dubious reasons, double-digit interest rates and precarious access to finance and foreign exchange (Although this month, June 2016, the government floated the exchange rate).

     

    These dysfunctional aspects of the business climate are well known and well researched by the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ reports which in 2016 ranks Nigeria 169 out of 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business. They are substantiated by our 77 interviews with business and civic leaders in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt, as part of DPU research for a DFID-funded project called Urbanization Research Nigeria (URN).

     

    Yet the dysfunctionality of Nigeria’s economic development context runs much deeper than these ‘efficiency-related’ aspects of its urban and national contexts. Economic development theory highlights agglomeration economies, the home market effect (local demand) and productivity drivers as engines of industrial development and productivity growth, the essential conditions for income growth and quality jobs. Efficiency, while extremely important especially in contexts of cost-based competition, is just one of many development drivers urban regions and countries produce, and which firms draw on to compete.

     

    The question is how can Nigeria break out of its chronic ‘low-efficiency trap’? While conventional wisdom would point to the need for good governance, this is not very useful advice in and of its own (it’s too obvious). Our research takes a different approach. Drawing from economic sociology, we argue that business-civic leadership has the potential of influencing policy and governance. Moreover, the perceptions and world views of the business community and business civic leadership can shape the formal institutions that govern them (see Figure 1). So we investigate the degree to which the private sector in Nigeria is organized, and the scope of their political attention.

     

    Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

    Source: Authors’ calculations using NBS data

     

    Our research found the Nigerian business community, from small to large firms across different industries, to be highly organized. The peak business association which has been gaining power and influence since independence is the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria – MAN. The political attention of the organized private sector (OPS) focuses almost exclusively on efficiency-related aspects of the business climate. However, they overlook aspects of the urban context related to agglomeration economies and non-efficiency related productivity drivers; both indispensable features of functional cities for people and businesses.

     

    These overlooked urban features include access to affordable, secure and serviced housing which are essential for human capital development; public transport which is indispensable for worker access to work places; education and skills development which are essential for human capital development and innovation; public R&D in related industries to support knowledge creation; firm- and industry-level support strategies for facilitating coordination and knowledge sharing; public space and cultural amenities to enable interaction, identity formation and innovation; and initiatives designed to bridge fragmented communities and develop appropriate and widely shared perceptions and world views in pursuit of social capital.

    A failure to focus political attention on investing in functional cities risks locking Nigeria into a ‘low-productivity trap’, long after it has overcome its chronic ‘efficiency-crisis’.

     

     

    This is a Blog about a recently submitted URN report to DFID. It will be publicly disseminated soon.


    Naji P. Makarem is co-director of the Msc. Urban Economic Development at the Bartlett School’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) at UCL, and a lecturer in Political Economy of Development.