Globalization is facing uncertain headwinds in the 21st century, and cities arc at the eye of the storm. After decades of increased global economic interconnectivity, many national governments appear to have soured on globalization, turning inwards amidst a political torrent of populist nativism. As nodes for trade and the exchange of ideas, cities can remain bastions of global engagement in the coming era of possible isolationism. However, the pursuit of cities in maintaining global economic and political connectivity is tempered by concurrent and often competing concerns about social equality, political representation, and cultural identity. At the same time, the heightened autonomy of local government and increasing importance of urban policy to national development agendas places cities at the center of debates about “good” governance and other normative growth models, shaping a policy legacy that must reconcile the convergence of an array of conflicting trends. This volume contributes to a deeper understanding of these forces by examining Asian urbanization in three analytical contexts: governance, social development, and sustainability’.

In many ways, the 21st century will be the age of the Asian city, with transformative implications for the health, livelihoods, and happiness of the region’s four billion inhabitants. According to the United Nations, two thirds of the global population will reside in cities by 2050. Half of that urban population will be in Asia, already home to 16 megacities (cities with more than 10 million inhabitants). Despite these gathering trends, Asia’s recent urbanization has often been poorly managed and understood. Further, Asian cities are now becoming petri dishes for overlapping trends and colliding ideologies - generating opportunities for cultural hybridization but also testing the already fragile capacities of newly developed democratic and participatory governance systems. Against this back-drop, there is an increasingly urgent imperative for governments to address the challenges and opportunities of urbanization.

A lingering question provides the motivation behind the creation of this volume: what are the dominant trends in Asian urbanization that help scholars and practitioners to understand how well-prepared the region is to absorb systemic change and enter an age of uncertainty and instability? Asia’s urban transformation calls for continual revisions in how we understand cities at a time when the role of cities as actors on the global stage is growing. The three analytical contexts of this volume - governance, social development, and sustainability - encompass many of the salient issues defining Asian urbanization and are explored through an eclectic compendium of studies representing the rich diversity of voices characterizing the region.

The notion of an uncertain future or “age of disruption” (with reference to social, political, and economic systems) is explored by the volume’s three parts, which fit together to form a narrative about Asian urbanization. That narrative suggests that neoliberalism has precipitated changes in governance (Part I) that stimulated social contestations and concern tor the public (Part II), with both shaping the policy values and epistemological frames guiding Asian cities as they face an uncertain future (Part III). Neoliberal economic transformation has re-worked the governance of Asian cities, resulting in contestation over the role and meaning of the “public” - aspects of civil society not in official service to corporate or government interests. This contestation remains unresolved as Asian cities enter an age of uncertainty that threatens their sustainability. Indeed, it is the marginalization of the public as a concept and agent of change - precipitated by particular manifestations of neoliberalism - that has arguably compromised sustainability at a critical juncture when the public is needed the most. As the conclusion of this volume argues, these problems are poorly recognized because policymaking remains stuck in a legacy framework of neoliberal transformation while failing to mediate the consequent tensions in social development and public life.

Part I

Part I of this volume examines these and other dynamics within a rapidly evolving governance environment disrupted by globalization and democratization, focusing on the role of actors, the flow of ideas, and the power of institutions to precipitate or obstruct policy change. Part I is informed by the idea that Asia is experiencing an historic evolution from statist-developmentalism and top-down planning to more distributed and polycentric forms of governance, as manifest through decentralization, democratization, and political liberalization. This trend predictably elevates the role and importance of cities. This phenomenon is propelled both by the now decades-long spread of new public management as a public sector reform model and by situational imperatives to improve service delivery and government responsiveness at ground-level. As such, Part I establishes a crucial theoretical basis for the volume’s remaining parts by exploring the role of governments, policy, and governance models. It begins with an exploration of governance trends in the Philippines and Indonesia, two countries carrying the banner of decentralization and local autonomy in Asia. It continues with chapters about Singapore’s governance efforts to be a “smart” nation, governance reform and corruption in Indonesia, ideology and pragmatism in Singapore’s governance, urban master-planning in Central Asia, and a call for a new theoretical approach to understanding urban governance in Asia. This mix spans developmental contexts while capturing the evolutionary dynamics of power and policy change in urbanizing settings.

In Chapter 1, Mulya Amri examines the performance of city governance amidst decentralization, with a comparative focus on Indonesia and the Philippines. According to Amri, cities are increasingly occupying the attention of scholars and commentators, but there is little understanding about how they are governed. Amri considers salient questions of urban governance, including what motivates city mayors and how they are held accountable. He also considers how urban leaders balance the interests of citizens, central governments, and their own personal ambitions. City governance throughout most of Asia since the late 20th century has been characterized by decentralization, where mayors and city-level administrations have varying degrees of autonomy to decide the fate of their jurisdictions. This chapter explores the mechanisms of local governance in Indonesia and the Philippines - the largest countries in Southeast Asia - in the era of local autonomy. These two countries have been at the forefront of devolution for the past 20 years, and during that time there has been growing interest in ensuring that decentralization leads to better city government performance. A further similarity between the two countries is the adoption of both top-down (administrative) and bottom-up (political) incentives to ensure local government performance. The top-down decentralization measures include the central governments setting minimum service standards, conducting annual performance assessments, and presenting prestigious awards to local governments. When coupled with local democracy, these measures have triggered a competitive environment among city leaders to be recognized for their performance and gain political capital to boost their position in subsequent elections. Amri’s chapter provides a window onto the mechanisms of city governance in the Asian Century, which has been much influenced by the discourse on decentralization.

In Chapter 2, Jun Jie Woo examines the governance dimensions of an increasingly common urban policy project: smart cities. The growing application of advanced information and communications technology (ICT) to urban governance and policymaking has led to the emergence of the “smart city” as an urban policy innovation capable of addressing the increasingly complex policy issues faced by city governments. More than simply applying new technological tools and solutions to urban problems, smart cities have given rise to novel and more responsive modes of urban governance. This chapter takes a policy design approach to understanding urban governance in a smart city. Focusing on Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative, the chapter identifies the various design components and dynamics of the initiative that have influenced Singapore’s development as a smart city. Woo argues that the Smart Nation initiative constitutes an act of policy layering, where new policy elements that are related to the smart city are layered upon Singapore’s existing developmental approach to governance and policymaking. The result of this is an increasingly complex urban policy mix that features interconnections between new policy instruments and old policy goals.

In Chapter 3, Vishnu Juwono and Elva Sagita Cindra examine the issue of policy reform to address corruption in Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta. Having served as the mayor of a small Indonesian town, Solo, Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was elected as Governor of Jakarta in 2012. There were high hopes that he and his Deputy Governor, Ahok, would champion significant change toward more accountable, free, and transparent governance in a city that was famously riddled with systemic corruption. The two were elected on their credible track records of running smaller towns and regions. Not connected to the political elite of Jakarta, Jokowi and Ahok offered a promising new vision for governance, including a humbler and more accommodating leadership style representing the poor and confronting an established and corrupt patronage network. This chapter applies the lens of political pluralism to analyze the motivations of proponents and opponents of governance reform and anti-corruption initiatives in Jakarta during the period 2012-2017. In so doing, the chapter provides a comprehensive review of the progress and regress of governance reform under the leadership of Jokowi and Ahok. During his short tenure, Jokowi projected a style of governance, with the help of mass media, that aimed to be receptive to the needs of the poor. His healthcare and education programs boosted his popularity among Jakartans and elevated him to national prominence and a successful bid for the Indonesian presidency in 2014. Ahok become Governor of Jakarta through succession, adopting his own responsive leadership style - but not without controversy. Against this backdrop, this chapter focuses on the degree to which Jokowi and Ahok delivered on promises for more accountable, transparent, and responsive governance -an instructive case for similarly situated cities across Asia.

In Chapter 4, Charles Chao Rong Phua examines the role of pragmatism in the development of prevailing governance values in Singapore. Singapore’s economic growth story provides a potentially useful model for closing the development gap between rich and poor countries. While Singapore enjoyed certain advantages such as a strategic location, the country in its infancy also had to overcome the challenge of natural resource scarcity and small size. One characteristic of its highly effective governance model, which has drawn attention from both scholars and practitioners, has been the country’s unwavering commitment to the concept of pragmatism. Singapore’s government has historically been focused on the efficient pursuit of development outcomes and the establishment of durable institutions to ensure consistency and resolve in development policies. This chapter examines the concept of Singaporean pragmatism as a force behind the formation and implementation of domestic social, economic, and infrastructure policies. The chapter takes a comparative historical perspective, examining the evolution of pragmatism across the leadership of the country’s three prime ministers: Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, and Lee Hsien Loong. Historical and governmental documents are examined, along with interview data and other research and press materials.

In Chapter 5, Michael Waschak examines the issue of urban development through the lens of master-planning. In this chapter several important themes of urban planning are elaborated and combined to tell the story of the growth of Kazakhstan’s new city of Astana/Nur-Sultan, which received national capital designation in 1997 and underwent a name-change in 2019. A capital city serves many purposes. First, it provides physical spaces with unique security, transportation, and logistical burdens for the operations of government. Second, it serves as a center of national culture and education, providing landmarks that reflect the goals, aspirations, and history of a people. Finally, it provides a livable and sustainable community for the diverse populations that typically accumulate in and around a capital city. The development of Astana encompasses all these elements, offering an instructive case to observe the formation and furtherance of national identity even as physical infrastructure continues to be built. Notably, many of the difficulties in planning and governing Astana’s built environment parallel the challenges of building a cultural identity that has been evolving since the breakup of the Soviet Union. This chapter provides a broad review of the many forces shaping a new capital city and thereby has application to the study of similarly situated cities in both the developing and developed worlds.

In Chapter 6, the final chapter in Part I, Kris Hartley examines the potential for a new framework to explain urban governance and competitiveness in the 21st century. Against the backdrop of strong state intervention in the development of industrial capacity throughout the mid to late 20th century, Asian countries arc now facing the prospect of a second-generation growth model in which the market plays a significant role in steering productive resources and thus determining urban and national economic competitiveness. This chapter introduces an analytical model that seeks to systematize the study of a new Asian growth reality, one in which the forces of global markets and the attendant reform pressures come up squarely against industrial systems that have been shaped by - and indeed are deeply embedded within - a dominant state. In what the chapter describes as a “New Asian Statism”, legacy development policies are having to reconcile these two forces while at the same time accommodating a third - civil society. The framework introduced (the “RICE” framework) considers the roles of resilience, innovation, and civic enterprise as a confluence of dynamics shaping urban growth. More specifically, resilience is defined as the structural capacity of governance institutions to adapt to exogenous change, innovation as creative processes within government as opposed to the private sector, and civic enterprise as entrepreneurial behavior arising from multi-sectoral collaboration engaging government, private sector, and non-market civil society. The chapter argues that a fully realized version of market liberalization is not necessarily the fate of Asian countries, as the practices of historically wealthy non-Asian countries arc not only being received but also reinterpreted to suit context in the interest of stability and welfare provision. As such, this chapter contributes not only to studies of evolving political economy in the region but also to understandings about how the market, state, and citizens interact within legacy institutional structures to shape cities and their growth paths.

Part II

Part II of this volume examines social development from a variety of perspectives on policy, inclusion, and livability', with cities as a setting for interactive, complementary, and conflicting ideas. According to Lefebvre and Enders (1976: 31), “space has been shaped and molded from historical and natural elements, but this has been a political process. Space is political and ideological. It is a product literally filled with ideologies”. Any exploration of urbanization in Asia requires a thorough understanding of contestation around urban society and social development. As an expression of the rich tapestry of overlapping histories, cultures, and ideas, Asian cities provide an ideal setting for studies about the transformation of society and the plight of the individual. This relates to the theme of governance in Part I by underscoring the implicit contestation and messiness associated with societal challenges and transformation. A city’s social environment is a literal expression of competing ideologies. From Seoul to Jakarta, urban settings are being continually reshaped by the inflow of global and domestic capital. Yet, tensions have long centered on the loss of vernacular authenticity in the face of modern development fueled by the neoliberal pursuit of capital returns. The struggle to keep cities “public” (see Lefebvre’s 1970 “right to the city” thesis) is now at the forefront of many policy debates about Asian cities, particularly as the magnetic effect of urban economies attracts low-income migrants, compounds the wealth of economic and political elites, and creates greater competition for space. The embodiment of this dynamic can be seen in the geography of unequal adjacency: swathes of deprivation interrupted by pockets of extreme wealth, evident particularly in cities such as Manila, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. A convergence of policies - from land use and infrastructure investment on the planning side to education, health, and labor on the social policy side - has created conditions in which the growth of cities is marked by this patchwork inequality.

At the same time, an emerging urban growth strategy claims to ensure the happiness of the individual within a mix of lifestyle amenities. One example of this next-generation urban scene is the art district. Even in creating stimulating urban environments, forceful solutions can fail to have desired effects: art districts designated and protected by local governments often become isolated spaces of cultural instrumentalization. In the creation of such amenity spaces, civil society is an increasingly engaged stakeholder. At the opposite end of the engagement spectrum, the migration of rural and low-income workers into cities is placing a strain on housing and infrastructure systems and highlighting a growing crisis of weak policy effort to address the needs of the poor. The pursuit of upper-class livability risks monopolizing the attention of urban policymakers in Asia, at the risk of further marginalizing an increasingly voiceless group in society.

Public health is another emerging concern for urban governments, as the environmental pathologies of cities are implicated in the degradation of health among urban residents. Providing proper healthcare under increasingly constrained budgetary environments, for increasingly complicated illnesses, is testing the capacity of public health systems and related policies. Demographic shifts arc also a rising concern; the aging population of many Asian cities will test the ability of governments to finance adequate care at a time when some societies appear to be facing a fiscal crisis related to population aging. These and other themes are explored in Part II through examinations of citizen participation in planning, healthcare, education, and urban morphology, among other topics related to individual empowerment and state-society relations in the context of urbanization.

In Chapter 7, Si Ying Tan and Wei Yang examine the political economy of social health insurance (SHI) expansion in two of the largest and most populous developing countries in the world: Indonesia and China. Achieving universal health coverage (UHC) is positioned as an important political agenda that signals a government’s effectiveness in health policy. SHI is one of the most popular financing tools implemented to achieve this goal. Early this century, Indonesia and China introduced two of the largest state-controlled SHI schemes in the world. Governments from both countries were ambitious in expanding the financing and coverage of these schemes to rural populations and informal sector workers in their respective pledges to achieve universal health coverage by 2020. At the point when these two schemes were rolled out in both countries, less than a quarter of the population was covered. After more than a decade, the performance of SHI in the two countries, in terms of coverage, shows considerable divergence. While China managed to achieve universal health coverage in 2011, by 2017 Indonesia still had significantly lower coverage. Given that they are both large and highly decentralized countries with similar policy intents, introducing similar policies around the same time and at similar scale, it is useful to consider why China achieved its target while Indonesia did not. While it is often understood that health reforms are highly context-specific and have shown different outcomes under different jurisdictions, despite similar starting points, key factors that could explain such divergence are less well-understood. Examining the SHI reform trajectories of both countries, this chapter analyzes the importance of policy tools and policy experiments - ushered in by bold central governments and flexibly endowed to local governments in terms of design and implementation -in the expansion of SHI schemes. Using a comparative case study approach, the authors dissect the implementation process at various stages of reform and analyze the different mechanisms that led to diverging reform outcomes in the two countries by using a policy capacity framework that comprises six capacity domains. The chapter shows that the Chinese central government effectively mobilized its sub-national counterparts with performance incentives, endowing focal government with the flexibility and nimbleness to leverage capacities in adjusting design through policy experiments. Indonesia’s central government, on the other hand, lacks the capacity to exert a strong command-and-control position in policy implementation. Regional autonomy enacted under the decentralization law enabled varying interpretations of centralized regulations. Despite the presence of some flourishing social health insurance schemes across Indonesia, heterogeneities in local government capacities have resulted in substantial differences in population coverage and fragmentations of design. The chapter concludes with policy implications for both countries.

In Chapter 8, Hung Vo and Donna Doan Anderson examine public space in Vietnam as an expression of social agency. Political and economic reforms throughout Vietnam’s Doi Moi (“Renovation Era”) led to dramatic transformation in Saigon. Embedded in the state’s strategy to incorporate its populace as a newly unified nation are its efforts to control public space. Even as Vietnam continues to privatize state-owned enterprises and allow for the inheriting, transferring, exchanging, leasing, and mortgaging of land use rights, the state retains full ownership of land. With business and government often in collaboration, urban space becomes a site of political, economic, and social contestation. This chapter draws on historical and contemporary analyses and ethnographic studies to elucidate ways in which urban dwellers’ appropriation of and interaction with public space have changed in contemporary settings. The authors discuss broader implications for lived social experience, planning, and politics in the city. They argue that capitalist development under the guise of neoliberal economic policy has resulted in the global image of a “new metropolitan mainstream” that has compromised the lives of those at the margins of urban society. To contribute to existing understandings of public space and its policing, the authors explore the emerging impacts of Vietnamese returnees on the built environment, around which a call for further research is made.

In Chapter 9, Daixin Dai and George Frantz explore the physical layout of China’s cities and its impact on the experience of urban dwellers. The large city blocks that dominate Chinese cities create urban residential enclaves nested within the matrix of arterial streets. They form islands of livability within the metropolis, buffering residents from heavy traffic, incompatible land uses, and other undesirable aspects of the urban environment, providing a relatively high-quality living environment within the city. As cities in China grapple with unprecedented population growth and development, a new debate has erupted about the merits of the larger city block relative to the advantages, perceived or otherwise, of the American New Urbanist concept of small city blocks. This debate is framed against the backdrop of China’s deep history with large city blocks, a foundation of the country’s cities for over 3,000 years since the work of Zhou Li (Duke of Zhou) around 1030 BCE. This chapter reviews planning in Shanghai since the early 20th century, revisiting several debates over block size during this period, as well as the supersession of the historic lilong housing with Garden City-inspired residential designs, particularly in the context of the creation of xinettn residential communities in the 1950s. It overlays empirical analysis of the contemporary urban fabric onto this historical review to derive policy insights relevant for maintaining and improving the urban experience for citizens.

In Chapter 10, Seunghyun Lee examines healthcare in South Korea with a focus on the metropolitan and urban scale and imbalances between these across the country. Universal health insurance in South Korea has developed over several decades. Any person can walk into any primary care hospital and receive treatment at a low cost. As a result of good access to healthcare, Koreans’ life expectancy reached 82.3 years in 2015, ranking 11th among 201 countries, according to the World Health Organization. When examining the healthcare network, universal healthcare is a somewhat different story, reflecting both positives and negatives. On one hand, the concentrated healthcare network in Seoul, which offers low healthcare costs and high-quality care, attracts people from outside Korea and promotes medical tourism. On the other hand, if a citizen outside Seoul contracts a serious and acute disease, treatment options are limited. Rural areas lack quality healthcare facilities, and physicians have only limited resources. National hospitals and national university-affiliated hospitals exist in rural areas, but trust in those hospitals is low. Instead, patients seek treatment at the small number of large hospitals in Seoul. This concentration of healthcare networks in Seoul and their relative absence in smaller cities and rural areas means that prominent hospitals in the capital face shortages of beds, and patients endure long waiting times to see a physician. Thus, patients and families often pursue informal networks to accelerate treatment. This chapter examines these issues in-depth through an analysis of historical and current trends, arguing that a national healthcare network with one strong urban hub is not enough to serve an entire nation of patients. The chapter concludes with a proposal for developing healthcare networks at local levels to improve the quality of healthcare and to narrow geographic gaps in health outcomes.

In Chapter 11, Yifei Yan explores the issue of education governance in Beijing and Delhi - capital cities of the world’s two most populous countries. Accountability has been highlighted both in the literature on education governance and in the reforms guided by it. Nevertheless, current literature is focused overwhelmingly on short-term interventions, mostly on student discipline and control. This chapter complements and extends the literature by exploring the roles of two institutionalized supportive mechanisms, namely teachers’ in-service training and career development, in China and India, whose public education systems -despite being among the world’s largest - are relatively under-explored. Government middle schools in the two capital cities, less constrained by resources than by how those resources are managed and utilized (i.e., governance), are also sites in which these mechanisms can be meaningfully scrutinized. For this chapter’s empirical analysis, school and teacher questionnaires are complemented by semi-structured interviews with education officials, experts, and NGO workers to understand various aspects of the two mechanisms mentioned. The analysis focuses on the match between supportive mechanisms and stakeholder incentives. Preliminary results highlight several specific structural rigidities while also identifying some common problems. To the extent that problems such as seniority-based career path or top-down training delivery are common to other developing countries, these exploratory efforts can generate broader policy implications relevant to education and human capital development in Asian cities.

Part III

As cities look toward an uncertain future, issues around sustainability demand the attention of urban policymakers. Climate change is a challenge that transcends political boundaries and is arguably a threat to global economic, social, and political stability; it also has serious implications for urban growth. Environmental management and resilience are issues that local governments must address with urgency, and recent episodes underscore this need: air pollution in Delhi and flooding in Bangkok and urban China are examples. Predictions about sea level change are also raising concerns for coastal cities such as Ho Chi

Minh City and Jakarta, while continental weather patterns can disrupt agriculture and water resources in ways that impact inland cities in places like Central Asia. Despite global multilateral efforts to reduce emissions, rapid economic growth in developing countries is likely to keep emissions levels high for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the increasing degradation of environmental resources associated with urban sprawl and the wider spillover effects of resource depletion are underscoring the urgency for urban governments to understand the broader interactions between cities and nature in establishing longer-term sustainability.

Urban policymakers have looked to a variety of solutions to the sustainability challenge. Efforts to curb emissions outputs through demand management (e.g., compact development) and restructuring of the energy mix have been commonly discussed measures. At the same time, technology presents its own transformative potential in how to address resource usage and lifestyle change (along with many other disruptive impacts to employment and broader society'). While advancements in automation and ICT are facilitating industrial upgrading and structural transformation, the use of “big data” is providing city governments with increasing capabilities in monitoring and analyzing environmental conditions and urban behavior patterns to improve services and address intractable challenges such as traffic, crime, and pollution. The push for cities to be global leaders in the application of technologies, including so-called smart city systems, is opening new pathways for public - private partnerships and other hybrid forms of service delivery. The crucial task will be to maintain the sovereignty of the public amidst a technology push that is driven, on the innovation and marketization side, by private interests. Part III addresses the issue of environmental sustainability, its multiple policy pathways, and the technological forces shaping future urban growth, through chapters focused on waste management, new town planning, and smart cities, among others.

In Chapter 12, Jingru Zhang and Kris Hartley explore the policy challenges of incentivizing residents to adopt voluntary recycling programs through cases in Singapore and Shanghai. In both cities, rising incomes and modernizing lifestyles have created an environment of growing consumer demand, leading to increasing amounts of waste generated in the course of daily living. This chapter examines the challenges of managing household waste. In both cities, governments have experimented for many years with programs to encourage more sustainable behaviour regarding waste management. These initiatives, including various education, information, and communications campaigns about how to properly deal with disposables, have produced only middling results. Even the effort to improve infrastructure access to make recycling more convenient, such as the placement of receptacles around neighborhoods, has not guaranteed widespread uptake of recycling efforts. The chapter considers explanations for this lag in uptake and makes policy proposals to address it. The chapter examines the issue through the tension between individual and collective rationality, arguing that governments have had trouble achieving a balance between policies that reward and those that punish. The chapter concludes by arguing that the optimization of recycling programs themselves risks distracting governments from the more difficult work of fundamentally restructuring the production and consumption systems; moving from a linear economy (which recycling, well-intentioned as it is, can further institutionalize) to a circular economy is a more strategic policy goal in the pursuit of sustainability.

In Chapter 13, Lili Li examines central-local relationships in environmental governance in China. This chapter proceeds from the argument that anthropogenic activities in urban areas are a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the same time, cities are threatened by the very problem they arc helping to create: climate change. Local policy is crucial for making substantive progress on climate change mitigation and adaptation. This chapter addresses the question by investigating the cases of three policy instruments in China: pollutant discharge fee (pai wu fei), environmental target system {mu biao ze ren zhi), and policy experimentation ofC02 emissions trading schemes (CO2 ETSs, tan pai fang quan jiao yi). The implementation of the three policy instruments faces various obstacles and reflects different dynamics of central-local government interactions. The chapter addresses how each policy instrument functions, how it has been established, and what implementation issues it has encountered. The final section summarizes the three policy instruments and provides an in-depth discussion.

In Chapter 14, Rumit Singh Kakar and Kris Hartley examine urban public health in India, with a focus on the effectiveness of service delivery and the relationship between sustainability and human well-being. India boasts one of the largest public healthcare systems in the world but has failed to provide basic healthcare to a majority of its population. Minimal access to clean water and sanitation, along with high levels of exposure to atmospheric and environmental pollutants, are factors contributing to the nation’s declining public health outcomes. While environmental pollution is a challenge for nearly all of India’s residents, rural populations and families living below the poverty line are the most affected by poor access to healthcare. There are numerous explanations beyond geographic isolation: daily-wage workers unable to miss work for health check-ups, financial disparities between private and government hospitals, and health insurance systems offering inadequate coverage. The chapter argues that healthcare programs instituted by the central government are further contributing to the decline of general health in the country as a whole, while a variety of peripheral factors related to social and economic marginalization exacerbate the problem. This chapter analyzes factors that are most responsible for declining public health outcomes in India, utilizing existing research, government documents, and other published materials. Broad statistics are complemented with in-depth case studies. The general finding is that the prevailing narrative about the health pathologies of urban life fail to recognize systemic problems that are also compromising public health in rural areas. This has important implications for the distribution of resources, the urgency of policies addressing environmental sustainability, and core-periphery governance relationships within India.

In Chapter 15, Glen Kuecker, Tristan Stamets, and Farukh Sarkulov explore the embrace by India of the smart cities development paradigm, focusing on its ability to deliver promises about sustainability and on broader questions about the underlying policy logic. Indian Prime Minister Modi has an ambitious plan to build 100 smart cities. The plan is the centerpiece for India’s great transformation, which finds the convergence of population growth and urbanization driving the nation toward a bifurcating tipping point of realizing the promise of modernity or a dystopian reality of inequity, inequality, and environmental catastrophe. Understanding the 100 smart cities agenda and everything at stake invites consideration of key questions about 21st-century Asian cities, especially an analysis of how the intersections between policy formulation, the place of cities within national development agendas, and the underlying systems of thought within grand, “winning the future” mega-projects reproduce modernist approaches to social problems. In exploring this line of inquiry, this chapter makes use of critical urban theory to unpack Modi’s 100 smart cities agenda, reveal the limitations of the development agenda, and expose the false premises of its utopian vision. The chapter argues that smart cities are a mechanism of capitalist reproduction in the 21st century that retain technocratic approaches to social and environmental problems derived from instrumentalist reasoning. Far from being the bridge to a utopian urban future, they promise to reproduce inequity and inequality, exacerbate the urban-rural divide, and devastate the environment.


This volume addresses the dominant trends in Asian urbanization to consider the degree to which the region is prepared to absorb systemic change and negotiate the uncertainty and instability that will likely define the coming era. Taken together, the diverse set of chapters in this volume illustrates key themes for thinking about Asian urbanization. First, governance at all levels has been shaped by the sweeping development ideas of the late 20th century, namely neoliberalism, the hollowing-out of the state, the managerialization of the public sector, and the pre-eminence of markets. This revolution sits in stark contrast with Asia’s legacy of state intervention but has resulted in the evolution of a mindset in policymaking that has precipitated an increasing alignment with Western models. Second, this revolution has led to new frameworks for how markets, the state, and the public are viewed in relation to one another and how their respective roles and power balances are determined. The marginalization of the public has led to contestation and tension as manifest in a variety of domains, including urban space, social welfare, and popular expression. Third, the result is a set of understandings, assumptions, and practices that are defining whether and how Asian cities are prepared to meet the challenges of complex, “wicked” problems such as climate change and systemic disruption. These three themes illustrate how transformations in urban governance driven by neoliberal economic reforms have generated contestations that redefine the role and meaning of “public” within the governance of Asian cities. As transformed governance has stimulated a deep yet incomplete reconstitution of the public, Asian cities have entered a period of uncertainty marked by significant disruptions to the abilities of society, politics, economics, and culture to remain sustainable. As such, the practical contribution of this volume is to provide a critical barometer for understanding the prospects of progress for Asian cities in an age of disruption. It also serves as a call for researchers to discern what is likely to occur under steady-state versus disruptive scenarios.


Lefebvre, H. (1970). La revolution urbaine. Paris: Editions Gallimard.

Lefebvre, H., and M.J. Enders (1976). “Reflections on the Politics of Space.” Antipode 8 (2)-. 30-37.

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