August 11, 2020
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Where Is Alphaville?

Indian cities are a mixed bag—the good is often laced with the bad. Take your pick.

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Where Is Alphaville?
Where Is Alphaville?
Mumbai is obviously a better place to live in than Delhi. Moreover, it’s a city of hope, dreams and opportunities. But hey, Delhi has better infrastructure and quality of life. Wait a while, Bangalore is even better—cheap, great weather, nice pubs and a global tech centre. And what about Hyderabad with Chandrababu Naidu’s vision to make it a happening city? Such debates rage in every household.

So, Outlook Money hired Delhi-based Indicus Analytics to conduct the first-ever ‘The Best Cities To Live In’ survey. We took 12 parameters, 50 sets of indices, 60 variables, 3,600 direct responses and 9,974 statistical nuggets to put disputes and doubts to rest.

Surprise, surprise. Chandigarh, a Union territory and the capital of Punjab and Haryana, gets the top rank. It scored the highest on three counts: jobs and income, financial infrastructure, and consumption. Chennai and Calcutta follow. In the top 10, six cities are located south of the Vindhyas. Only Chandigarh is in the north; one is in the east (Calcutta at No. 3), one is in the west (Ahmedabad, No. 10), and one in central India (Bhopal, No. 7).

All the six metros figure in the top 10, except for Delhi (No. 13) which was pulled down by its poor scores on safety, education and prices. It’s also because it has the highest SEC A&B population (the top two brackets in socio-economic terms) in the country, which has reduced the per capita averages on all parameters. The worst five cities in a sample of 55—Vellore, Allahabad, Tiruchirapalli, Madurai and Kanpur—performed badly on almost all counts. Interestingly, only two of them came the lowest under any parameter—Vellore, the worst city, got the lowest in prices, consumption and transport and Kanpur, the most crime-prone city.

The survey’s methodology takes into account a wide range of parameters: from job and income-generation potential, access and financial services to cost of living, access to affordable housing, civic amenities and healthcare facilities, education and transport infrastructure, safety considerations, weather and pollution levels, and entertainment options.

The data sources used range from the rbi, Medical Council of India and the National Crime Records Bureau, to the National Sample Survey Organisation, Meteorological Survey of India and the Census of India. The study tops all these with a primary survey of 3,600 citizens across the country to assess their views of the cities they live in.

Not always have these views matched the results. Reason: not all families find all the parameters relevant all the time—a young person fresh out of B-school would like to go to a city that offers her the best job opportunities (Chandigarh, Bangalore or Gurgaon). Her father would prefer one that ranks high on education (Coimbatore, Hyderabad or Chennai) and low on crime (Kochi, Bangalore or Ahmedabad). Her mother would prefer a pollution-free city (Raipur, Thiruvananthapuram, Shimla or Kozhikode) with good weather (Mysore, Shillong or Bangalore) and health facilities (Chennai, Calcutta or Bangalore). On the other hand, a businessman may view the virtually defunct transport in a city (Vellore, Gurgaon or Gwalior) or the high crime (Kanpur, Allahabad or Agra) as an opportunity to sell transport or security services.

No, it’s not easy to choose. You may find the maze of 1,485 data points (see tables) easy to read but heavy to analyse. And no matter how comprehensive the measures, finally, all indicators only give you windows to view—not reasons to relocate. The methodology has taken virtually every important variable into account and is backed by robust collection, processing and checking. Despite that, the results have thrown up a few apparently glaring contradictions: Despite a sound and vast infrastructure and some of the best educational institutions in the country, Delhi has been ranked the fourth-worst city under education. The reason is simple; these facilities are inadequate for its more than 1.3 million SEC A&B households—catch parents in their frenzy to get their kids admitted to school between December and February. (Perception match: 45 per cent of respondents feel schools in Delhi are ‘much better’ than in other cities.)

  • Lucknow, which until the previous decade witnessed a boom in residential construction and was one of the fastest-growing Indian cities, ranks a low 41 on "housing". Obviously, most of the housing projects in the city were meant to woo the middle class and the bureaucrats, even as the poor continued to rot in urban villages, naala dwellings and overpopulated old-city areas.

  • Booming industrial cities like Ludhiana (rank 18) that score high in areas like financial network, consumption and housing, lose out on weather, pollution and entertainment. More surprisingly, Ludhiana ranks 27 when it comes to "jobs and income". Clearly, the hosiery boom of the 1980s is on the wane.

  • Though Pune has been hailed as a ‘happening’ city, it figures very low (No. 41) in the rankings. Reason: Pune has become a victim of its own success. The charm that lured many people to the city—there are more than 5,00,000 SEC A&B households (almost as many as in Bangalore and 1.5 times more than in Chennai and Calcutta)—has resulted in overcrowding, straining its educational, health and housing infrastructure and increasing crime. (Perception match: 94 per cent of the respondents felt that women are not safe after 9 pm. For Patna, it’s 5 pm.)

    These results look like anomalies because our impressions are formed by our immediate surroundings—and our priorities, as was the case with Delhi which didn’t rank among the top 10. If you were living in Lutyens’ Delhi and drove around its zippy roads in a chauffeured Mercedes, if your favourite way of spending a weekend is to spend tens of thousands in the space of a couple of hours of frenzied buying in Connaught Place, you’d have a very different view of the city from someone who migrated from a cow belt small town in search of a higher paying job. But for economists, both of you would still be SEC (socio-economic classification) A or B.

    This survey looks at that entire set and looks at the availability of resources per capita for that set. So, while Delhi scores over Calcutta on all the measures of financial infrastructure (such as the number of bank branches, atms, bank deposits etc.), it drops to the last position among the metros because it has the largest SEC A&B population. Calcutta, on the other hand, with only 25 per cent of Delhi’s SEC A&B itizenry, is right on top of the ‘finance network’ metro rankings.

    Also, Delhi scores low on a few other parameters that make it decidedly not a great city to live in. High prices (No. 50), a high crime rate (No. 38 on safety) and high pollution (No. 29) drag India’s capital down to No. 13 in the overall rankings.

    Such statistical analysis can also help explain why Darjeeling (No. 17) scores the highest under entertainment, despite having just 38,943 SEC A&B households. It’s because of the tourists. Or, why Bangalore doesn’t rank among the top 10 under the education parameter despite being India’s knowledge centre. It’s because most of the institutes cater to higher education, while parents worry more about the primary and secondary.

    Despite having one of the lowest SEC A&B populations, Chandigarh (No. 1) scores the highest under consumption—each sec a&b household drives 1.6 cars, compared to Delhi’s 0.8. Could it be that the state machineries of Punjab and Haryana, carrying politicians and bureaucrats and their families and friends, are driving this number up? Then, there’s the question of the metros where the SEC A&B population comprises a third of the total sample—take the metros out and their SEC A&B population is 50 per cent of the remaining 49.

    It takes all kinds of things, all kinds of organisations, all kinds of people to make a city. People are drawn to cities by the lure of opportunities and wealth. Many stay because of the charm of community life, contributing towards and partaking of the abundance it offers. As that happens, the city becomes a place with the highest concentration of people, paisa and power; the highest density of culture, consumption and crime, the highest congregation of associations, activities and aspirations. The city gives us the platform from which we express ourselves through signs and systems. Indeed, the city is our lifeline.

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