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Civilizing the City

BANGALORE – Half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – live in urban areas today. Our metropolises are the engines of growth for a global economy emerging from the shadow of financial crisis. In Bangalore, my home, investment is pouring into a city at the forefront of the Indian economy’s transformation – home to companies like Infosys and Wipro, and named by Forbes Magazine as one of the “Fastest Growing Cities of the Next Decade.”

But, as Bangalore’s citizens prepare to go to the polls in state elections, their concerns are not merely economic. The city’s financial success stories mask a darker reality – quality of life for many city-dwellers has deteriorated over recent years.

The movement of the rural poor to large cities is one of the exemplary narratives of the modern era. And governments, which typically focus on crude measures of economic performance, encourage rapid urbanization.

In China, for example, the relaxation of migration controls in the 1980’s and the opening of the economy led to the spectacular growth of the country’s eastern cities. More than 50% of Chinese live in urban areas today, up from 25% in 1990, and the proportion is expected to reach 70% by 2035.