In just eight years, 2020 will be upon us. By then, our cities will be
either areas of more chaos or meaningfully planned. The choice is ours. We
are at a crucial junction as far as urbanism goes. The need to work
vigorously on our cities and improve them is urgent and critical. Their
populations have surged tremendously in the last few decades . Delhi's
population increased from12.8m in 2001 to 16.3m in 2011. Bangalore grew
from 5.7m to 8.5m during the same period.
Our urban planners have perhaps not understood the nature of the modern
city, what it takes not just to run them but to make them livable. The two
key requirements of a city are: provision of basic services and social
infrastructure. These need to be developed together.
So what is a city? It's a dense amalgamation of buildings and people. A
city must provide equity and also be sustainable. As an architect who has
been closely connected with Delhi and its planning, my wish list is more
about the direction we need to take so that future generations don't end up
living in chaotic dysfunctional cities.
The first requirement for a city is a pragmatic plan. Many of our cities
such as Delhi and Bhubaneswar and even Port Blair in the Andamans have
reasonably good master plans. Many also have City Development Plans which
have been made an essential requirement to draw funds from the government's
Urban Renewal Programme (JNNURM). But they should be updated frequently
based on the changing needs of its people.
And let's not forget its citizens - they need to be more pro-actively
involved when evolving master plans. But often, there's lack of planning
and inadequate implementation systems. This applies to all essential
components of a city - streets, public transport system, traffic management
, affordable housing, cars and parking , drainage, water supply, sewerage
and garbage. Any deficiency in these will lead to poor quality cities which
won't be able to handle the pressures of increased population and changing
The second requirement of a good city is good social infrastructure such as
parks and places for leisure such as river and sea fronts. It needs to
preserve and protect its heritage. We are a nation with a rich diversity in
culture, arts and crafts and cities are great platforms for that, given the
right facilities. And let's not forget good and affordable educational and
healthcare facilities too.
We don't have to look far. There are enough cities worldwide which have
managed to radically improve the quality of life of its citizens.
Take Singapore. It has managed to limit cars and has a very efficient
transport system. Shanghai has wonderful footpaths everywhere. New York is
actively developing cycling facilities in large parts while Holland,
Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have developed cities around a
bicycling infrastructure , creating a complete culture around them which is
humane and ecological. There's Tokyo , the world's most populous city,
which has a metro system used by 80% of the population.
But a great sustainable and livable city doesn't emerge by accident and its
development cannot be taken for granted. It requires hard work, cohesive
planning and meticulous implementation. And high management skills.
Perhaps the time has come to have an Indian Urban Service, a body of highly
trained professionals who will manage the city. This could be akin to the
IAS, IFS, Revenue and Forest services. There's also a need for a top-notch
thinktank which develops policy and goals for urbanism. These should
include the best people from various areas - town planning, urban
designing, transport, energy, environment , public utilities, landscape ,
But a start has been made. JNNURM , which is some six years old, has
started an ambitious development plan in many cities. The results have been
encouraging. But to bring our cities to any basic level of development,
many more need to be brought into its fold. More areas need to be
addressed. We also need to reinvent and restructure the institutions that
served us well in the past such as Town and Country Planning Organization,
the DDA in Delhi and the MMRDA in Mumbai. Then, there are also research
organizations such as CRRI for roads and transportation and CBRI for
buildings. Reinventing them will need political will and administrative
*There are some glimmers of hope. I met up young Navdeep Asija who along
with another colleague , began the innocuously named Graduates Welfare
Association Fazilka. They are bringing about change with the mandate of
citizens participation in governance and are facilitating the creation of
physical and social infrastructure across 22 cities in Punjab. The have put
in place a network of cycle rickshaws called Ecocabs which can be booked
through a mobile phone. They are also developing car free zones, food and
culture streets in these cities. All this is being done very efficiently
and at a low cost. We need many such organizations.
However, my ideal of a city in 2020 is not a utopian dream. It is
achievable. It has streets where people walk on wide footpaths shaded by
leafy trees. Streets are usually one-third of a city's area and its most
democratic segment. Public space dedicated to pedestrians reduces
inequality and should be accorded priority when developing cities.
Adjoining the streets should be cycle lanes where bicycles and rickshaws
can sail past smoothly. It'll have a great public transport system with
buses, metro and taxis. Parking will be difficult and expensive so people
will use public transport rather than cars. There will be parks and gardens
and the air will be clean, as pollution levels will have dropped
And then, cities will become areas of graceful living and a charmed way of
(The writer is an architect and urban planner based in New Delhi.)
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