Why our urban spaces need to be reimagined

Source: The post is based on an article Feroze Varun Gandhi writes: Why our urban spaces need to be reimagined” published in The Indian Express on 24th September 2022.

Syllabus: GS 1 – Urbanization and associated issues

News:  A day’s heavy rainfall in Delhi has led to water-logged streets, crawling traffic, broken-down vehicles among others. There was also a similar situation in Bengaluru.

This shows that there a lack of urban planning in India and this need to be corrected.

What are the reasons for lack of urban planning?

Lack of civic infrastructure: Cities in India have come up with economic areas and planning but they lack in civic infrastructure. The important elements of urban planning such as storm water drains, etc. are ignored.

Flexibility: There is also very little urban planning flexibility in the master plans on which cities are developed.

Further, cities have also performed poorly in the Ease of Living Index 2020. For example, Bengaluru scored 55.67 out of 100 and Delhi scored 57.56.

Master plans are not developed with much thought. They have limited urban planning flexibility, which didn’t take into account, how market forces and migration will impact the plans.

What steps have been taken by other countries in urban planning?

The Garden City movement evolved in UK to provide healthier living spaces for workers, a bit away from city centers of work. These areas were planned with open spaces, public parks and boulevards. Once a garden city reached its maximum capacity, another city would be developed nearby.

In the US, the garden city movement evolved into the neighborhood concept. It planned residential houses and streets around community centers and schools.

London has a metropolitan green belt around the city to balance pollution and congestion and maintain biodiversity.

The concept of 15 minute city has been developed in the Paris. The idea is that every Parisian should be able to do their shopping, work, and fulfil their cultural needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

What can be the course of action for the city developments in India?

Master plan: Every Indian city should have a Master Plan which would be updated every decade or two. Those plans should consider the development of cities along with poverty mitigation and affordable housing and livability for urban migrants.

Land Use pattern: Urban land use pattern needs to get better. Currently India’s urban growth is informal and unplanned. This lead to weak enforcement of building codes and insufficient urban services and infrastructure required for the growth.

Outdated planning practices: The outdated planning services have made the land utilization poor in the recognized towns and urban neighbourhoods.

For example, one-fourth land of Mumbai is open public spaces while half of it is underutilized spaces around buildings.

If these public spaces are utilized properly then it will lead to achieve similar ratios as globally benchmarked cities in public land availability.

Urban density: There is need also a need to think about the urban density.

A higher urban density will lead to overutilization of public spaces and increase in the emission. High emission will make our cities prone to extreme heat and flooding.

Climate change: According to the World Bank, climate change may reduce India’s GDP by 3 per cent and it may also reduce the living standards of its citizen by 2050.

Therefore, a proper structural engineering along with conservation should be made priority. For example, lakes in Bangalore can be converted into Bangkok-style ferries.

Insufficient Institutional capacity: India lacks town planning education in the country. There are only 26 institutes that provide this course and produce only 700 town planners each year.

It is expected that India would ideally require 3,00,000 town and country planners by 2031. Therefore, more institutes are need along with NITs and IITs to have standalone planning department.

Hence, renewing our cities will require us to rethink various urban topics, including urban design, urban healthcare, affordable housing, sustainability and inclusion among others.

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