Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS)

Mapping urban systems to make cities vibrant for all

Urban development

Cities are complex systems. Poorer people are usually excluded. This project will map these systems to make representative Indian cities show a path to vibrancy.

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Lead Organization

Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS)

New Delhi, National Capital Territory of Delhi, India

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

1 in 4 city dwellers in India lives in slums. With rapid urbanization and well over 65 million people living in substandard buildings, results in widespread poor levels of physical and mental wellbeing, putting their lives at risk.The project will create a detailed map of urban systems using two Himalayan cities, Shimla and Gangtok. It will then use local innovation as a vital input for each urban function. Finally, it will establish and implement standard procedures for functioning of the complete system by use of artificial intelligence and pilots, catalyzing system-wide positive change. The most marginalized in Indian cities are the slum dwellers. The approach will provide improved access to resources and services, better accumulation of assets, reduced risks and happier states of mind across the board for these communities, special vulnerable communities within them, and also everyone else across the city.

Problem Statement

Cities are growing large and fast. India’s 7,935 cities and towns will soon house half its billion plus population, but mostly without adequate planning and management. About two-thirds of these urban centres are growing without any master plans, and municipal management is divided across silos. The result is a growing problem of an overall shortfall of infrastructure and its inequitable distribution. The haphazard manner in which infrastructure is built is leading to a rapidly deteriorating built as well as natural environment in our cities. Moreover, it is leading to an inherent building in of risk at a very deep level, that will be impossible to address later. The inequity and risk is breeding under the radar in the small and medium towns that number in the thousands. All of this adversely affects the poorer people the most. While the poor are visibly seen in typical slums and squatter settlements, there is a much larger invisible population of vulnerable people living in sub-standard housing conditions in urban and peri-urban areas. The physicality of poor physical infrastructure and social infrastructure, invariably leads to a lowered quality of life that manifests in poor health of the residents. This is an unfortunate reality of urban living, particularly children and the aged. The weakest spots in this from the systems point of view are people’s ownership and participation; and local authorities’ understanding and ability to govern the complex and connected systems that do not operate as per sectoral divisions in real life.

Solution Overview

The project will define and demonstrate the pathways to better understand city metabolism, a process that best describes how cities operate as complex organisms rather than sterile machines. It will unravel deep interconnections across various hard and soft urban functions, including water, transport, land-use, education, health, livelihoods, environment, culture and recreation. After mapping the urban system, the project will develop and deploy an artificial intelligence based urban decision-making system for urban governance, extending from development planning to maintenance and also including emergency response. Using this approach, the initiative will enable the sub parts of the urban system to grow and respond in tandem. The result of this will be improved and equitable infrastructure, and a better quality of life for the urban residents, including higher levels of happiness as an indicator of mental health, treating the psycho-social wellness of citizens as the ultimate indicator. Progress will be evidenced through governance efficiency in fulfilling needs equitably, lowered infrastructure stress across sections of society, and physical manifestations of healthy cities and people. Impact will be deep and systemic at the city level, with demonstrated parameters for scalability and replicability. All city residents will benefit, but the poor and underserviced, living in sub-standard housing, will benefit the most.

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