Are urban policies aligned with city hierarchies?

 
Nagrika-Jodhpur

India presently uses multiple definitions to classify its urban centers. The first and most  prominent definition is the one by the Census of India. It classifies towns in two categories, one based on legal statute and other on a mix of population size and economic functions. All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee are termed as statutory towns. All other places with a minimum population of 5,000, at least 75 per cent of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits and a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq. km are termed as census towns.

Another definition is used by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) to determine on financial liabilities of the Union government to its employees. Based on the recommendations of Pay Commission, the MoF puts forth its classification of cities/towns to grant House Rent Allowance (HRA) to central government employees. The cities are classified as X, Y and Z based on their population. 

 

Table 1: Pay Commission’s City Classification

Classification of cities

Population

X

50 lakhs and above

Y

5-50 lakhs

Z

Below 5 lakhs

 

Finally, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also classifies Indian cities on the basis of population and ranks cities as Tier-1 to Tier-6. They are also classified as Rural, Semi-urban, Urban and Metropolitan. RBI uses this classification for various decisions relating to allowing the opening of full branches, mobile branches, administrative offices, back offices and other activities related to the banking.

 

Table 2: RBI’s Classification and Census classification

Population

Centre Classification

Tier Classification

1,00,000 and above

Urban (10 lakh and above classified as Metropolitan)

Tier 1

50,000 to 99,999

Semi-Urban

Tier 2

20,000-49,999

Semi-Urban

Tier 3

10,000-19,999

Semi-Urban

Tier 4

5,000-9,999

Rural

Tier 5

Less than 5,000

Rural

Tier 6

 

Urban Hierarchy and Urban Policy

These three classifications are also used for decisions related to various government schemes including those relating to urban development. For e.g. Ministry of Urban Development is implementing the urban component of Swachh Bharat Mission in all the statutory towns (based on the Census). The number of cities per state to be covered under Smart Cities mission also took into consideration the number of statutory towns in the state. 

In order to understand the relevance of classifications with respect to the Smart Cities Mission, we examined how the original list of 98 Smart cities match up to some of the hierarchies being used in India and two urban programs.

 

Table 3: Overlap of Hierarchies with Smart Cities

Program

Percent of smart cities that are also

JnNURM

41

AMRUT

90

Affordable Housing

91

Tier 1 cities (RBI)

92

Metropolitan Centers (RBI)

36

X +Y Cities (MoF)

57

 

There is a wide variation in the overlap of the original 98 cities under the Smart City Mission with other schemes and definitions.  While juxtaposing the various urban schemes and hierarchies, in the above table, one can see that the selection of cities is not consistent on any one set of definitions. Most programs do not rely on any one specific classification system, usually creating their own selection criteria.Smart City Mission used its own weighted selection method and hence was able to have a broad coverage of cities across the states.

In such a scenario, the hierarchies and its categories can serve two important purposes in India’s case. First, if updated periodically and correctly, it should capture the fast paced process of urbanisation. Second, its urban hierarchy should inform its urban policies.

Cities differ from each other on many accounts including social, economical and cultural.  To make meaningful policy decisions, it is important to classify cities in a way that can allow for such differences to be recognised in proposing policy based solutions. The decision on where a given urban centre lies within a hierarchy and whether it can be promoted to a higher level (or demoted to a lower level) of urban hierarchy has significant influence on the dynamics of growth in future periods.  It also has a bearing on the policies and schemes that it can attract.  

It is important that we think of rational, scientific and Indian context specific classifications of urban centres for consistent urban policy design and decisions.

 

Is comparing Shimla to Nagpur like comparing Apples to Oranges?

 

In terms of population, Nagpur is almost 14 times the size of Shimla. Nagpur is known for oranges and Shimla is known for apples. Shimla is a hill city and Nagpur has tropical climate. Yet both are municipal corporations and will classify as Tier-1 cities as per definitions classifying 1 lakh and above cities as tier-1. Why is that so?

Not all cities are equal. Cities have different structures, different demographic make-up, different competitive advantages, and different sizes. Yet, the salient features of these cities – a system of production, distribution and consumption, infrastructure for connecting people, resources and markets, and economies of scale they create, may be similar. All cities provide a reason for people to be in that city but the reasons are different. To make meaningful policy decisions, then, it is important to classify these cities in a way that can allow for such varying reasons to be recognized as well as the ability of the government to provide for these reasons and needs. Having a logical classification of cities then can also help better design or modify policy to best suit the purposes and needs of a group of cities.

Why is it important to categorize places? 

A system of classification provides a method for efficient communication, a set of definitions, and a system of relationships among these definitions (Atchley, 1967). Classification of urban centers through typologies meets multiple objectives under different contexts. Governments typically use such hierarchies or typologies to allocate resources, undertake planning and to strategize regional development. Classifying helps recall the most common characteristics of the group. In the case of a city, a detailed classification could potentially help predict characteristics of a cities belonging to that group. It would also provide a unique nomenclature making it easier to refer to a group of cities with common characteristics. 

Currently, in India, the classification used by the government mainly refers to a population-based classification, also known as a hierarchy classification. However, given the diversity in cities the some of the city’s characteristics such as age, location, morphological (spatial configuration), and function, get left out when classifying cities on the basis of their population. 

Classification and categories are used to signal to the world that a particular place exhibits particular characteristics – so one might know what to expect from that place. A category might illicit an image of what a city might be, for example, geographical categorization as a coastal town, hill station, land locked city, or functional characteristics such as tourist city or industrial center. Yet, in policy terms, we tend to categorize cities as Tier I, Tier II and Tier III or X, Y, and Z cities.

It is important to look at a range of factors when trying to work out policies for a city or a group of cities. Making policy decisions based only on population not likely to be efficient or effective. One potential way around this is to consider population as a super-category. Population helps get a sense of the magnitude of challenges, and the administrative and political boundaries. Then compare various cities by age, location, morphological configuration and function in each population bracket.  Using a mix of population and other characteristics could be an intermediate approach  between a cookie-cutter, one-size fits all policies and individualized city specific solutions.

 

Why talk (more) about Small(er) Cities in India?

 

Policy makers in India started discussing cities and urbanisation as a coherent strategy in last two decades with most discussions aiming at addressing the problems seen in its bigger cities. Our nightmares from these big cities such as traffic snarls, alarming pollution levels, parking woes, slums, and sprawl have been the driver of our policy actions for our small cities as well. 

The challenges faced by small cities are different from the ones from the metropolitan areas not just because of the size but also because each of the cities has different functions, different morphology or a different demographic make up.  Most Indian cities are historic and have continuously been lived in for hundreds and even thousands of years. The original form of many of these cities efficiently supported mixed land use and compact densities without hindrances to functionalities. 

In order to solve the specific challenges faced by these cities it is important to claim the position that small cities should have as themselves and not as cities that can become big cities in the future.  It is important to understand the social, economic, cultural and political trends prevalent in these cities and how urbanisation as a phenomenon differs in its manifestation when compared to bigger cities. The urban solutions for these cities should be based on such realities.

Such solutions would mean that these cities should be able to attract, retain and eventually create talent conducive to its own growth demands. It would mean that natives and migrants live in harmony with their skill-sets complementing the city’s growth. Local citizens, institutions and businesses should be able to benefit from the city’s growth and the economic systems of production, distribution and consumption should be aligned with this growth and mutually complement each other. Through such solutions, these cities should be able to utilise their core competencies, existing social, cultural and economic forces to shape the upcoming infrastructure and networks of the city. As a tourist city, a pilgrim city, a trading hub or a coastal town, they should be able to shape themselves to suit their character and ethos.

Nagrika draws such solutions to shape cities that are unique, authentic and resilient to plan for a more sustainable urban future using the local knowledge. These cities are one of a kind and don't necessarily fit into any template. They are are not inspired by or aspiring to be a big city and are not a copy. Most importantly, they have the resilience to fight the shocks, natural or manmade.