India is growing. The evidence of our growing opulence can be seen across the urban landscape. We take pride in our growing per capita GDP and increasing proliferation of lifestyle gadgets reflecting our material wellbeing. On the other hand, our small closed-door neighbour Bhutan, is teaching the world a different path, by measuring a Gross National Happiness Index, a measure of the ‘Quality of Life’ of its citizens.
Urban agglomerations like any enterprise operate in a competitive landscape. Like any other enterprise they go through a lifecycle phases of growth and decline. If we look around us, some Indian cities which were amongst the top five at the time of our independence do not even appear in the list of top 10 today. Quality of life is one of the most important but often ignored, lead indicator of an upcoming growth or decline. An improving quality of life in an urban agglomeration triggers the growth spiral of attracting talent, driver industries and growing income. Whereas a declining quality of life triggers a negative growth spiral.
In the existing urban competition, if Quality of life is taken as a lead indicator, we see early signs of large urban agglomerations of Mumbai and Delhi, losing the battle to emerging competition from cities like Ahmedabad. Pose this question to any inhabitant of a metro, and you will hear a similar response:
1. The average distance between the place of work and the place of residence has gone up by at least 40% over the last decade. The scenario is further accentuated by reduced mobility on account of increase in traffic. Net resultant an average inhabitant of the city spends double the time in transit, than what he did a decade ago.
2. Public transport augmentation has been grossly insufficient. Recent statistics published by a suburban railway agency highlighted a peak-time, peak direction overload on a railway wagon to be about three times its maximum capacity. The stress on the public transport continues to grow.
3. Income levels across the employment hierarchies have grown. So have the house prices. If we compare income-to-house-price- ratio, we find significant decline in housing affordability. As per our estimates the impact of this decline in affordability over the last decade for a household, has been an average radial push of eight km away from the previously affordable location.
4. Pollution statistics across the urban landscape show a significant decline in quality of air that a citizen breathes.
5. Spread of diseases like Dengue, Chikengunya, Swine Flu, and the resultant deaths were unheard of a decade ago.
And the list can go on a on, ranging from increasing cost of living, to declining quality of civic infrastructure, to an increase in crime rate or to a noted decline in community life.
If Balanced Score Card is an approach widely accepted to measure an individual performance, its high time Indian municipalities / governance agencies adopt ‘Quality of Life’ as one of the measures of their performance. An independent measure of Quality of life, can empower an average citizen to rank the performance of their municipality so as to make informed democratic choices. It will also help corporates make informed decisions on location and relocations. Above all it will provide a barometer on comparative performance of urban agglomerations on a competitive landscape.
The author is National Director, Valuation & Advisory, Knight Frank India.