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The Urban Vision : Capture the BIG Picture
Name: Surendra Hiranandani
Bio: Surendra Hiranandani is renowned for having crafted one of India’s showpiece township developments- The 300 acre Hiranandani Gardens in Mumbai . Hiranandani Gardens, Powai, and Hiranandani Estate, Thane, are townships with a state of the art infrastructure of concrete roads, regular water supply, effective sewage, electricity and high-tech communication networks. The Hiranandanis have built townships with the foresight of creating communities, through a passionate focus of continually offering social amenities like hospitals, schools, play grounds, gardens, leisure and entertainment facilities. You can log on to www.www.surendrahiranandani.com for more details.
Posts by Surendra Hiranandani:
- Slums were convenient to permit as it created a large source of unofficial income. Indiscriminate declaration of NDZs and the Urban Land Ceiling Act made even private landlords queue up their lands to slum lands. Housing supply was completely bottled up by severe and draconian laws.
- It is well known that India has the most complex and venal bureaucracy, definitely the worst in Asia when it comes to bureaucracy for conducting business. Making India one of the most difficult places in the world to do business. This has ailed the Financial Capital too.
- We then failed to extend our metro rail system to create a grid which spreads throughout the city instead of only on a north south axis.
- We did not make adequate provision of additional roads considering that Mumbai has a lower percentage of road area as a percentage of its land mass than is the norm.
- We also did not create new public spaces and allowed the few we have to be encroached or disfigured.
High street retail encourages local entrepreneurs.
You’ll find much more participation of local businesses, innovative businesses which are actually run by people who are living in that neighbourhood or in that city rather than just having all shopping belonging to people who can only be conglomerates or chains or big corporations as happens in malls.
A mall typically would not be able to encourage the small entrepreneur. A place is special because of local foods, the local chocolates or art. These creative entrepreneurs have their own niche and create the distinct character of the city. They would never be found in malls because the big conglomerates tend to crowd out the smaller players. Local entrepreneurs are not able to function in the whole system of formal mall where the overheads are high, maintenance costs are high and commitment costs are insisted upon by the mall owners.
So malls kill city entrepreneurial life !
Commercial activity of shopping, retail, cafes allows small entrepreneurs to come up with innovative things, pioneering ideas and also gives the life to the street to make the whole walk more interesting and more interactive. High street provides far more options, nuances, formats & variations for ownership where it allows entrepreneurs to flourish so rentals don’t become a strain. It really gives that colour to the street . One can appreciate what is local & special about the city. We can only see large chains and global brands in malls.*
The success of Powai is due to small entrepreneurs. We actually encouraged small entrepreneurs to come in. In the early 1990’s ,we actually went to a newspaper vendor and gave him a small hole in the wall to help in distributing the newspapers and magazines. We even sourced the market for small restaurant owners and small vegetable vendor. With galleria, we created an entire pedestrian mall, which had small shops which could get people from the local community to come in and be entrepreneurs. In the initial days we did even encouraged the hawker to come in and at a selected spot in a supervised way to come and work within the project and build up his business so that he could ultimately even lease a shop and some of them have done that today. The newspaper guy is still there in galleria.
Moreover , I have to reemphasize that beyond a certain point, the current trend of compound wall adorned with beautiful flowers does nothing to the streets beyond adding some visual cleanliness and manicure. Instead ,we should be creating places so local entrepreneurs thrive.
Note: * Even the global brands, the chains, even the luxury brands whether it’s a Louis Vuitton or a Gucci prefer the high street to the mall. They are in malls because of the inadequate streets, restrictive codes ; inadequate facilities and lack of mass transport. Globally ,the most successful stores of the biggest luxury brands are in high street.
The reason we have never built malls is because our focus has never been on individual building.
Our focus has always been on creating communities and great places to live.
So when we develop clusters of buildings you have to look at what is relevant to the entire community. In Powai, we have more than sixty buildings where some are large, some small, some seven stories, some are thirty six stories, some are residential and some are commercial.
It is a huge mix of activity. We have a hospital, a school, a hotel and leisure destinations with adequate green spaces.
If we had created a mall we would create a dense activity at one spot within the community, which would encourage the use of the private automobile because even if it’s a relatively short distance people are encouraged to go by car.
If there are shops along the street you are encouraged to walk along the street all along the way and enjoy the experience. You will move from one place to another without getting any feeling of insecurity or boredom. That’s why you see in New York today, people love to walk and the people who live in so called crowded, congested New York are the healthiest people in United States .They have the opportunity to walk and enjoy their walk.
If you see the old cities in India they have always encouraged high street shopping. But in the newer cities because of the changes in code and zoning; they have discouraged shopping from most residential streets as they thought it will create congestion or inconvenience residents.
This is a mistaken notion from Le Corbusier’s modernism vision from the 1950s. His concept of isolated buildings with huge spaces in between, with no street life killed the soul of the city.
Our codes which followed this approach do not even permit such street retail activity on the ground in many cases. This is disastrous for vibrant urban life as you can see in modern areas of our cities like Bandra Kurla Complex. In most commercial parks, they place the restaurants and the coffee shops in one zone and everybody will congregate there from their buildings rather than along the pedestrians footpaths or walkways. People eat in boring internal food halls rather than the small shops along the pedestrian walkways which contribute to the street life & city life.
Think about it these small street fronted outlets like around Linking Road or Powai High street make the city more interesting, lively, safe. High street shopping provides safety and security to a city.
A mall typically is in an isolated place away from a high street and typically has a large car park area. People drive in from miles. They don’t walk to the mall, they drive to the mall, park their cars in this huge car park lots . Due to the huge car parking requirements these malls become misfits for the cities as they create horrendous traffic jams. You see it in Mumbai where there are horrendous jams just getting in and out of the mall which creates problems.
The concept of malls really came up when there was a lot of horizontal development in suburbia which started in the United States .There was a lot of horizontal development and low density development where there was no real concentration of communities.Very small, low density enclaves all spread apart. So a mall became a sort of centre magnet where from maybe hundred kilometres away people would drive in, park their cars in huge car park lots to do their week shopping in their SUVs and load their SUVs and get back home. This mall model was brought into the city unfortunatey.
Many cities in the world have refused Malls in the city by not giving them licenses as they destroy the essence of a city. In Portland or New York City you don’t find a Wal-Mart. We have to distinguish the mall from a multi-storey shopping centre on a high street. That is not technically a mall. When I say a mall, the whole focus is of walking inside a building and once you’re through, you head home. While high street are a key part of a great city whether it’s New York, Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo. These are cities where we would love to go to, where we enjoy being there. Oxford Street, London at peak hour is more congested with pedestrians than any street in India, and tourist still want to be there.
Once you build the malls, you take away the high street.The high streets fails because there’s this huge concentration of shopping in one place. People may initially find it very convenient and shop there. But it doesn’t make life interesting.Once you have a huge mall it affects the distribution of shops along the streets of the city and takes away the character and soul of the city.
If you take away the high street shopping and put them into malls, you are taking away the life and soul of all street life which is the most essential factor in making a city look beautiful, look lively, look happening and be happening.
Malls are basically an extension of the gated community concept. You are encasing people into an enclave. Closed, away from what is happening in the city. It’s almost like imprisonment of something which should be very social and part of the fabric of the city.
Malls destroy the high street. The most important concept of a good city is the high street. How successful a high street is in a city will indicate how healthy a city is, how lively a city is. These city sidewalks, the city footpaths, the city pedestrian walkways provide the soul and life to a city, not enclosed areas where pedestrians hangout.
Pedestrians should be out in the open, interacting with people and high street shopping encourages that. There’s very little excitement you can get from only seeing landscaping and gardens. Imagine a pedestrian walking down a street and he just sees beautiful compound walls with miles and mils of bougainvillea’s or flowers ; Beyond a point it is not interesting!
You need the high street shopping to provide life to the street, to provide places to of course visit but also for civic amenities, cultural areas, restaurants and coffee shops to hangout on. This is the reason why in the most successful cities in the world they allow even the restaurants to put a few chairs and tables on to the sidewalk. Its encouraged because it adds life to the street.
I believe Mumbai is one of the greatest cities in the world. It works well and inspires its citizens to work productively because of the way it is built. Mumbai as compared to any city in India has the maximum proportion of people who use public transport or walk to work which are fundamental components of any good city.
So where and why have we failed inspite of Mumbai having all the essential ingredients to make a livable city and inspite of having a great entrepreneurial flair amongst our people. Below are some of the causes:
What can we do to make Mumbai a sustainable and livable city?
1) The solution to Mumbai’s future is to make it more vibrant. Lutyens Delhi and Chandigarh are not example to be replicated. What are we trying to emulate? We are not a Monaco or a Mahableshwar or a Saint Tropez. Isolated pockets of developments on the outskirts of a city will only create colonies which are more like asylums. You can have an isolated development as an escape from a busy city life. But we cannot live and work in such places unless we want to create a huge private automobile connecting infrastructure.
2) The city must grow organically outwards with every 200 acre being a mixed use neighbourhood pod in places like Navi Mumbai and Vasai. Today because of zoning regulations, dormitory type developments have come up.
3) We need to reduce the dependence on private automobiles within the city. The streets of great cities like New York or London are full of taxis and buses. We must pursue that model of a walkable and a mass transit driven city
4) We need a grid network of Metro Trains.
5) We need to have roads with 3 to 5 M footpaths/ Pedestrian streets which are un-encroached.
6) We need to provide enough incentives and remove bottlenecks to resolve the housing crisis.
7) We need to provide for public car parking and reduce private car parking in buildings.
There is a lot to be done at the nitty-gritty level but the city also need developments which can make a significant impact and also raise resources.
We need to create new development with large public places for example in
1) Development of the Dock lands. Anyone driving pass can see it a miserable place full of filth and lying under unutilized. Only 2% of the cargo arriving at the port is meant for the city.
2) Use the land between Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point to create a most scenic and colourful waterfront district of the city with a harmonious mix of developments. Other waterfront areas of the city need also to be developed with large public spaces.
3) Barrage a portion of the Ulhas River at two ends so that it could be converted into a new fresh water lake. This has been done at the Marina Bay in Singapore.
A prerequisite of a good city is mixed use neighborhoods, density and walkable streets. Let’s take examples. London, New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo are great cities for this sole reason. These cities have residential, offices, retail, hospitality all adjacent to each other and buildings are built with negligible or zero car parks.
A $ 12 million apartment in New York facing Central Park where Jack Welch and David Esner have apartments has zero car parks. On the other hand Los Angeles or Phoenix is designed for the automobile with a horizontal spread. It is called the dollar a gallon gasoline architecture or as we would say Rs. 10 per litre architecture.
Think about the difference .Which are better cities? Whom should we draw inspiration from?
Mumbai v/s Delhi
In India, Mumbai works well and inspires its citizens to work productively because of the way it is built. Mumbai as compared to any city in India has the maximum proportion of people who use public transport or walk to work. It has the fundamentals that are needed top make a good city –Density, Mixed use.
When you look at other cities like Lutyens Delhi and Chandigarh – Are the a sustainable city? They are great showpieces to shock and awe. But you cannot make the entire city into a plaza. Lutyens Delhi has large roads with such low densities that make even the road highly unaffordable to maintain. The footpaths become unsafe because there is such low density. And there is no shopping to disrupt the imperial grandeur which makes the roads further unsafe - remember shopping along a street makes a street safe to work on but also everyone has to commute by a private car even to get a toothpaste.
India is lazy to build cities
We must also understand the decay of our cities took place because of the mindset we got ourselves in the past few decades. Gandhi our greatest icon, our greatest leader said so many good things but we have taken to heart the one thing he was wrong about. He said the future of India lies in our villages. Today the rural sector engages 60% of people in a substinence level and it constitutes only 16% of our GDP. We deliberately resist and control urban migration because we are too lazy to build cities.
No country can progress if we have such a high percentage unproductively employed in rural areas. Only with urbanization can we provide meaningful education, health services, cultural facilities and job opportunities. You cannot provide a history teacher, a maths and physics teach a Kidney specialist and a Cardiac Surgeon to little hamlets and villages. More importantly only through urbanization can there be elimination of medieval mindsets, superstitious ideas and achieve a deceleration in population growth.
So what does constitute a livable city?
It should have mixed use neighbourhoods. Mixed use neighbourhoods where every 200 acres of development is self contained where all activities of residential, commercial, retail, hospitality and basic entertainment facilities are available
1. It should be walkable with large footpaths along its roads.
2. It should be totally automobile independent, as all the major cities of the world are, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. The roads should be full of taxis and buses with a minimum of private vehicles. In these cities one does not need a driving license to survive.
3. Great public places where people can congregate.
4. Housing for all its citizens.
The re-development plan for the Crawford Market, which is one of Mumbai’s prized heritage structures, has created a huge controversy. Battle lines are being drawn between the heritage activists and the “pro-development” lobby.
Clearly, the Crawford market redevelopment has to be has to be done in a very sensitive way. It is close to VT and has the potential of being a great tourist city plaza and shopping area. Design should be the number one issue including the functional purposes. The shopping centre should meet the needs of shoppers , with good parking and taxi stand facilities. FSI is only a tool to assist in achieving the best possible design for making the project viable. However the number one concern should be design and the committee should include a group which understand the dynamics of Retail and Heritage.
After the Second World War, North American built its cities around the automobile in what is often termed as auto- centric / sprawled / suburban development. Evidently this developmental model was driven by the availability cheap gas and massive investments on highway infrastructure. These new suburbs lacked density, pedestrian scale, public transit and mixed-use developments. The result – everyone had to have his/ her own car; and today in many of suburban American households, the average transportation cost is more than healthcare or food costs. America is already starting to pay a price for this developmental model. Sprawl and the dependency of oil is often said to be one of the causes of America’s current economic crisis. They built their cities when oil was cheap; but these sprawled cities are coming to become redundant in the era when energy costs are going to be sky high. It has also been detrimental to their economy by rising living costs as well as costs of running businesses.
So it is alarming when I see that we are currently following a similar sprawled development model here in India. There is a tendency to build satellite towns and encourage suburban model of growth. We are developing several townships and communities all over the country and one of the things that I see is that the city authorities have no understanding of principles of good urbanism. If anything our zoning regulations and developmental laws make it difficult to build what is today recognized as good urbanism (high density & mixed-use). We need to address these issues and adopt the right regulation so as to drive the right kind of development; or we will be killing our economy in the long run.