Blog Archives

Autonomous new urban offshoots akin to Electronic City Bangalore are worth a thought- Sep 13, 2012

There has been a face off situation between the Bangalore Municipal Corporation and the Electronic City, which is a collection of largely non manufacturing industrial units carved out of rural villages and consolidated under one administration. As I understand the situation, the municipality intends to bring Electronic City under its jurisdiction with the intent to collect taxes, but the subdivision is happy remaining autonomous and sees no value in being integrated into Bangalore city.
Their main argument has been their success at planning and managing the subdivision, specially in providing basic amenities that they claim the city has not been able to do too well within its current jurisdiction.
As I rode through Electronic City today, a few things struck me. First, despite large tech firms employing hundreds, there were no vehicles spilling onto the streets. Many complexes had built multistory parking lots to accommodate cars. Coming from Gurgaon where every office complex spouts a chaotic stream of cabs , this was a pleasant surprise. The streets were tree lined and had pavements, another plus. The area was safe. I can vouch for that from the experience of walking from the main road to well inside the city at nearly midnight after taking the last public bus here from the city, on a previous trip.
Does this mean decentralisation works? Is it the way forward? Well, with the huge shift from rural to urban, India should be looking to sprout many new urban areas and in that sense some sort of decentralisation is bound to happen. However this would need its own rules to prevent poor practices like redlining (keeping some groups out), unsustainable approaches and many others. Its certainly worth a thought!

Let’s campaign for Indian cities to create long-term spatial plans: It’s a matter of survival- Sep 12, 2012

Despite the numbers being thrown at us everyday, it is hard for many of us to truly grasp the fact that the world is becoming irreversibly urban. Urban in the way we live, think and function. At the same time, even those of us, like me, who thrive on everything urban, long to escape to quieter places from time to time. We enjoy nature, we crave fresh food, we pine for the sight of green.

How are we going to reconcile these two worlds- the urban and the rural? Deliberations at the World Urban Forum, held recently in Naples, suggest that cities across the world need to wake up to the fact that endless sprawl is counter-productive, resource-wasting and a terrible way to deal with urban expansion.

Urban areas need to be dense to be efficient. In being dense, they demand intelligent planning of resources, but offer opportunities to optimize investments, for instance, in services like public transport. In being dense, they also accommodate more people on less land, leaving land that can be used for other purposes. Urban farming is one such opportunity that cities in India must think about actively. Parks and urban forests are also critical groundwater recharge zones, also recreation and breathing spaces for human inhabitants.

All this can only be achieved by stringent spatial planning, as experts in the WUF concluded. I read about this in an article published by the Global Urbanist, with much satisfaction, but warning bells went off in my head as well! Hold on, hold on! There is a problem here!

Founder member of mHS (where I work) Marco Ferrario was also at the World Urban Forum. He reports that there was a scarce representation of both India and China, the two most populous nations in the world and among the fastest growing economies (there was more representation from Africa though). Also, these are nations that are really struggling with the problems of urbanization. Local governments in India are struggling to keep their heads above water and long-term planning and vision is not something they have the capability to do at this time. There are many minor success stories, but largely, the landscape is bleak and urbanization is haphazard, gobbling up vast amounts of land with no thought for balance and sustainability, food shortages and long-term survival.

This is a strong case for the involvement of urban professionals, ecologists and environmentalists in developing long-term area plans for Indian cities. If we do not heed this advice, we will disintegrate at a speed faster than we can imagine and we leave a world devoid of hope for our future generations. If we do take heed, we might have the rare chance to steer our civilization away from disaster to an existence that is as vibrant and efficient in its urbanized networks as it is sensitive and joyous in its conservation of nature.

I am tempted to start a campaign across India to impress the urgency of spatial planning upon state and local governments. If institutions and professionals join hands, perhaps we could wake up politicians and bureaucracy from their slumber! On that note, my FB page is resounding with the success of a citizen’s effort to clean up a certain area in the city and Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon’s laudable response. Efficiency in rendering municipal services is essential, but so is the creation of a sustainable future through long-term spatial planning that has essential not-for-sale (how naive, what is not for sale? I hear the sniggers people!) components like green areas, urban farms, parks, public spaces, revitalized natural water bodies and forest zones, etc. The right densities, people-centric development, walkability, all that good stuff- it’s high time we demanded it for our cities instead of being happy to read about interventions in nations far away!

%d bloggers like this: