Population growth and rapid urbanization are combining to create huge challenges for Indian cities. According to McKinsey, the country’s cities are expected to grow from 340 million people in 2008 to a whopping 590 million in 2030. Meeting demand for urban services in these cities will require US$ 1.1 trillion in capital investment over the next 20 years. Without the right design and planning, this massive urban growth could exacerbate existing problems of congestion, pollution, and traffic safety.

Overcoming these hurdles and creating sustainable cities in India is the main topic of discussion at the upcoming CONNECTKaro, a conference co-organized by EMBARQ India and the Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT), Government of Karnataka, India that will take place from March 10-11, 2014. The second annual conference—named for the idea of “Karo,” which means “make it happen”—explores sustainable transport opportunities as ways of addressing the challenges associated with India’s urban growth.

But before we can identify ways that India can sustainably urbanize, it’s important to first understand some of the underlying obstacles.

3 Key Challenges to India’s Urban Development

Rapid and unprecedented population growth have contributed to common, pressing issues for India’s cities. Many of these are inherently linked to transportation, including reducing urban sprawl, ensuring safe access to city services, and addressing the real estate industries’ roles in determining cities’ designs.

1. Urban Sprawl

In the past two decades, Indian cities have grown tremendously—not only in population, but in geographic size. For instance, Delhi’s urban area has almost doubled in the last 20 years. This has led to an increase in average trip length from 8.5 kilometers to 10.4 kilometers, and this commuting distance is projected to increase further in the coming years. Sprawling cities and reliance on automobiles have contributed to traffic congestion, air pollution, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and poor public health. Ensuring that India’s cities of the future are both livable and sustainable requires that decision-makers find ways to shorten commuting distances and decrease urbanites’ reliance on automobiles.

2. Traffic Safety and Accessibility

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 10 percent of the world’s road fatalities (130,000) occur in India alone. Traffic crashes occur every minute, and a life is lost every 3.7 minutes. Crashes have a significant negative impact on the nation’s economy, costing the country the equivalent of 3 percent of its GDP between 1999 and 2000. These startling numbers mean that city leaders and other decision-makers must consider issues of safety not only on the road, but also in the surrounding environment. Safety and accessibility are key components of ensuring that cities become secure, sustainable places to live.

3. Future Real Estate Development

As more and more people move into India’s cities, these people will need safe places to live, work, and commute. There’s already a projected shortage of 18.78 million households in India between 2012 and 2017. Real estate developers will inevitably aim to fill this gap, which means that they’ll have a massive influence in shaping what India’s cities look like in the future. Will the private sector invest in developments that provide access to sustainable transport, or will they follow a business-as-usual path and perpetuate problems of urban sprawl, pollution, and unsafe roads?

CONNECTKaro to Explore Solutions for an Urbanized India

By bringing together stakeholders from all sectors—government, academia, and business—CONNECTKaro aims to foster meaningful dialogue on how to overcome these challenges through sustainable transport solutions. A few key topics of discussion will be:

  • How transit-oriented development (TOD) concepts, integrated transport and land use planning, and environmentally friendly transport options can be integrated into cities and states in order to cut back on urban sprawl and pollution.

  • How last mile connectivity can be a critical factor in determining public transportation usage. Plus, we’ll examine how implementing low-cost, accessible sustainable transport options—like bike paths, pedestrian walkways, and public transport—can help citizens commute more safely.

  • How housing projects can incorporate sustainable mobility options in order to reduce emissions and create safer urban spaces. We’ll also examine how the private sector can create platforms that support sustainable transport innovations.

Overcoming India’s urbanization and sustainability challenges won’t be easy. But by bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders for a solutions-oriented conversation, we hope to begin identifying some of the ways to “make it happen.”

GET INVOLVED: Stay tuned for our future blog posts on Insights and TheCityFix, where we’ll explore some of the potential solutions coming out of ConnectKaro. You can also watch the event live, and participate on social media by following @EMBARQIndia and using #CONNECTKaro.