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Worldview

Comparing How India and China Invest in their Cities

Our Global Cities Contributor Barry Weisberg is in Shanghai, China for the 2010 World Expo. He reports for us as part of our continuing series, “Global Cities: Challenges and Choices.”

Today Barry compares how India and China invest in their cities.


As India celebrates Independence Day on August 15th, their Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo is a striking soft contrast to those of concrete and steel.  It has the world's largest bamboo dome and is constructed with ecologically friendly materials. The structure is modeled after the sacred Sanchi Stupa, a stone structure in central India built by Ashoka the Great, 2300 years ago, over the relics of the Buddha.  Ashoka unified the Indian subcontinent, and is considered an early advocate of ahimsa, the origin of Gandhi's non-violence.  For example, Ashoka banned the death sentence, promoted tolerance and vegetarianism.

India is a remarkable country.  It is home to the five thousand year old Indus Valley Civilization; a living caste system; suffered through British colonialism for 89 years; and became an independent state in 1947, partitioning Pakistan, but never resolving the intensive ethnic and religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims. It is the country of Gandhi with a hydrogen bomb. While an elite has prospered in recent years, the number of people living in slums has doubled in just two decades. One quarter of India lives on the equivalent of one dollar a day and 70% live on less than two dollars a day.

India is a pluralistic country, with a highly complex and diverse cultural, linguistic and culinary tradition – some 1600 different languages. Four of the world's major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, originated in India. India has two million religious Gods and forty-nine thousand slums. India is a parliamentary federal republic, fashioned after the British system. While proclaimed the “largest democracy in the world” it has the largest slums in the world. The historic text of India, the Vegas, are rich in admonitions to live the perfect life yet India may be the most non-harmonious of all countries.

Only one quarter of the population lives in cities. But there are 41 one million resident cities, double the number forty years ago.  It already has 25 of the worlds 100 fasted growing cities, compared to only eight in China. The Gross Domestic Product of Mumbai is expected to exceed that of Portugal, Columbia or Malaysia in just one generation.  India is the poster child for a country where the gap between urbanization and the capacity to provide urban infrastructure increases daily. The McKinsey Global Institute, in India's urban awaking,” in 2010, diplomatically concluded that “India has underinvested in its cities,” in contrast to China

At the time of Independence, India was more urbanized than China.  But by 2005, China's urban rate was 41% compared to 29% for India. At independence the GDP of India was twice that of China. Today, China has a GDP that is at least 3.5 times greater than India. The percentage of people living below the poverty line in India is 3.5 times greater than China, life expectancy is ten years less than China and the number of telephone lines in India is six times less than China. India spends just US$17 per capita on urban infrastructure capital investments, compared to US$116 in China. China has relentlessly pursued the empowerment of cities through innovations in funding, governance, planning. India remains mired in a bureaucratic miasma. What explains this difference?

One explanation is the political difference between India and China. India was granted independence from British colonialism but still suffers from the legacy. China made a revolution with a single political party and a state apparatus capable of resisting market pressures and later shaping market-based reforms. China is a product of a systemic approach to urbanization. India is little better than laissez-fare. Centralized state planning and empowerment of cities have led China's urbanization. India has been a product of unchecked population growth and a feeble state and city apparatus. While China rigorously controlled the rural migration into coastal cities with the hukou system, India established no means to insure that those that entered cities could be provided services.

The contrast between China and India is striking. It offers observers in developing countries, which will account for 95% of the future urban growth, essential lessons on what it takes to insure that urbanization includes the prospect for a better city or a better life…

Barry Weisberg's commentaries reflect his own views and not necessarily those of Worldview or 91.5 WBEZ.

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