Are smaller cities better?

Are smaller cities better? In a time of rapid urbanisation across the globe this question has been asked by many an urban designer and town planner. Romantic images of classic European cities spring to mind: Geneva, Bristol, Stockholm. Achieving high densities despite modest heights, their compact walkable urban form are the urbanists’ panacea for equitable, future-proofed urban places.

Left to right: Bristol, Stockholm and Geneva

And this discussion is now moving to the subcontinent. Not exactly with the same fascination in winding cobbled laneways and rooftop gardens, but a recent study undertaken by the Public Affairs Centre examined the urban conditions and drivers of urban change for four mid-tier cities across India. The study uses quantitative data to compare the cities’ performance in providing basic needs such as health care, education and utilities.

These ideas have filtered into India’s current political conversations, with Indian newspaper group, The Financial Express, noting that in the final run-up to India’s general elections the manifesto of most political parties includes urban development, with the prediction that the future of urban growth in developing countries is going to occur in smaller and mid-tier cities, not in the metropolitan areas.

However, changing tack from the seemingly insatiable expansion of megacities to focus on smaller urban areas will surely take discipline from India’s decision makers. India is not alone in being proud of its megacity status and shifting gears to focus on the development of smaller, less glamorous cities may be easier said than done.

For more on this, take a look at the small city research and the Public Affairs Centre’s 2012 study on the performance of India’s four of mega cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.



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