A tale of two cities: Seattle and Bengaluru

Here's a comparison between two city administrations lying on two sides of the globe - Bangalore and Seattle. While one has more autonomous structure, other is controlled by the state.

Bangalore and Seattle. Two cities more than 8,000 miles apart separated by the vast Atlantic Ocean and opposing viewpoints, even farther apart, on how different levels of government should interact. One favours a stronger control of city governance through the central and state government, while another favours a more self-supporting city government.

Both are large metropolitan areas, at least relative to their respective countries, but the population density of Seattle pales in comparison to Bangalore’s population density. Seattle’s metropolitan area has an average population density of 230 people per square kilometers, while Bangalore has a staggering 13,495 people per square kilometer on an average, while in fact it is much more in many areas.

On the other side of the globe

In America, there is a clear hierarchy between federal, state, and city government, with little interference from the federal (the equivalent of the central government here) government or the state government on decisions only affecting cities. BBMP, the city government in Bangalore, has to interact more with the state government during decision-making processes, with every decision taken in the council meetings having to be approved by the state government.

American cities are granted more autonomy, to make city-level decisions easier than cities in India. City governments have the freedom to expand existing laws as long as they don’t interfere with federal and state laws, with some special exceptions. American mayors, particularly in large cities like Seattle, have significantly more administrative power to handle affairs in their cities. They also have a longer tenure of four years. The Bangalore mayor and deputy mayor are elected for one-year term.

The Seattle City Council has nine members; seven members elected by district, and two at-large members. The Bangalore City Council has 198 corporators representing each of the 198 wards. There are more representatives per person on the Bangalore City Council than the Seattle City Council. Each ward corporator represents about 50,000 constituents, while Seattle City Council members represent about 70,000 constituents.

For comparison’s sake, here is a list of who is in charge of several category of utilities and city management. There are some similarities between who holds authority for garbage, and public health, but some key differences between the other categories.

Garbage, water, sanitation

City of Seattle has Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which provides the services of water, sewer, drainage and garbage services.This is in charge of negotiating contracts with garbage collection, disposal, and long haul services. Homeowners, businesses, and apartments pay a monthly charge for garbage transport, water and sewer.

In Bangalore, the city government, BBMP, is in charge of garbage collection from individual houses, while apartments would have to go for private service providers. The fee structure is different for apartments and individual houses. Water supply and sewerage is handled by the state-controlled body, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB).

Power

Seattle City Light, is a publicly owned utility by the City of Seattle, and is in charge of meeting the power demands of the city. Bangalore Electric Supply Company Limited (BESCOM) supplies the power to Bangalore, and is contracted by the state. But the city administration does not have any control over power supply.

City Planning and Zoning

Seattle has its own Department of Planning and Development to plan city-level projects. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) was created by the State Legislature in 1976, and took the place of the City Planning Authority. Now there are talks of creating a Metropolitan Planning Committee for planning, however there are speculations that the BDA will function as the executive authority for this body.



While some services like BMTC are indpendent bodies functioning under the state, some public utilities are the responsibility of BBMP in Bengaluru.

Transport

Seattle is within King County, and the county is responsible for transportation, including buses, the light rail, the monorail, and other transport services. The Bangalore bus system, BMTC, is a part of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, and unrelated to Bangalore’s city council.

Roads and footpaths

The Seattle Department of Transportation is responsible for city construction projects and fixing any road problems within the city. In Bangalore, the city administration takes care of footpath and roads.

Public health

There is a Washington State Department of Public Health, as well as King County and Seattle public health departments that deal more with local issues affecting the county or the city. In Bangalore, public health is managed by both state and city institutions. The Department of Health and Family Welfare is the statewide organization, while there are state-run hospitals in the city catering to the poor. Healthcare is more or less privatised in the city of Bangalore, with private hospitals flourishing all over the city. There are health schemes by the city administration and the state which are availed by people who are below the poverty line, or economically backward.

In any city, Citizens Matter!

No government structure, whether it emphasizes reliance on a federal or state government or gives more leeway for cities to handle their own affairs, can solve every problem that arises. Officials are not infallible, and bureaucracy can interfere in accomplishing things in a timely manner. That is where citizen activism plays a role. Whether it is saving Kaikondrahalli Lake in Bangalore, or successfully campaigning for an eventual phase-in of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, people in both cities have showed the power to make a positive change, regardless of bureaucratic hindrances. After all, as readers on this site know well, citizens matter.

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