India is currently going through a process of massive urbanization as large numbers of migrants from rural areas across the country move to urban settlements in search of jobs. In order to structure the change the government has proposed developing 100 new smart cities of a million plus population, for which a process of preliminary planning has already begun. Smart city locations have been identified in different states, and some are to be developed at major industrial nodes on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), currently under implementation. Along with this two new capital cities on virgin sites are being planned for the newly created states of
Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. Help in terms of setting up smart systems for these new cities, has been sought from several developed countries in Europe, and also from Canada, Singapore and the United States. In all cases, the preparation of Master Plans for these new urban concentrations has been entrusted to foreign town planners, or joint ventures between Indian and foreign firms. While it is true that planning expertise is more sophisticated in the developed world, it would be worth while to consider the experience of such exercises in other parts of the world where town plans developed by sophisticated foreign experts have failed to understand and effectively respond to prevailing local conditions, and where the resulting development has been ultimately subjected to considerable change in the process of actual use.
Examples of new towns designed by foreigners in several countries in Africa and South America, which like India have a sizeable majority of low income population, clearly show the problems resulting from the implementation of sophisticated plan structures which failed to meet the real needs and life style of the native population. This is particularly prominent in the failure to meet the requirements of rural migrants, who on one hand, cannot afford the housing in high rise structures offered to them, and who also find the absence of open space and basic communal facilities, completely alien to their life style.
In the Indian context in cases of slum redevelopment in several cities, it has been found that residents prefer basic minimal self built shelters to the monotonous residential blocks built for them by the local authorities on the outskirts of the city. The changes in the slum settlement of Dharavi in Mumbai are an excellent example of how on the basis of self help, such developments have steadily improved the area over time, to generate considerable revenue, with minimal resources. This is an area, which despite its congested slum conditions, is preferred by occupants to the alternative of better developed areas, far from centers of employment on the outskirts of the city. People prefer the informal settlement with its strong community bonds, to the formal development planned by professionals. A careful evaluation of such issues calls for a basic rethink on the way Master Plans are structured for proposed new cities, smart or otherwise. To begin with, it is important to recognize the fact that Indian town planners and urban designers are in a better position to respond with some degree of sensitivity to local ethnic lifestyles, and working conditions of the lower income group population.
The preparation of Master Plans for urban concentrations in India began after Independence in the mid-fifties. These were based on the changes taking place, and the anticipated pattern of growth. At that time less than 25% of the urban population consisted of the economically weaker section and low income groups, and the Master Plans prepared did not make adequate provision for the needs of this section of society. The demographic situation is much changed today, and plans need to be conceived to respond to a completely different set of demands.
New Master Plans for most cities start with the identification of the regional context, the major sources of employment, and transportation linkages to the surrounding areas. The plans are then structured to define the traffic and services networks and the layout of individual sectors. Within this overall framework the major work centers are defined which include, the location of industry, the major commercial and business centers, and the local municipal offices and government services. Around this basic concentration the different housing sectors are laid out, which include residential areas for the middle and higher income groups, and the areas for the EWS and lower income group. While these two basic groups could be planned for and integrated to some extent in the same area, because of their different life styles there is a tendency to put them into separate sectors.
In all new cities today over 70% of the population will consist of rural migrants from the lower income group. This segment will be in a state of flux as their economic conditions improve over time, and the city itself develops into a complete urban entity, with all sophisticated civic services in place. This is a process that takes anything from 30 to 40 years, as cities of a million plus population need time to mature and develop to their full planned potential.
After an initial period of 15 to 20 years settlements will begin to stabilize, and along with stability will come the growing need for support facilities. These would include local shopping, schools, colleges, universities, health centers, hospitals, municipal services covering general maintenance, garbage collection, the services network including electrical systems, water supply, drainage and sewage systems, IT support systems, and parks, open spaces and sports centers. The basic development plan will need to layout these facilities in a framework that allows for gradual growth. For a framework of planning subject to continuous change, it is important that detailed three dimensional urban design studies be prepared for each sector plugged, into an overall GPS survey of the area, recording actual development, both above and below ground, in order to regulate and ensure correct implementation. The present static system of land use planning with a two dimensional layout of roads, and the subdivision of sectors into plots, with prescribed setback and covered area regulations, is inadequate to cope with the fast changing scenario on the ground, and needs to be updated.
With the intention of maximizing the use of high value land, more intensive use and higher densities may be prescribed in central areas and along major transportation corridors, with the intensity of use tapering down towards the outer edges of the city. The system of controls for development, however need to be flexible to accommodate varying demands in different locations. Mixed use is common in the Indian context, and it is feasible to have residential development mixed with commercial development like shops, professional offices, etc. in some areas, with the nature and extent of mixture clearly defined.
In all residential areas the layout of a safe network of unobstructed pedestrian paths connecting across the entire urban area effectively integrated with the city transportation infrastructure is essential. Pedestrian networks along with defined bicycle tracks may also be used as framework to connect residential areas to parks, open spaces, schools and educational institutions. The network should connect across the entire city, providing a safe system of movement independent of the vehicular road system.
The detailed plan of residential sectors for the EWS and lower income groups will call for a different planning approach as compared to the areas for the middle and upper income groups. For the EWS and LIG sectors, development of lowrise walkup apartments is preferable. These could either be in the form of site and services development, where plots of minimal size are provided with basic services connections, on which residents may build their dwellings on a self help basis. Alternatively basic 450 sq ft to 600 sq ft dwelling units, each having an adjoining open space for future addition could be designed in a stepped formation as four storey walkups. grouped around a system of common open spaces. There are many different alternative concepts that may be explored, but it is important to recognize that these housing areas, will need to be flexibly conceived allowing for adaptation to user needs. This would have to be within a strictly enforced framework of control, necessary to prevent haphazard overbuilding resulting in slum conditions.
The penetration of cars into residential sectors needs to be carefully planned for, and controlled. In the middle and upper income group sectors proper parking arrangements will be necessary, as the number of cars in these areas tend to steadily increase. In the LIG and EWS sectors car penetration may be limited, and confined to the outer areas, providing essential service access, and fire fighting facilities.
In the case of the city center where major commercial development along with municipal and government services are concentrated access by public transportation and cars require careful detailed planning. As part of the urban design of such areas, it is be advisable to consider complete separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, by putting them on different levels. If all pedestrian movement were transferred to an upper level, it would be possible to plan for free unobstructed passage across the entire sector linked to shops and eating spaces completely undisturbed by cars and traffic. All vehicular movement including access to individual buildings would then be restricted to ground level, along with a continuous network of services that would be easily accessible for purposes of maintenance.
Most Indian cities have evolved over a period of time, and each has a distinctive urban character. An understanding of the process of evolution of these traditional settlements would help to develop planning concepts better related to our context.