India’s Urban Planning-There are no shortcuts

Better urban planning always plays a key role in improving design and development of a city. Enhancing planning requires advanced technological and political decisions. Therefore, to level-up the game of our city planning, we not only require better equipment but skilled and well-educated architects, engineers and city administration. Only then can we optimistically expect things to change

Urban Planning is a process. It involves the design and development of land used constructively to the built environment. This involves technical and political decisions pertaining to air, water and infrastructure. It requires detailed planning of architecture, structural designing, and civil engineering to create solutions for the communities. We need to reflect upon it.
Points that we must talk about

  • Exploration: This includes considering and exploring several aspects of the environment to build communities that have access to the communication network, transportation in a methodical way that social environment remains protected.
  • Solving Problems: Organized, practical, balanced, modern, and stylish approach in solving town planning related problems are possible through innovative ideas and their implementation at the design level.
  • Expansion: This domain of urban planning includes economic development based on the infrastructure and other natural resources planning for support of the community. It is a tie-up of social and environmental planning.
  • Human Experience: The interaction of people has an interlocking effect on the availability of resources and easy connectivity. It enhances the experience of people and intensifies community connection.
  • Vitalizing the Town: Passage of time is a factor for change in the requirement of land, water, energy, transportation and this leads to redesigning the town to match the standard of living the citizens expect, repairing, and renovating the urban areas to adapt to the modern technology.

1990’s was the decade when economic liberalisation began and India charted a new course of development economics. It also witnessed the emergence of two major trends – information technology that started connecting cultures and people and improved mobility of capital across geographic boundaries. Indian cities started driving socio-economic change and put themselves firmly on the global map. Today, our cities are the focus of global commercial activity and interest. They not only contribute substantially to the Indian economy but also attract investments. They have become hubs for education, job creation, innovation, arts and culture.

It is important that we view our cities as ‘urban platforms’. An integrated ecosystem that involves the stakeholders and drives their engagement. The policymakers need to factor in while formulating policies, issues like inclusiveness, governance, ecology and at the same time maintaining the unique identity of respective cities. Urban invention is a new norm that brings different communities in a city together.

So the question is are integrated cities the answer to the woes of urban India? There is a view that yes it is. Urbanisation in India is continually reinventing itself. An Integrated city provides a mixed ecosystem that includes nurturing of industry, throws up employment opportunities and enhances the quality of life of its citizens. Emphasis must be laid on creating ‘self-sustaining and resource-efficient ecosystems’. And it must be supported by a strong infrastructure of power, roads, water, drainage, sewage, etc. We must have a long term vision to modernise our cities. The ever-changing demographics, new technologies and global and local socio-political shifts demand urban planning must have flexibility to ensure future-readiness. And the usage of natural resources is of utmost importance in urban planning. If we look around, our ecosystem is based on the consumption of natural resources. We need to find a solution with the right mixture of farsightedness, agility, resilience and innovation. This can be done at the master planning stage as it will offer an opportunity to create sustainable cities.

An integrated city development requires movement on multiple fronts. On the one hand industrial growth is a must – it will spur economic activities and help create jobs. On the other, it will make available ample recreational facilities and combined with a generous landscaping and walk to work culture will add extra time a person’s daily life. It also demands numerous commercial and retail spaces. Appropriately designed public spaces and open areas will also strengthen community bonding and place for people to interact. Technology will change the health of urban planning. It will change the health of towns. People are yearning for a better health and a lifestyle. That requires a redesigning of urban areas. We now need broader roads and sidewalks where people can walk, some running tracks and exercise areas outside the residential complexes or common plots. Initially, it could be expensive but with the involvement of technology, it will be compensated. There is a greater awareness among the public at large. They are concerned about oil prices, environmental challenges and global warming. In order to support them, urban planning needs to contemplate the required change in the variety of public transport for its availability and comfortable commute. The initiatives like e-bikes and renting of cycles is possible with the support of technology, making the booking and return of bikes easy, cheaper and environment-friendly.

Urbanisation on upswing in India

  • Private cities are now expanding due to the support of private companies. Private developers are building private housing projects that will exponentially grow in the years to come.
  • The Delhi-Mumbai Corridor is an infrastructure program set to develop ‘Smart Cities’ and combine next-generation technology with infrastructural development.
  • The transport and logistics sector of India underlines the importance of interconnecting the different modes of transportation: road, rail, sea and air. An efficient multi-modal system is relevant in the development and successful growth of the infrastructural systems.
  • Special Economic Zones dot the landscape of India. Each of these zones is focused on a particular sector such as IT, apparel and fashion, or petroleum and petrochemical industries.
  • Industrial townships are built to house employees close to the factories and manufacturing plants at which they work. After the success of the pioneering industrial township – Tata’s Steel Town – the government is planning on developing more like it.
  • India’s expected economic growth opens up expansion prospects for Indian airports. Domestic and international passengers are inevitably predicted to double in number in the years to come.

India’s urban infrastructure
We need to make changes as we face urbanisation. The challenges of urbanisation are multifaceted. In order to face the challenges of urbanization, infrastructures need to be improved. But the point is rapid population growth and a lack of adequate investment is making urban infrastructure growth slow. This will require major investments. There are number of issues that we will need to address. To name a few, affordable housing in India, transport and mobility, water and wastewater management, power and infrastructure.

Affordable housing
India is facing a housing shortage in urban areas at the moment and more housing would be required in order to meet future demand. This demand comes from the economically weaker section due to lack of housing policies. Some parts in India have introduced public-private-partnership policies, which have led to the development of housing.

Transport business opportunities
Private mode of transport is dominant in India. There is a heavy reliance on private transport that has led to the congestion of roads and increasing commuting time and pollution. Road networks, therefore, need to increase because of the influx of these vehicles.

On a separate note, public mode of transport is gradually decreasing in terms of popularity.

In an effort to improve the urban transport situation in India, new metro rail networks have been developed.

Water and wastewater management
The water supply in India faces several issues and the water and wastewater management in the country needs to be improved. The government though has taken initiatives to improve water supplies establishing projects for selected areas. Sewage and sanitation is also facing a dilemma in India at the moment. Nevertheless, projects to further improve this is currently a work in progress.

Power and power infrastructure requirements
Increasing urbanization has led to an increasing demand in energy consumption. India greatly needs to increase its power-generating capacity and develop new ways of generating power.

We are at a point where we need to engage in a serious debate on the size of cities and their impact on overall liveability. What we have observed till today is that megacities are exalted by policymakers by virtue of the contribution they make to the national and state economy. However this view is being challenged by many as this often happens at the cost of a sharp deterioration in the environment. Above all, megacities fall sharply on the scale of equity. What is important to note is that the massive rise in land costs puts decent housing and basic services beyond the reach of the poor. Indeed, the larger the city, the more anti-poor it seems to become and this adversely impacts women, children and the elderly. There is, therefore, a strong case to strategise nationally in favour of decentralised urbanisation.

There are numerous planning challenges associated with cities which includes their growth and decline, their role in climate change. In a UN report, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on the Global Report on Human Settlements 2009 said that “evidence from around the world suggests that contemporary urban planning has largely failed to address these challenges”. In the cited background, it is quite clear that a new, innovative strategy ought to be devised. The old formulations, given the context, will not solve the problems of cities.

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