The world’s new city leaders
Date:June 23, 2016
by Simona Storchi
Today the idea of building new cities in Europe is no longer conceivable, so instead we have to focus on restyling urban areas and redeveloping neighbourhoods, suburbs and city centres. The last large-scale works built from scratch in Europe were those constructed in response to the housing crisis following the Second World War. Today’s new cities are located in the East. China has a project to build 400 new towns, while in India it has been calculated that 200 new cities will be needed to accommodate population growth over the next few years. These are countries where the private sector has wrested the role of city leaders from the local administrators.
But to what extent does this change in leadership affect quality and development? Michelle Provoost, director of International Town Institute – a no-profit think tank specialising in urban planning and urban communities based in Almera, near Amsterdam – explains that in Asia the role of the local government in urban development has already largely been taken over by private parties, mainly large multinational enterprises.
“Unlike European new towns, the new generation of Asian cities have come into being entirely under the aegis of the private sector without the contribution of institutions, associations and local organisations, which in Europe made an active contribution to economic growth, modernisation, emancipation and the equal distribution of knowledge and income.” With constant growth in GDP and a corresponding rate of urbanisation, there is clearly a strong link between the two trends. “It is above all the rising Asian middle classes enjoying a rapid improvement in their living standards who are choosing to move to the new towns, mainly for economic reasons but also to enjoy a higher quality of living and greater security.” But what are the characteristics of these new cities? Michelle Provoost analyses a few of them as experiments in the fields of economics, governance and technology.
The smart city is best exemplified by the Korean city New Songdo, developed and financed by American developer Stan Gale. “This kind of city is defined as a ‘city-in-a-box’, where all the residential, medical, educational and business information systems are linked. This ‘total connectivity’ makes governance more efficient and aims to provide its residents with a comfortable and convenient lifestyle, although it is criticized because of privacy issues and a high degree of control. The ‘city-in-a-box’ is being marketed with its ubiquitous IT possibilities to attract businesses combined with environmental sustainability. The model chosen for governance is the Indian city of Lavasa, a completely privately developed suburban city populated by middle classes from nearby Pune.