A highly networked global economic corridor is a must towards realising this ambition
As a trade post and city, Chennai was established well before the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai and Sydney, if you take the modern European trade posts as a yardstick. Chennai was founded in 1639 after East India Company’s Francis Day secured a three-mile strip of land, then called Madraspatnam, from Damarla Venkatadri Nayakadu, Nayaka of Wandiwash.
The legendary, kaleidoscopic and enterprising Chennai preceded many that are recognised as global cities now, and its position is as strategic. With the required endeavour, it has vast potential and ample credentials to become one.
So what are global cities? They are the principal nodes in the global economic network which have a direct and palpable influence on global socio-economic affairs, including trade, finance and information.
Global cities are identified by certain criteria and qualities such as diverse language, religion, culture and ideologies of the primary kind. The cities have functional infrastructure, including best, legal, medical and entertainment facilities, high-quality educational institutions, famous universities and abundant research facilities, international student attendance, international importance, global media and communications networks, and centres for creativity in business, economics, culture and politics. They also are endowed with major manufacturing centres and the presence of multinational companies and corporations with seaport and airport that are elaborately connected internationally.
Lastly, they have the existence of a financial headquarters, including a stock exchange and financial institutions offering services such as banking, insurance, finance, marketing and real estate. All of them have a sound systemic network spanning the five continents and established global economic corridors.
But for the absence of a few of these criteria, Chennai is a thriving centre of all that makes a city a global one. To fill the dearth is not easy, but no means unachievable. A highly networked global economic corridor is a must towards realising this ambition.
What is a global economic corridor and how do you establish it? It is an integrated infrastructure network, having global air and sea connectivity, purposefully built to stimulate economic growth, attract big-ticket investments and generate economic activities with a sound modern transportation system that connects within and by air and sea.
Chennai has a state-of-the-art metro system, bustling airport and seaport, long and well-established economic processing zones, presence of multinational manufacturing bases, and national and multinational financial institutions offering a range of services such as banking, finance, insurance and marketing that are competitive and to global standards.
In addition, the largest commercial and manufacturing centre in the south has a Gross Regional Product of $86 billion ($200 billion on power purchasing parity), excepting Siruseri and Sriperumbudur. If these regions were to be included, the GRP would top $200 billion.
So what is lacking? The proposed financial hub at Nandambakkam, which should come with the announcement of the revival of the Madras Stock Exchange, the economic processing zones, the manufacturing centres in Siruseri, Sriperumpudur and Chennai, all should be connected with all modes of transport for humans and goods. The much-touted elevated corridor for goods transportation to the port should come into being to eliminate any loss of time due to city congestion. So are the cultural and entertainment centres to allow the city to breathe and be lively.
Our universities here should shed their traditional robes and must offer courses that are truly global to attract both investment and students with research-oriented modules rather than be exam- and textbook-specific. Ours is a talented pool of institutions crying for a change for a long time and can change with this revolution.
City planning also have to toe the line of development. Most of the planning theorists in the West, especially Europe, have progressively advocated for “relational” strategic plans, while laying stress on nodes and flows, which are more conceptual than deterministic. Even the contemporary theorists argue for this type of development plans.
But more celeritous and modern strategies can be found in metropolitan Australia, most of which remained meticulously detailed and very deterministic. This type of development strategy thoroughly puts forward historical, institutional and other development circumstances.
That is why Sydney, with its rhythmically cultural and vibrantly economic elements, posts more than $391 billion dollars as its GRP, slightly sharing it with its state, New South Wales ($558 billion), which is almost one-third of the national GDP of Australia. Both the state’s Metro2036 strategy and Sydney City Council’s Sustainable City 2030 strategy for growth put regional planning features as primary and the global economic corridor at the centre of their planning.
Sydney, not Singapore, offers more to Chennai to be vibrantly active in all spheres as Chennai, like Sydney, has more regions developing organically around it. This sort of planning will studiously see Chennai soon as one among the second tier, if not the first global cities such as Sydney, Zurich, Vienna, Abu Dhabi, Dublin and so on. This while systematically managing fundamentals such as demographic change, housing, urban mobility and energy transition.
The strategies should be polycentric and cohesive for territorial development, which are tailor-made, place-based policy development, taking into account Chennai’s national and regional context, its strategic location on the Subcontinent, accessibility, availability of well-educated human capital and structured governance.
More than our Chief Minister’s dream of making the city “Singara Chennai”, the prospective outlook that the city can be branded a Global City would catapult that dream altogether to a new pedestal and transform it completely, without losing its traditional flavour. This can well and truly happen preceding the dreams of other cities in the country as Chennai is socially peaceful, economically energetic, geographically strategic, numero uno in human wealth, culturally exciting, industrially enterprising and forefront in education, and Tamil as a classical language to boast.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in the U.K.)