I love my city

I love Delhi. I love the trees and the monuments, the streets and the bazaars, the sprawling malls and the metro. They all come together as a cohesive whole to make it an unforgettable experience. I also complain about Delhi very often. The polluted air, the crazy traffic, the broken footpaths and the often seen dirt. Most of these themes resonate across the large number of cities and towns in India.With Indian corporates looking at new ideas for CSR investments could someone come forward to invest in our cities too?

Every city has a X factor, which is a combination of many things. Brands could connect by taking forward the conversations around these elements. For example, In a rapidly changing India, people are looking at older structures as inheritance that needs to be preserved. Could we revitalize things that have been lost along the way? Can we design socially responsible programs for for new urbanism that gen x could relate to: Care about causes? Start new movements? Can we celebrate the city in its various manifestations?

Some guiding principles for a program like ‘I love my city‘ could be:
– Connect your brand values to the aspiration of a city
– Make a genuine difference
– Look at not just preservation but creation of a shared future with multiple initiatives
– Generate conversations and initiatives that create positive outcomes

Though one would have to keep in mind that a connection with the city cannot be ephemeral. Genuine Impact is a medium to long term venture which moves beyond branding and into the realm of utility. To connect with the ‘X’ factor of the city, many activities, conversations and events are needed that require multiple stakeholders and partners.

Some initiatives that could be considered are outlined here:

WATER

The concept of a ‘Pyou’ or safe cool drinking water provided by individuals and communities in earthenware used to be a very common sight across our cities. This concept seems to have disappeared. In a hot country like ours water is in constant demand.

Action – water dispensers for the hot summer months

One hour of rain can lead to storage of almost 20-30 litres of potable water that can be used for cooking and drinking. Also with the right kind of recharging processes ground water can be recharged. Ordinary citizens are asking questions and trying to implement solutions around water harvesting, recharging underground wells and methods to conserve water.

Action – an online water forum that answers questions and connects people to solutions and solution providers.

TREES

Each Indian city was known for its trees, they fit in with the climate of the city, its ethos and added to its unique charm. Somewhere along the way, either trees were felled or new exotic varieties ill-suited to the city were brought in. Planting trees and taking care of them on a long term basis could provide multiple benefits of clean air, recharging the soil and making the city look good.

Action
– Plant the right trees for a city through the RWA / Colony association
– Creation of an online Tree Champions Club
– Adopt a tree campaign by school students

READING ROOMS

Libraries have performed a role in sharing information and knowledge. But there is pressure on the library model with many dying out. The library is also facing pressure from e-books. What if we can re-imagine public spaces with books and how they are sourced. Convert them into reading rooms – encourage reading habits, conversations and discussions. I love my city platform can help with sourcing and distribution of books / ebooks / readers.

Action
– Using the online platform to share / donate books
– Make the book catalog available online
– Identify and refresh books in centres in the city. These could be in a mall / hall in a charitable institution or in a school/educational institution

HELPING HANDS

Many small things get held up because of inability to contact the right people or paucity of funds. Playgrounds that need fixing, Stray dogs that need sterilisation, dirty spots that need cleaning are just some. Can we use the ‘I love my city’ platform to connect people who can volunteer or assist in common things that are such a source of angst?

Action
– Get people and Resident associations to define small projects and action them through volunteerism
– Raise funds

MAP UTILITIES

Finding services should be easy. The ability to find things online/on mobile is a big help. Clean toilets for women, playgrounds with swings that work, safe walking zones can easily be mapped by ordinary citizens.

Action
– Online maps are crowdsourced and made readily available through online Apps.
– Maybe partner either a map my india or google to update their maps?

MUSEUMS

The historical and the science museum is an integral part of the city and a learning hub for the city of Delhi.

It can be a wonderful opportunity to engage the next generation via learning modules and installations on natural history, water, science and tech heritage, biology, fun science, emerging tech. I love my city platform can help make the museums come to life. Other cities can participate in similar ventures leading to the next generation being curious and innovative.

Action
– Help sustain museums by supporting upgrade work
– Support new technology that makes arts and sciences more interesting.

So, what does this take? Not much, really. First, corporates need to be sensitized towards their cities. Second, citizens need to be enthused about making a change. A strong vision and good implementation can help in the transformation.

The new regime of mandatory CSR can aid the process. Several things can be covered under spending of 2% profit on CSR. ‘I love my city’ concept covers, as per the new law, the following areas.

1. Making available safe drinking water;
2. Promoting education
3. Empowering women,
4. Ensuring environmental sustainability,
5. Protection of national heritage,
6. Setting up public libraries;

Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.

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