the case for urban government
August 1, 2011, 5:30 pm
Filed under: betaCITY, Cities, Ghettos | Tags: , , , , ,

Along Hosur Road on the way from downtown Bangalore to the affluent neighborhood called Koramangala is a river which is really more of an open sewer.  You have to hold your breath to get past it.  I’m not sure if it was built for waste or it just happened that way, but I was told that it was meant to be covered, which hasn’t happened yet.  Seeing this sewer / river and others like it in India made me think that India needs martial law to accomplish some basic civic needs.  For instance, to protect its water ways, fresh and salt, for basic housing, for basic health and children’s aid, and perhaps even to counter corruption etc.

The economist and author Glaeser makes the same claim in his discussion of the large slum Dharavi in central Mumbai.  This place, and many other informal settlements, has very basic and often very desperate needs:  for clean water, sanitation, education for children, particularly poor children, and good transportation.  History has shown these needs are best met with a benevolent and visional iron fist.

Glaeser says that all cities, not only the most desperate settlements, need a fully vested and empowered government to achieve the complex and daunting tasks presented them by their diverse populations.

From Triumph of the City:

These problems are not intractable, but they often require the intervention of an active, even aggressive, public sector.  Public-sector incompetence is often cited as an excuse for promoting rural pverty — the awful logic is that because the cities aren’t clean, people should stay in their agricultural huts.  This is wrong for both moral and practical reasons.  Urban governments in developing countries must do what the cities of the West did in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:  provide clean water while safely removing human waste.  They must make ghettos safe.  They must even do what too many American cities have failed to do:  break the isolation that can rob poor children of the advantages that most people get from living in a big city.  The western world’s fights against urban disease, corruption, crime, and segregation over the past two centuries offer many lessons for the developing world today, but unfortunately one of those lessons is that these fights are never easy.


there’s no free-market solution for the great urban problems facing slums like Dharavi.  Cities desperately need forceful, capable governments to provide clean water, safe neighborhoods, and fast-moving streets.

It’s easy to idolize democracy, but effective city governments usually need leaders who govern with a firm hand, unencumbered by checks and balances and free from the need to heed the wishes of every disgruntled citizen.

Chapter 4:  How Were the Tenements Tamed, Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser, p 94

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I agree that a heavy hand is required but when a government attains an iron fist approach to get what it wants, where and when does it draw the line. It seems very susceptible to the domino effect, when authoritarian controls have no limits, would they mandate forced birthcontrol for example? Who reels in such a government after it is established? The balance between the pros and cons, however, as you suggest, lean toward risking the iron fist approach. Maybe you could call it a temporary martial law until some of the basics are acquired?

Comment by Todd

I think this would be martial law within the confines of the constitution. Yes, it is temporarily imposed and carefully monitored with a tightly prescribed mandate. It dissolves once the mandate has been achieved. Furthermore, it would be for hard services like water, food, shelter and not for soft issues like reproduction.

Comment by Peter Rudd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: