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Urban Planning – How difficult it is to plan an already settled city


The dogged difficulty in converting the existing cities in India into “SMART Cities” and the fundamental challenges around the implementation of “Swach Bharat” in spite of the overarching political will, clearly highlights the challenges of undoing the erstwhile badly implemented urban plans. The world’s population is becoming increasingly urban and there is also the challenges of uneven population concentration triggered in parts due to the failure of providing sufficient social & economic incentives to limit population migrations from rural & semi-urban areas to already overcrowded urban oasis.

In fact, cities grow in three ways, which can be difficult to distinguish: through migration, the natural growth of the city’s population; and the reclassification of nearby non-urban districts. In this context, India has a unique challenge in place, in part because of its federal system which creates uneven & often at odds development plans across country while allowing free movement of population by default, creating excessive pressure on better planned urban conurbations which in turn had not been prepared enough for the influx for lack of data and/or understanding. While the plans in themselves for most large cities are often a 20 year vision, their implementation has often been corrupted by poor political will and narrow financial gains resulting in neglect of key infrastructure, illegal squatting on what were proposed to be social infrastructure reservations like playgrounds, gardens, railways stations, etc and redundant & wasted capacity at civic necessities like schools and hospitals coupled with high cost, de-motivated and corruptible personnel manning them. Case in point, while the Delhi government has been taking steps towards curbing encroachment, which has been causing congestion and higher pollution levels in the city, as well as causing a strain on the housing, sanitation and employment that results from rural to urban migration, the solution is only temporary, as the politics of vote bank appeasement often leaves such plans in the cold store.

Although all socio-economic classes are reflected in migration to cities, migrants from rural areas are disproportionately poor, and inadequate planning is often a result of a weak political will to support them.  Problems tend to arise as a result of poor planning and these issues are exacerbated when informal settlements develop outside the administrative boundary of the city. In itself, these limitations are challenging alright but not insurmountable. Take the case of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation for instance! With futuristic & well planned physical infrastructure, the city did manage to de-clutter its nucleus and spread the city far & wide. This coupled with well planned integrated economic & civic hubs across its famed Outer Ring Road network, created sufficient initiative for people to spread out across the new city. This has over the last decade resulted in Hyderabad not only topping on quality of life index but has now created a virtuous cycle of inviting more capital investment in the city which in turn helps manage the city development & planned implementations more effectively.

Contrast this with a city like Delhi NCR! Political will backed de-cluttering by means of implementation of large-scale social & physical infrastructure were evident post the rot the city faced right till the year 2000. Between the year 2000-2012, the city saw a sustained impetus on improving the water supply, road infrastructure, connectivity initiatives like the new airport,  suburban connectivity through metro rail, etc and for a moment the city did seem liveable. However, any urban planning catering to an ever enlarging population mass on account of organic growth and large-scale migration has to be backed with relentless and continues implementation of the plans in place which, if left undone, even for a brief period of 4-5 years, as witnessed in Delhi lately pushes back the city by a decade and makes the scope as well as the potential for future amends that much more constrained and ineffective.

To sum it all, the situation is never hopeless; unless the implementation is left to hopeless people with narrow agenda’s and this has been the bane of India resulting in the urban mess we call cities. If well planned, migration can enhance the DNA of cities making them healthier, more profitable and more interesting places to live.

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