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!
Snapshots from visiting ‘affordable’ housing projects in Bangalore- May 31, 2012
Affordability is relative, for sure. But when those who profess to be socially inclined build ‘affordable’ projects that are clearly catering to techies and professionals, I wonder who they think they are fooling. It is far easier to accept and understand mistakes in judgement made by a social developer when you clearly see their affordable projects are designed for low-income people. Yes, it is a hard market, but no, playing with nomenclature isn’t really fair. Yet, they say all is fair in low, war and business. And when profits get hit, strategies are known to go haywire and even the vision statement changes.
We saw two projects in Bangalore. The first, by Janaagraha, is an impressive project. One that appeals and invites even as you approach it, one that has tried its best to play fair, but also one with many loose ends (no electricity supply, stilted parking that cannot be accessed really because of crazy slope designs). The quality of construction is commendable and families we interviewed were thrilled to live here.
The second, by VBHC, was swank, used an efficient aluminum formwork technology to achieve efficiency, speed and quality. Safety, excellent finishes and the planning of the site smacked of middle class customers and sure enough, the prices range between 7 and 20 lakhs, with few units at the lower end and many more at the higher end of the price spectrum. Young IT professionals seems to be the target customer here; no auto drivers or factory workers would live here I think.
It was very interesting to see both these projects. The baby steps to what is hopefully set to grow into a more robust, well developed market in the future, to which the ratings we are working on will contribute. Here are a few snapshots from the site visits. Keep in mind- What I click is what I feel, not what I want to show you, the reader!