It is an almost impossible task to decipher the limits of any major city in India as one is never sure where the city limits have actually ended. The city boundaries seem endless. Rapid expansion of city limits often described as the urban sprawl or peri urbanization can be accounted for as the new urban reality of India- a quintessential feature of contemporary urbanization. Peri urban reality is depicted in upcoming commercial and residential townships, smart cities, new towns, city extensions, infrastructure projects, transportation corridors and special economic zones-all of which open up new challenges to the questions of urban governance and environmental sustainability.
The visible spatial transformations are particularly witnessed in the form of high rise buildings and gated communities mushrooming in the peripheries of gradually expanding city limits. Socio-economic forces are creating new demands for real estate, commercial, residential and leisure spaces which in turn call for densification and horizontal expansion of the city. One cannot miss the rampant usage of international names and imagery of the newly emerging high-end apartments dotting the peripheral expansion of cities like Kolkata, Surat, and Lucknow confirming their global aspirations. These new imageries and structures often seem as sudden jerks to the people driving through, creating sharp visual divisions with the surrounding rural landscape.
The current peri
Urbanization pattern in contemporary India represents the urban sprawl following the American model of creating suburbia, downtowns and automobiles to connect them. Periurbanization is now the norm in India’s urbanization story further bolstered by private investments, capital and attendant modes of urban governance that allow such urbanization at a faster pace. It is perhaps easier to identify peri urban areas by features and processes than to look at fixed geographical distances or boundaries. These areas are transitional in character with intense land use change, contested natural resource use, rapid migration, and emerging lifestyles that often replace pre-existing modes of urbanism. Some of the essential features of peri urbanization that raise fundamental questions on urban governance and environmental sustainability are discussed in the rest of the article.
Ambiguous Civic Status
Cities across India are increasingly experiencing peri- urban growth where rural and urban features tend to coexist on the periphery and beyond their limits. This often creates confusion on demarcating a territory as panchayat, nagar panchayat, municipal council or municipal corporation. Despite available definitions and set criteria, the existing features of these areas often pose major challenges to acquiring the appropriate civic status. It has been observed that many of these peri urban areas that have recently sprung up near big cities suffer from official apathy with no attendant services like water supply, sanitation, garbage collection and disposal, street cleaning and lighting as they have not been given urban civic status. Often these services are privately provided thereby hiking the living expenses in these areas. Without any governance mechanism, these areas are also subject to environmental vulnerabilities.
Lack of physical and social infrastructure
The lack of supporting physical infrastructure like roads, modes of public transport, and social infrastructure like schools, colleges, hospitals and cultural and recreational centers are major concerns for people living and migrating to peri urban areas. Often, life remains confined within the self -sustaining gated community. Outside the gates, sparse interactions of people, communities, and mobilities fail to create the much-needed social interconnections that constitute urban life.
Issues of Safety
It is not surprising that with such huge tracts of land, under-construction sites, unoccupied buildings, fast moving vehicles in adjoining highways and lack of “dense social life”, peri urban areas become havens for crimes especially against women and children.
Delinked with larger region
The processes of periurbanization compel newly formed, often unequal and stark connections with adjoining rural belts. It’s not unusual to stumble upon huge swathes of open fields, unoccupied or under- construction sites adjacent to swanky residential and commercial enclaves.
The forced and often unequal and stark connections with adjoining rural belts create environmental imbalances. The emerging new towns, smart cities and city extensions represent what is often termed as bypass urbanization that eat away on ecological commons like wetlands, mangroves, saltpans, forests and water reserves that are crucial for economic production, for providing livelihoods to varied communities and also for the ecological sustainability of the larger adjoining region. Growing demands and economic pressures in turn create environmental imbalance with the larger regions of the emergent new towns and cities resulting in increased environmental vulnerabilities and climate change risks particularly for the vulnerable sections.
To conclude, the rural and urban are not divides anymore. Rather they represent a continuum as witnessed in the peri urban reality of India today. All nation states, including India are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that calls for the building resilient, safe, sustainable and inclusive cities. These goals mandate that we rethink and reflect on our current urbanization processes. Cities can’t continue to grow rich at the expense of their rural hinterlands. The peri urban reality in India compels policy makers, planners and urban practitioners to step back from treating the city as a standalone entity and take a look at the region as a whole. The vital ecological and economic linkages between the urban and the larger region, the upcoming transitional areas awaiting civic status, and the surrounding rural areas have to be seen as a system from a sustainable environmental and equitable perspective. This includes addressing current consumption patterns, cut short supply chains, grow locally, bridge the resource gap in order to make the peri urban reality more inclusive and sustainable.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
The author is an Urban Sociologist, researches and writes on Cities.
She is an author & academic (PhD, IIT Bombay). Guest Faculty Lucknow University & APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University, Lucknow. To read more about her work visit: www.drbintisingh.com