Needed: A New Approach to City Planning In India

The human dimension, linked with culture and heritage is more important than built environment, as is giving an identity to the city under the Smart Cities Mission

Chetan Vaidya-Director School of Planning and Architecture

The overall goal for urban develop­ment in India is the creation of sustainable, inclusive and smart urban centres. India has to improve urban infrastructure and governance to achieve its economic development goals. The government has launched four urban mis­sions: the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Smart Cities, Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRI­DAY) and Housing for All by 2020 (Urban). An ap­propriate urban planning approach should be an in­tegral part of India’s urban strategy. As part of the AMRUT mission, urban planning re­forms will include the preparation of a city develop­ment plan using GIS, simplification of building bye laws, establishment of urban development authori­ties, increase in green spaces, design of public trans­port and non-motorised transport (walking and cy­cling) and developing at least one children’s park every year in AMRUT cities. Typical features of urban planning will include promoting mixed land use via an area-based approach, inclusive housing and walk­able localities, developing open spaces, promoting transit-oriented development, providing citizen-friendly governance and giving an identity to the city. All HRIDAY mission cities will be required to prepare a Heritage Management Plan. The states/cities under the Housing for All Mission have to agree to implement the following reforms: simplify procedures and obviate the need for separate non-agriculture permission in areas earmarked for residential purposes in Master Plans; earmark areas for affordable housing in Master Plans; ensure singlewindow and time-bound layout building permissions, introduce a system of deemed building and layout permissions for pre-approved layouts and building plans for low income housing; amend rental laws and provide additional Floor Space Index (FSI), transferable development rights and relaxed density norms for slum redevelopment schemes The principal flaw of the master planning approach in India is that it has not allowed for the play of market forces in determining the scale and location of economic activity to build these elements through flexibility in approach. In the recent past, a few cities have attempted market-oriented innovations in their urban planning approach. Similar attempts have been made in Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. The Smart Cities Mission will be implemented through an ‘area-based’ approach. Under retrofitting, deficiencies in an identified area will be addressed through necessary interventions as in the case of the Local Area Plan for Ahmedabad’s city center. Redevelopment enables reconstruction of already built-up area that is not amenable for any interventions, to make it smart, as in the case of Bhendi Bazar of Mumbai and West Kidwai Nagar in New Delhi. Area-based projects should be part of an overall city plan that has land use linked to public transport, higher and variable, marketable FSI, reserved land for affordable housing and mixed land use. Information and communications technology (ICT) is changing urban business, work, leisure and other activities. With widespread usage of mobile technology and easy-to-understand text messages, some urban local bodies such as the Rajkot Municipal Corporation are successfully using mobile phone technology to improve service delivery. Urban life is witnessing the use of data in personal identification, pollution monitoring and control, maps and transportation. Traditional urban planning is being replaced by new media and communication. All these diverse developments in ICT will have an impact on urban planning. Many Indian cities have some of the world’s worst air pollution readings, causing many health hazards to the urban population. Public health should be an important criterion for urban planning in India and health must become an important criterion in land use planning decisions. Giving an identity to the city is an important feature of the Smart Cities Mission. It should be based on the primary economic activity, such as local cuisine, health, education, arts and crafts, culture, sports goods, hosiery, dairy, to name a few. Planning in Cyberabad (near Hyderabad) or Gurgaon or Noida that house IT-based firms, generally, ignore the social and cultural structure of the population. The human dimension of cities in terms of culture and heritage is important. In the proposed approach, land use should be integrated with public transport. There should be higher, variable and marketable FSI. Moreover, land should be reserved for affordable housing and provide for mixed land use. Area based re-densification, re-development and green projects should not constitute an isolated projects-based approach but be part of city-level plans. Public health should be an important consideration of the urban planning approach. Impact of ICT on urban development also needs to be extensively researched. The human dimension, linked with culture and heritage is more important than built environment. As a follow up, there should be an operational manual that acts as a useful document for implementing urban planning in India.