Name: Nidhi Batra

Bio: Nidhi Batra is a Consulting Editor with ‘The Urban Vision’. She is a development sector practitioner with areas of specialization as participatory planning, environmental urban design, green architecture, urban governance and urban poverty aspects. She is presently involved with The World Bank and Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA). She has been awarded UNEP fellowship and Rockefeller Fellowship in the past that has given her the opportunity to study aspects of environmental urban design in Germany and Inclusive development in South Africa. She has worked in large scale master planning work in National and International contexts.

Posts by nidhibatra:

    The Great FSI Debate: FSI versus Quality of Life

    April 3rd, 2013

    Floor Space Index is a tool for optimum ‘land consumption’ and ‘building density’. There is an on-going discussion about vertical cities and increasing FSI three or four times in India cities, which are primarily cities ‘ground level cities’ till now. To do judicious and optimum use of land in the present day ‘constraint’ situations is understandable, but to view it in isolation and thereby just one and only solution for solving the urban problems of our cities is problematic.

    The FSI debate fails to address some core issues such as density of people versus the density of built. By increasing FSI, for certain there is increase in the density of people, extra pressure on the infrastructure that now has to accommodate this new density, resultant loss of ‘greens’ – if the high densification is not managed properly and to add to the pool of issues- comes the very poor urban governance and management in Indian cities as of now.

    Greater FSI is a point of discussion not just in Mumbai, but also in Delhi and Gurgaon. Delhi with its new Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is at least in its plan first addressing the issue of infrastructure and thereby based on a good quality infrastructure that has the ability to absorb or soak more ‘density of people’ is debating the idea of increased FSI. But in case of cities like Gurgaon, which have failed in providing basic infrastructure, utilities, necessary lung spaces etc. to talk about FSI as a quick fix solution is neither feasible nor sustainable. Increasing FSI without addressing the issues of infrastructure and urban management will only result in a very poor ‘Quality of life’.

    Discussion therefore should be around ‘Quality of life’ rather than jumping at one solution of FSI that can never ever work in isolation with its other urban players- so to speak – namely infrastructure, public and green spaces and a very good urban governance and management system.

    This post is part of the “Great FSI Debate “. What’s your view? Submit your opinion to along with a bio & pic.

    Mumbai (Bombay), RTW 2012
    Creative Commons License photo credit: ana_ge

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    Has JNNURM succeeded in addressing urban poverty?

    November 8th, 2012

    Ignorance is not bliss! – for Small and Medium Cities towards addressing urban poverty through JNNURM

    Pan-India ONE solution for Urban Poverty is failing. We have seen it in JNNURM and shall see it again in Rajiv Awas Yojana. Small and Medium cities are facing the brunt. These cities are one not equipped with know-hows and appropriate capacity and nor do they have enough focus of centrally sponsored schemes to solve the urban poverty issues in these cities.

    Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), launched in 2005 was directed towards development of our cities and for the first time managed to have some bit of spotlight on even the urban poor. Within JNNURM there were/are on ground actual proposals and reforms at governance level that were to help ‘include’ the urban poor in the development context.

    The scheme has two sub-missions: the sub-mission for Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) administered by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) and the Sub-Mission for Basic Service to the Urban Poor (BSUP) administered by the Ministry of Housing and Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA). The latter sub-mission focuses on integrated provision of basic services including shelter and security of tenure to slum dwellers. In non-mission cities covered by MoHUPA, these activities are carried out under Integrated Housing and Slum Development Program (IHSDP)

    JNNURM Funding has been provided making with conditions of governance level reform. Some of these reforms are mandatory while other are optional level reforms that have to be taken up by the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs).( In this context , it is important to recall how urban planning has now become a mandate of urban local bodies with the 74th Amendment and ULBs are now to take charge of undertaking ‘development’ for the poor).

    Two mandatory reforms at the ULB level those are necessary for the ULBs to undertake in context to the urban poor are:

    1) Provision of basic services to the Urban Poor, including security of tenure at affordable prices

    2) Internal earmarking within local bodies budgets for basic services to the urban poor

    Optional reforms at ULB level in context to urban poverty are:

    1) Earmarking at least 20-25% of developed land in all housing projects

    And other related mandatory reform of municipal accounting which makes it mandatory for the ULBs to shift to the double entry accounting system which should reflect the separate municipal fund for services to the poor and recording of the targeted revenue expenditure of delivery of services to the urban poor per annum.

    These reforms and projects have been prescribed in great spirits, attempting for the first time to dissolve all issues regarding the uncertainty that had been created due to institutional arrangement for slum improvement programs between different agencies – slum boards, housing boards, development authority, municipal body etc. that had led to problems in implementation and also the failure to provide for the poor in the urban planning process.

    But, have these proposals really been working for Small and Medium Cities?

    Small and Medium Cities are where there is at present a sudden boom of ‘Urbanisation’. These are the cities that are being hit by urban poverty at a rate that is not even conceivable. And at the same time it is here, in these Small and Medium Cities that a ‘preventive addressal of urban poverty’ can be taken up rather than finding ‘futile cures’ in the million plus cities. From the graph below it is visible how the share of urban poverty and slum population has been increasing in small and medium cities. It is interesting to note that about 50% of urban population are living in slums; the city is seeing unprecedented growth rate after it became the capital of the new state of Chhattisgarh.

    Share of Urban Poor in large and small and medium cities

    Source: data on poverty from Lanjouw and Morgain 2011 based on NSS data

    But, has JNNURM really considered these aspects?

    75% of the assistance has been committed to 65 mission cities under UIG and BSUP under JNNURM; 25% is for the rest 640 small and medium towns under IHSDP and UIDSSMT. On an average, bigger cities have had a higher per capita investment. Also, the percentage of urban population covered under these two schemes decreases with the size and class of towns.

    Committed Central Assistance by Scheme

    Source: IIHS Analysis based on data from JNNURM website

    Population covered under UIG and UIDSSMT by City-Size

    Source: IIHS Analysis based on data from JNNURM website

    How has JNNURM then through its mechanism attempted to ‘serve’ small and medium towns differently?

    For certain, slums are a problem in larger cities but in smaller towns the question of poverty alleviation is more pressing but has seen much lesser focus, funding and appropriate approach. These small and medium towns are struggling to provide for housing for the urban poor and are also unable to undertake the governance level reforms.

    Most of these towns have not even shifted to a double accounting system; there is no separate entry for services being catered to urban poor. Nagar Panchayat such as Sanawad in Madhya Pradesh, and many others in their books state that 25% of the total revenue is utilised on services for the urban poor, but at present there is no mechanism to check this expenditure. Other municipalities directly have put the central sponsored allocations under this and show complete expenditure as required. Small and medium towns at present do not even have their books digitized and require far greater hand holding than larger cities.

    Also, wrongly so, most ULBs believe that optional reforms are actually optional! Therefore optional reforms such as earmarking 25% of land in all new housing projects for Economically Weaker Sections and Low Income Groups do not see the light of the day. The fact is under JNNURM, optional reforms are not optional- just that they are not the most priority reform that should be taken up by ULB; however, the phasing of these reforms would be at the choice of the ULB/ state. Two reforms need to be carried out every year over the mission period.

    Other municipalities and corporations find it difficult to implement this reservation reform. Infact most of the corporations such as Indore complain of how they saw loss in housing investment over last few years when the shelter fund was stopped and it was mandatory for private housing projects to designate the land/ houses for urban poor in their schemes. They clearly stated how ‘Shelter Fund’ mechanism wherein the Private builder had the obligation to contribute a portion of the land developed by them or CASH proportionate to the land value towards Ashraya Nidhi (Shelter Fund) for pro-poor housing. Most builders obviously offered to give CASH! Of course this model doesn’t allow an equitable city with no apartheid class divided zones to be created within the city and has also created a shortage of land for the corporation to even undertake pro-poor housing!

    Other criticisms of JNNURM that have been articulated are:

    Mission is said to suffer from the lack of an integrated approach; related issues like land, health, education and employment are being handled by separate Ministries at the central level and no strategy towards convergence of the same has been formulated.

    Complete failure in respect to ‘community participation’. Overnight slums have been removed and housed in ‘flats’ that have already been created, even the slums that were not even in the ‘listing’ under the BSUP housing in cities like Raipur. In the same city, no example of in-situ slum rehabilitation has been successful. The only model the corporation attempted was the case of Telibhanda, where in the community was deceived and shifted to far off transit homes and even after 3 years still do not have their in-situ houses back in the land that belonged to them! Also, JNNURM even lacks an articulated clear resettlement policy. There is great ambiguity in the air, which and why slums are being removed overnight, are market forces acting up?!

    Cities have also chosen not to invest in BSUP extensively; thrust of JNNURM has been on infrastructural and buses instead! Options of micro-financing and role of PPP for housing urban poor has not been explored.

    ULBs of small and medium towns also faced a peculiar situation wherein the State Local Nodal Agency (SLNA) did not provide the necessary ‘capacity’ to the ULB in time. Small Nagar Panchayats and Municipalities are not equipped with qualified staff or know-how of how to include the cause of urban poor within their new mandate after 74th Amendment.

    JNNURM in its vision is essential, it has attempted to focus on issues that are crucial for Indian Cities, but it has failed in its approach. One size fits all solution does not work in a country like India wherein the level of urbanisation differs exponentially across the nation.

    There is a need for far greater bottom up planning, far greater capacity building and far greater hand holding in small and medium towns, than what is at present being offered. The future of a sustainable urbanisation is in these towns and the only way to address it is to ‘take care of the excluded – and work towards an inclusive society”

    A boy in slum of Raipur,   photograph by Nidhi Batra

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    The perfect is the enemy of the good!

    August 27th, 2012

    Ahmedabad - Gujarat, India
    Creative Commons License photo credit: Emmanuel Dyan

    Recently I had an opportunity to participate in two engaging dialogues. One, a presentation by Patricia Clarke Annez on her paper- Ahmedabad – Building a Liveable City for all and the second, ‘Dreams and Planning’ delivered by architect and urban and regional planner Prof. Edgar F. N. Ribeiro, and Prof. A. G. Krishna Menon as the discussant.

    It was insightful and made one ponder on how ‘centrally sponsored’ mission schemes that still appear extremely top-down in nature, even if ‘implementation’ shall be carried off by the State, can be relevant in the Indian context.

    Patricia shared her study that evolved from the Slum Networking Programme of the 90s in Ahmedabad. Her key hypothesis was there is no ‘choice’ but to offer a decent dignified place to live for all – including slum dwellers. This implies that to grant the slum dwellers the dignity of life, which they have a right to, it is essential to invest in these slums- irrespective and independent of central sponsored schemes. Investment in these slums that is required is basic neighborhood infrastructure. Cities cannot ‘wait’ for providing ‘housing for all’. In all practical terms, development will always race over the supply. Therefore, slums tend to be the hard reality of all developing economies.  She cited a case example of SNP in Ahmedabad which was able to upgrade few of its slums, where even community contributed 10% of the total amount towards this upgradation. This programme has now come to a halt due to the strong luring forces of mission schemes such as JnNURM and Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).

    The second discussion was about Dreams and Planning, the dream of a planner/ political leader/ bureaucrat/ artist/ a visionary all translated into a ‘planning’ document. Prof Ribeiro took us down to the memory lane of ‘Planning of Delhi’- the Master Plan of 1962. The vision of Mr. Nehru and Ford Foundation translated into first ‘Land Use Plan’ of India.

    Prof Menon, critiqued this process of dreaming –  given the constraints and the context that Indian cities are subjected to, shouldn’t there be an ‘Indian way of dreaming’, rather than translating an idea of a Parisian / European city down on the geography of an Indian City. A country which is predominantly ‘poor’, a country which has ‘archaic democracy’, a country which is glorified by its heterogeneity, a country where community is known to be ‘argumentative’ and where consensus is not a black and white reality– needs its own ‘Mechanism of Dreaming’.

    Are the centrally sponsored schemes, with ‘one size fits all’ approach ignoring the realities of Indian context? Cities where tenure problems shall take years to resolve, where the debate on central /state/private land prolongs, a growth rate that will always supersede the infrastructure supply, governance which lacks accountability and transparency – are these cities ready for a ‘Slum Free’ India, or are these cities just calling for a ‘Right to Dignity’, without ‘waiting’ for the perfect to happen. As Patricia quoted ‘People can find perfect, when they get the good!’

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    The Poor- Excluded from their own common natural resource management

    June 11th, 2012

    The Bani, a sacred grove spread over 200 hectares (ha), has been treasured by and cared for centuries by the residents of three villages—Mangar, Bandhwari and Baliawas—in memory of Gudriya Baba, a saint, who they believe attained moksha (salvation) in the Bani. Gudariya Baba’s shrine inside the Bani is a constant reminder to the villagers of the saint’s wrath if they harm the grove

    Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan

    On the World Environment Day I went for a documentary on ‘Mangar Forest- the need to save Bani(sacred grove)’ here at Delhi. Prior to this documentary I had an experience of walking through these Aravali ranges by a walk conducted by Pradip Krishen last year. Wedged between the advancing sprawl of Delhi and Faridabad, and less than an hour’s drive from the iconic Qutab Minar, Mangar Bani is one of the last patches of Aravalli forests with native tree and plant species

    In the clutches of new development, commercialization, and fancy tourism project – this sacred grove is being ‘planned’ to be engulfed. This grove has until now been preserved by the local villagers. These villagers are now selling off their land slowly and steadily at extremely low prices to private developers. Villagers regret that in 1970s when the government allowed privatization of the village commons, they sold their share in the common land without knowing the actual location of their holdings. The plots were not demarcated on ground in the village till mid 1980s. The transactions gave private investors a toehold in the Bani. The entire area is now like an isolated island subjected to urbanization pulls.

    The villagers were once dependent on this forest, for their fuel stock, fodder etc. these villagers are also now adopting urbanized jobs and leaving agricultural activities behind. Soon they shall be urbanized. An aspect of urbanization is economic prosperity. They are getting the prosperity by selling of their land, even if at cheap prices. But environmentalist believes that this land is a jewel – a jewel of an ecosystem. Some villagers support these environmentalist. Most I fear see the lucrative option of moving into the city. Villagers have now formed a village development committee. The committee has prepared a petition for the forest department, asking it to acquire the Bani land from its current owners.

    How should one advocate a case such as this- when environmental value is immense, residents have a right to better livelihood and there is urgent need to stop the private developers on making a mega tourism plan in this precious ecosystem? Amidst this all, Mangar Development Plan 2030 is out- and published late such that environmentalist could not even file their objections on the plan.
    Question is – why are environment, poverty, growth and development – all in constant battle in our country?!

    Though the Mangar residents are poor at present, can the government not compensate them – and make a model of a sustainable – village managed forest reserve- even in urban areas?! And I would extend this case to all other natural resources that the slum dwellers are dependent on – slums around Mithi in Mumbai, Slums about Boriatalab in Raipur – Can’t we develop a model of community managed natural resources in our urban areas… The answer might not necessarily be just rehabilitation of this poverty stricken from their habitat..

    At policy level a series of new programs in India for community natural resource management (CNRM) are initiated – decentralizing control over local resources of water, forests, and inland fishing from government departments to end-users such as farmers, forest dwellers, and fishers.
    Despite the government’s “inclusive growth” policy and hope that the program will improve the lives of women, scheduled castes and tribes, minorities, tenants, the landless, and land-poor, only rarely do the poor or marginalized have any real impact on resource management.

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    Urban form to achieve sustainable livable cities

    May 9th, 2011

    Economist Steven Sheppard and CLEAR institute have estimated that based on the current pattern of development with peripheral development and of urbanized land- the built up area of the developing country cities will increase from 2000 to 600,000 in 2030. The reality of this ‘pressure’ of development is directly going to be on the resources that our cities are dependent on, its judicious use and equitable distribution.

    This ‘Sustainable Ecological Urbanism’ observes cities as ‘Systems’. At present the city system is ‘parasitic’ that disrupts the natural earth and it produces a deteriorating quality of life for all inhabitants. Cities are not self-sustaining resource systems like natural eco-system. The land area of cities comprise only a tiny fraction (typically much less than 1%) of the total area of productive ecosystem required to sustain the needs of urban human population (Source: Bill Rees).

    However, the solution still lies in this city-system where cities need to optimize their production, resilience and expansion metabolism through spatial rearrangements. Each city has a different pattern of energy use which cumulatively creates the city’s metabolism. These patterns are associated with economic development but more importantly with forms of urbanism and other city building approaches. City’s infrastructure, physical layout and urban forms give structure to urban energy and the CO2 metabolism of not just day to day but over the life cycle of the city.

    Sustainable urban form implies an inter-linkage of sound environmental, social and economic foundations. It considers the principal elements of urban form – land use patterns, position/ transport infrastructure, density and characteristics of the built environment.

    Lynch (1981) considers five basic dimensions for the performance dimensions of the spatial form of a city. These are:

    §    How settlement form affects vitality,

    §   How settlement form affects human sense,

    §   The degree to which the settlement form fits the requirements of people,

    §   How able people are to access activities, services etc, and

    §   How much control people have over services/ activities/ spaces etc.

    The two Models of Urban Form:

    The urban form has two principal alternatives.

    §   A high density, mixed use centralized urban form.

    §   S low density, dispersed urban form often dependent on Automobile.

    Compact high density mixed use transit driven Urban Form

    Arguments in favour of a compact, centralized city claim that this type of urban form provides environmental, social and economic benefits. The environmental benefits of a compact urban form are seen to include reduced energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions following a lesser demand for polluting modes of travel, reduced pressure on greenfield sites and greater use of more efficient technologies. The promulgated social benefits of a compact urban form include a greater availability of housing that meets peoples’ needs in a sustainable way, increased access to services and facilities leading to better quality urban environments. Mixed land use is the most sustainable type of urban use, in that it increases the viability of services and transport provision supported by high residential density. Mixed land use in this context refers to the intermingling of land uses to ease access and reduce travel. Economically, it is argued that a compact urban form can lead to new business formation and innovation, which also attracts new residents

    Decentralized, low density dispersed urban form

    Another argument states that a compact city may mean a reduction in environmental quality through the loss of open spaces to development. There is potential for diseconomies to occur when the central structure becomes too big (e.g. congestion externalities). In terms of residential preferences, a compact high density urban form may be less desirable for some individuals. Households with children may prefer to locate further away from the city centre, where they have a garden. Other households may experience an increase in income and demand more space, which is found in less dense developments, further away from the city centre. The compact city can also fail to adequately consider future changes in population. A high density, compact city is less likely to be able to cope with significant population growth, as there is less potential for expansion if development is already at a high density. Proponents of the decentralized view therefore stress either the benefits of a decentralized ‘rural’ or ’semi-rural’ life style with low development costs or the unstoppable market forces that will create dispersed communities with low energy consumption and congestion.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: -Tripp-

    Evolving Sustainable Urban form for Indian Cities

    Historic Indian cities were  compact, pedestrianised, mixed use developments that at present are under threat of decay due to poor management and lack of infrastructure. Compact cities are not new to the Indian mind, but for  compact cities are to deliver sustainable outcomes, they have to be well managed.

    It is blatantly clear that simply increasing densities and mixing uses will not lead to sustainable outcomes. High quality infrastructure needs to be provided, public transport needs to be well managed, affordable and reliable, noise and air pollution have to be maintained at acceptable standards, basic services such as water, drainage and electricity need to be provided, and levels of public facilities such as health care and education have to be appropriate for the high numbers of city dwellers. Furthermore, urban environments have to be kept clean, safe and ‘livable’. Even in developed countries that have good basic infrastructure, these standards are hard to achieve; in developing countries it may be more challenging. As Burgess states:

    ‘High demographic growth, low levels of economic development, high income inequalities, small urban budgets and shortages of environmental infrastructure, shelter and basic services have a critical effect on densification policies and the effectiveness of policy instruments.’

    The question therefore is towards finding the sustainable urban form for Indian cities. Whenever  urban compaction and intensification is not a solution, with Indian cites of high density, high urbanization rate, high proportions of informal developments, lack of infrastructure and urban management problems might find  a solution in ‘Polycentric City’ or the ‘Linear Transport Oriented’ model. Another possibility is to make compact city models work in Indian cities with renewal strategies, infrastructural inserts and proper urban management. Further all cites shall need to evolve urban form through participatory methods with stress on environment resource management, community development etc.

    Urban Form: The case of Indian Cities


    Population of Ahmedabad: 45.14 lakh in 350 in 2001, 65 lakh in 500 by 2010

    Ahmedabad can boast to be a ‘Compact City’ wherein the city during the past ten-year period has expanded in a contiguous manner and remained compact and new development measures are also directed to promote the city on the principles of compact city. This has been ensured by initiatives such as

    §   Integrated Land Use Transport Development: Development of Metro rail, Regional Rail and the successful

    Bus Rapid Transport System

    §   Planning initiatives such as Town Planning Scheme with insitu redevelopment, reconfiguration of old

    informal settlements

    §   Slum networking with provisions of basic physical and social infrastructure, already implemented in 45 slums

    §   Environmental management with projects such as Sabarmati Riverfront development.


    Mumbai is city of paradoxes, with a high migration rate 54% of the population lives in about 1950 ‘slums’ which are located both on public and private land. The city has issues such as 2-6 hours of water supply, poor condition of transmission and distribution system, 35% of household without sanitation,  old storm water drainage network, average travel speed f 6-8 kms per house, limited drainage capacity, overburden on mass transit rail system and immense decline in quality of life.(Source: Mumbai CDP).

    Initiatives are directed in Mumbai for improving its transport efficiency with promotion of Metro rail, east-west road corridor developments etc. Other initiative is towards increase in FSI for renewal and upgradation activities for slums such as Dharavi as well as old vacant mill areas.


    Delhi is growing at a rate much higher than any Indian city with over 47% decadal growth from 1991-2001, more than double of the national rate. Density of population is higher among all states with 9,340 person per in comparison to an all India level of 324 person per in 2001 and the population of Delhi is expected to be 24 million by 2021. Realities such as these have caused huge disparity in Delhi. Various projects initiated in the city are directed towards, Sustainable transport with advent of successful Metro system, conflicted BRTS and new proposed integrated landuse transport development. Further initiatives are towards housing, slum improvement, redevelopment and renewal of historic stagnated city domains, environmental management with initiatives of developing Yamuna water front, conceptual projects for conservation of the Delhi ridge system.


    Home to almost 6 million people, and a base for 10,000 industries, Bangalore is India’s fifth largest city and the fastest growing city in Asia. This city is the largest contributor to India’s 12.2 billion USD turnover.. Today the growth is not confined to the city but has spread beyond, into Bangalore Metropolitan Region. This growth offers great opportunities – increased revenue, employment, industrialization, tourism etc.The challenge is to manage this growth and associated change in the most sustainable way in order to protect and enhance the quality of life.  The Revised Master Plan 2015 projects the urban population at 8.8 million by 2015 over an area of 1306 Sq. Km and much of the physical infrastructure is a century old. Public housing is short of supply and private housing is often out of reach; residential localities have sprung up without sufficient lung spaces; aging water and power systems are in need of upgrades and roads are congested and unsafe; environmental degradation is alarming.The Bangalore Metro Rail system, consisting of double line north-south and east-west corridor and Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC) are some of the upcoming massive infrastructure projects.


    There can never be a generalized blue print for a urban form towards making our cities sustainable and  livable. All efforts would be laden in planning, design, form, technology, infrastructure layout, business models, management, partnership and behavior. These solutions are to be evolved, keeping in mind the specificity of our own cities. Important lesson can be learnt from the case example of Curitiba.

    Curitiba: Not just Bus Transit System

    The sustainable form of Curitiba has evolved due to its own realities. Cited in the book by Jeb Brugmann – Urban Revolution is one such episode of evolvement of the city. It cites the ecological flood control system of Barigui River in the city where ecological methods were incorporated due to lack of available funds required for a concretizing approach, and instead evolving protected river corridors, forming chain of flood water collection basins with chains of lakhs and percolating water through a ‘graveled’ park. The initiative though was towards controlling major floods in the city, it was linked one by one like a thread to various other dimensions. The graveled park and chains of lakes served as necessary open spaces raising the level of green space per person from then 2 sq ft per person to 170 sq.ft. in 1990s. Further, the whole spine was utilized for more participatory activities such as waste collection, encouraging use of public transit system, recreational development, participatory developments wherein the children of nearby slums took management activities by themselves in this spine. As a result the development evolved with multiple complimentary purposes as a ‘Recreational-Social-Cultural-Educational-Ecological-Disaster Management System’.

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    The City – My tryst with Myself

    October 9th, 2010

    The City – My tryst with Myself

    What is it really about urbanization, about urban life, about cities, about new places that pulls me to them as a magnet?

    I believe there is a force – an immense force in cities. Just how we talk of energy and fields of energies connecting us to each other and to the bigger universe- similar phenomenon is most prevalent in cities.

    It is an immense manifestation, of man and God together.

    In cities you find His creation and the man’s. Both are trying to fool each other that they are in control. Scales get bigger. Buildings compete with mountains. Roads compete with rivers. Land competes with sea. And it all comes with intense drama. Drama that stimulates each and every sense and even more. From the magic of billboard lights to the texture of bare earth, all are most enjoyable.

    Pacing life up, chasing it, speed, raw human creation, business, money, challenges, and adventures – all are packaged in a city life. Along with this – is a herd of people, strange faces, new behaviors- all that present an interesting sight for an urban flaneur who loves to observe and lose herself more than often. They say, a city is the theatre of social drama, a stage for interaction. I say through that – it is a platform of self realization.

    A city lets me become lost…and found. I find myself in its buzz. I find myself in its race, its hopes, desires, and development. I find myself in its glamour and its atrocities. A city also lets me lose myself in its vastness, in its parks, in its beaches and in its empty wide roads the most.

    Cities – are in Whitman’s song of the open road. The city resonates in the spirit of the man. Ready, courageous, and forging ahead.

    Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
    Healthy, free, the world before me,
    The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
    Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.

    I also love the idea of urbanization. I enjoy the fact that we are contributing to our own growth. The fact that we believe that we should take actions to decide the fate of humankind on this planet. I am proud that we have a vision or at least attempt to have it. I like that it’s not organic in thought. I believe – that is exactly how God wanted us to react- to use our brain and work with him to make the world habitable. I think cities are a sign of human race finally being habitable or creating a habitat. Of course there are ideologies of how correctly to make that habitat. For now, all I am saying is that I like the act of creating a habitat. I might imagine my habitat with butterflies and tall buildings together, but that’s a different discussion.

    I also believe that cities are our palette of discovery. A city is adorned with shades and colors. We play with those, to paint our own canvas.

    If you haven’t come to a city – you still haven’t found yourself. In a city, one is faced with multiple realities. Realities of your own, realities of your past, realities of the immediate future and the realities of most imaginative visionary ideas. Which one of these realities you adopt is up to you, but you definitely get to deal with them and face them.

    In the diversity of culture, thoughts, and actions, you make your own decision of where you belong. You are bombarded with multiplicity. You are your own decision maker, your own judge, and your own administrator.

    A city lets me believe that there is more. Always more. That there is more in me. There is much more in the world. And even more in the universe. There are no limits. Hence, there can be no limits to me. The city gives me the power of an individual. The city gives me the potential within me.

    Cities are a gift – a gift that we have given to our own selves. Happy presenting to self…. comrades.
    looking out
    Creative Commons License photo credit: vl8189

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    The Race between Cities.

    March 22nd, 2010

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Niyantha

    Urbanization is a chase for economic development and revenue generation for our states and cities. Urban areas are attempting to be magnets of growth, alluring the essential entrepreneurs and investments providing impetus for growth and development. This is the changing definition and spatial behavior of urbanization in the present and post globalization.

    What exists today is “urban entrepreneurialism”, where cities compete for economic growth, restructure “growth machines” to enhance their “competitive edge” and defend old niches from global challenges or craft new opportunities from globalized markets (Leitner and Sheppard 1998). David Harvey defines it as ”that pattern of behavior within urban governance that mixes together state powers (local, metropolitan, regional, national or supranational) and a wide array of organizational forms in civil society (chambers of commerce, unions, churches, educational and research institutions, community groups, NGOs and the like) and private interests (corporate and individual) to form coalitions to promote or manage urban/regional development of some sort or other” (Harvey 2001:402-3).

    Also the intensity of inter-urban competition has increased, enhancing the importance of turning “place-in-itself” into “place-for-itself”, particularly for middle-ranking cities with an opportunity to improve their significance for outside investors (Smart and Smart 2003). Urban entrepreneurialism is one response to an uneven negotiating table for capital and localities in an era characterized by enhanced mobility, due both to technological change and to governmental deregulation. The terms of exchange are structured by the “hyper mobility” of capital: if a city doesn’t play the game on capital’s terms, they are likely to lose investment, resulting in economic decline and out-migration. Those who go along with the demands of the dominant capitalist actors are more likely to obtain or retain investment and experience population and economic growth.

    These Competitive Cities are fundamental not only for driving up the economic performance of regions but also for achieving wider policy goals about sustainable communities and greater social cohesion. Competitive cities are vibrant places where people want to live - and will come from many different backgrounds in order to do so.

    Urban policy has often revolved around what has to be done in order to create “business-friendly” environments in these competing cities. These primarily include

    • Financial incentives, subsidies, and public-private partnerships;
    • Infrastructure, especially for information technology (e.g. smart buildings, smart cities, and fiber-optics backbones) and logistics (airports, freeways, ports, cyber ports);
    • Institutional infrastructure: modifying regulations and free-trade zones, and reforms in intellectual property rights and transparency;
    • emphasizing the development of the right kind of human capital and targeted expenditure in education;
    • emphasizing social capital (networks, obligation and trust) and learning ecologies
    • branding cities
    • cultural strategies for a symbolic economy
    • Paying attention to environment protection and pursuing sustainable development

    This new entrepreneurial paradigm in spatial development has established itself in countries planning activities as a main reference. The new planning philosophy puts stress on market based approaches, vision building and integration of socio economic and environment preservation goals. One of tis important aims is to use business sector instruments to increase efficiency and develop a more project friendly environment.

    Strategic planning which emerged from the practice of large corporations has become a main tool for government to integrate competitiveness concerns in spatial strategies. Its extension to the sub national levels including cities and metropolises has been reinforced in a majority of countries by a general move towards decentralization of policies and granting more responsibility to lower tiers of government, according to the subsidiary principle. Cities have gained more margin for maneuver while city region linkages were emphasis. Another feature of the new planning model is a more pluralistic approach by public authorities based on public private partnerships. The pressure from more collaborative processes involving a much wider range of interests has increased. Previously planning was in the hands of public agencies working for the construction of the welfare state and therefore mainly orientated towards the delivery of social services. It is clear that an important prerequisite to augment city competitiveness is to better exploit the knowledge, innovative capacities and commitment of a greater number of urban actors.

    This means that cities embark on programmes to improve the quality of urban life through various policies which is now the activity of urban local governments

    Bangalore has reached the stage where it is now competing with other Indian cities (like Hyderabad and Chennai) as well as Asian cities (like Manila and Kuala Lumpur) to attract and generate domestic and international activities and investments. This can only be possible if it can ensure a high level of “urban efficiency” which stems from the absolute understanding of the current spatial issues and infrastructure requirements along with a strong capacity to anticipate the various social and economic needs and requirements of the multi-dimensional society.
    In the Indian scenario this has resulted in large scale investments in ‘Mega Projects’, most significantly in infrastructure which forms the basis for these types of projects. One example is the billion Rupies ‘mega-city project’ which focuses on modernizing Bangalore by urban renewal and urban design. The funds allocated to Bangalore’s core agencies are for constructing fly-overs, ring roads and other grade separators, for the provision of fibre-optic services in high value industrial areas and for the construction of a new international airport at Devanahalli, 30km north of Bangalore as well as construction of the six-lane Bangalore Devanahalli expressway.

    These ‘Mega projects’ (primarily infrastructure) receive a sizable investment (~10%) of the gross fixed capital formation in India. These investments have been made by both the government (central and state) and the private sector wherein the proportion of private sector investment has been increasing over the years.

    Hyderabad is also marketing itself as a choice destination for ITES companies. While Gujarat is betting to be the new Mumbai for India and has its GIFT to boast. What do these competitions really mean for the economic geography of the nation is yet to be understood. It is also to be realized that competition does have the potential to be fickle and change the locale too soon. Also since the thrust of development through means of private led investment is increasing, loans by ADB, IMF which also proliferate privatization, the effects of the urban developments needs to take care of its socio economic equality within the cities geography. On one hand where this impulse of developments is favoring the nation as a whole, it might create inequalities at a local level. This new way forward, with its great potentials can be a tool to mediate the needs of a global competitive city as well as managing the resources for all creating a quality life.


    Globalization, Mega-projects and the Environment: Urban Form and Water in Jakarta- Mike Douglass, Globalization Research Center and Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Hawai’i

    Bangalore: Globalisation and Fragmentation in India’s Hightech-Capital – Christoph Dittrich

    The cultural turn in interurban competition: globalization and the commodification of diversity – Alan Smart

    Governance, economic settings and poverty in Bangalore- Solomon Benjamin

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    Rethinking urban mobility

    July 29th, 2009

    Rethinking urban mobility : Sustainable Urban Transport

    One of the key aspects of urban sustainability lies in the relationship between the environment and transportation. Transportation infrastructure and patterns are at the root of many environmental problems, including air pollution, increased reliance on non-renewable sources of energy that become a major cause for increase in energy consumption. Thus it is essential to include non-motorized transportation in the web of options to help create and plan for sustainable cities

    NMVs offer low cost private transport, emit no pollution, use renewable energy, emphasize use of labor rather than capital for mobility, and are well suited for short trips in most cities regardless of income, offering an alternative to motorized transport for many short trips. Thus, they are appropriate elements in strategies dealing with poverty alleviation, air pollution, management of traffic problems and motorization, and the social and economic dimensions of structural adjustment. NMVs have a most important role to play as a complementary mode to public transportation.

    Cities in Asia exhibit widely varying modal mixes. NMVs — bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, and carts — now play a vital role in urban transport in much of Asia. NMVs account for 25 to 80 percent of vehicle trips in many Asian cities, more than anywhere else in the world. Ownership of all vehicles, including NMVs, is growing rapidly throughout Asia as incomes increase. However, the future of NMVs in many Asian cities is threatened by growing motorization, loss of street space for safe NMV use, and changes in urban form prompted by motorization. Transport planning and investment in most of Asia has focused principally on the motorized transport sector and has often ignored the needs of non-motorized transport. Unless Non-Motorized Transport Strategies are adopted to slow or reverse this trend, problems related to traffic safety, air pollution, energy use, traffic congestion, urban sprawl, and the employment and mobility of low income people may spiral out of control, while increasing the speed of global climate change.

    However, the future of NMVs in many Asian cities is threatened by growing motorization, loss of street space for safe NMV use, and changes in urban form prompted by motorization

    Transport planning and investment in most of Asia has focused principally on the motorized transport sector and has often ignored the needs of non-motorized transport. Without changes in policy, NMV use may decline precipitously in the coming decade, with major negative effects on air pollution, traffic congestion, global warming, energy use, urban sprawl, and the employment and mobility of low-income people.

    As an outlook towards sustainable cities, Non Motorized Vehicles are now being encouraged in various cities- for short trips. These cities are being designed for upgrading the transport facilities for NMV and pedestrians.

    Aspects of NMT that illustrate its usefulness when access is limited are:


    NMT provides a flexible form of transport that can be used for the door-to-door transport of persons and goods with improved travel time and route options.


    With low operational costs they provide an independent mode of transportation for users to commute to places of work and leisure. 2

    Ecological Sustainability

    Promotion of NMT (Cyclists & Pedestrians) environment will provide an opportunity for city to reduce it’s consumption of non-renewable source of energy thus addressing the issue of energy efficiency/climate change.

    As cities in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, and several other European nations demonstrate, the modernization of urban transport does not require total motorization, but rather the appropriate integration of walking, NMV modes, and motorized transport. As in European and Japanese cities, where a major share of trips are made by walking and cycling, NMVs have an important role to play in urban transport systems throughout Asia in coming decades. Transport investment and policy are the primary factors that influence NMV use and can have an effect on the pace and level of motorization. To maximize transportation efficiency and sustainability, transport planning in Asian and other cities will need to focus more closely on stratifying different travel markets by trip length and encouraging different travel modes for various market segments.

    In Asian cities there are many more complex issues surface when promotion of NMT facilities is considered. The motorization of Asian cities is at a vast rate, and NMVs are just considered as a mode for the poor. It is essential that the attitude towards NMVs as a whole in the city is changed through strong policies, encouraging NMV and discouraging expanse of Motorized Vehicle which Asian roads can’t even cater too. Solutions for our transport problems of increasing density, congestion, pollution doesn’t lie in concretizing and constructing massive flyovers, instead it lies in proper streamlining of traffic and propagating and promoting the Non Motorized Vehicle. Our roads need to be NMT friendly with proper facilities for the pedestrian and cycles. An attractive and effective design would encourage more and more people to take these modes of travel. Matters of design and policy can include

    • Make space for walking, cycling and public transport, at the expense of space used by cars and motorcycles
    • Restrict car & motorcycle use and access in the city-centre
    • Avoid road widening & construction of elevated highways in cities, instead planning for the kind of transport one wants in Asian cities
    • Provide good and sufficiently wide footpaths and NMV paths along all urban roads
    • Create low speed zones (30 km/h zones) and narrower roads discouraging more increase of motorized vehicle
    • Create cycle networks through out the city such that it formulates a continuous track and cycling thereby can result as a viable transportation mode, this accompanied with inter modal facilities at relevant locations in the city

    Various Indian cities are now taking pioneering steps towards Promotion of NMT, with roads designed with appropriate facilities for the NMT. It is defiantly a positive step towards Sustainable Urban Transport. Integration of the hope of modernization of our cities, with increasing dependency on Motorized Vehicle and understanding and promoting Non Motorized Transportation within the same milieu are to be mitigated together in Asian Cities, and developing World Class Sustainable Cities.


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    Approaches in transforming Informal settlements.

    June 20th, 2009

    Can we ever develop an all encompassing formula towards improving informal settlement that works in all situations?

    We have discovered that there isn’t.

    From an era of ‘mass slum Rehab’ & ‘Slum improvements’ to in-situ slum up gradation and surgical operations within the milieu of informal settlements – all have been approaches , with their fair share of successes and failures.
    At present it is realized that the structure of an informal settlement, differs in all elements of form/semiotics/ syntax of built environment, landscape/open space and social order from a typical urban context. Therefore to approach an informal settlement with preconditioned ideas and design moves, emerging from a more urban understanding does not respect the underlying structure of an informal settlement, and thereby doesn’t necessarily translate to success. There are numerous distinct political/economical/social contexts within informal communities that demands discerning responses.
    Here is an excellent article from Harvard design magazine with examples of transformations in informal settlements from Latin America which is known and acknowledged as a boiling pot , of inequalities and disparities but also full of possibilities and triumphs.


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    Emerging urban geographies

    February 24th, 2009

    Never in human history have we been faced with urban situations the likes of which we will see in the Asia Pacific Rim over the next 25 years. New urban forms are emerging in cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai, Calcutta, Dhaka, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Osaka, Seoul, Shanghai, Tianjin and Tokyo.

    The rapid growth of Asian cities has been taking place at a time when the impacts of free trade associations, the globalization of decision- making on investment location, and the impacts of the new information- based industries are having a profound effect on city development prospects. Logic of globalization presupposes that integration of cities like these in the world system operates in a hierarchical set up in which upgrading or downgrading of their respective nation states finally determines their actual placement in the system. Such an up gradation in these cities is happening via means of – Structural Adjustment 1. SAP is causing a major shift in emphasis from the government sector as the engine of economic growth to the private sector as a dominant partner in achieving accelerate rate of economic growth.2

    Intervention by capital in struggles over the built environment is usually done through the agency of state power. State intervention thus becomes an omnipresent feature in the complex process of shaping and reshaping of the built environment. Various state regulations, legitimizing control over space epitomize the abuse of monopoly power, as the latter is all too easy to accumulate in spatial terms. The exact mix of private market, monopolistic control and state intervention, however, varies from time to time in any urban development endeavor.

    Effect of Structural Adjustment on Urban Form

    In case of structural adjustment, the dual process of Cost of recovery and Debt servicing as generated out of the acquired loan for infrastructure and development projects, through the means of development credits via World Bank and IMF is being understood and impact of this economic restructuring is now criticized. The criticism is based on the process adopted by these banks for providing the loan, and in turn the steps that need to be adopted by the third world cities for recovery and paying its debt, eventually.

    As understood, that World Bank adopts a four-phase program, while granting the loan being:

    • Privatization
    • Capital market liberalization
    • Market-based pricing
    • Free trade

    Such a policy clubbed with the adjusting to the status of ‘world cities’ has resulted in various new emerging forms and geographies within the mega cities of Asia. Policies of liberalization and privatization are resulting in massive private enclaves.  Regional plan of Mumbai and the present Master plan of Delhi are suggestive of the same.3

    In India, has comes the advent of Mega- City projects, SEZs, Transport and infrastructre development projects, adjusting the Indian Cities to the world city status. Mumbai is one of the five cities included in the centrally sponsored Mega City Scheme launched by the Government of India in the Eighth Five Year Plan. The agencies like World Bank, USAlD, etc. have recommended that the Floor Space Index (FSI) in the central areas of the city should be increased so that multi-storied structures can come up, providing space for business houses, commercial activities and high-income residential units. This would lead to the creation of a few high-density business and high-income residential districts, pushing out households that could not afford the costs. A large number of the industrial units in the post liberalization phase have come up in the villages and small towns around the big cities. The poor are able to find shelter in the “degenerated periphery”, get jobs in the industries located therein or commute to the central city for work 4. The entrepreneurs etc., associated with modem industries and business, however, reside within the central city and travel to the periphery through rapid transport corridors. This process of segmentation, manifested in different variants in different cities, would bring the large part of rural migrants into the peripheral zones

    Illustrative figure to exhibit, the phenomenon that would be generated by new east-west linkages in the city of Mumbai- inner areas of city are getting restructured and poor are relocated to periphery

    The future that haunts new world cities in the Asia Pacific Rim, are centered at being ‘non- inclusive’, where the growth is emerging as highly uneven and lopsided. Tools of planning are not fully developed, and new policies of development are being adopted without responding to one entire sect of society: the poor. Result is not just a disparity between rich and the poor, but a whole realm of ghettotization and new geographies. Though the phenomena appears similar to the processes that the first world cities, went through, with liberalization in the pre 90s and 80s, the third world cities can never replicate it. It is for the mere fact, that third world cities would always play the role of both the consumer and the producer, thereby affected by the First world cities. The phenomena would continue, if the present day polices and processes continue. It would either result in a massive rebellion by the deprived, (refer to Muoroto Conflict in Kenya, for its political implications) which would fight back for the rights of an inclusive city, or would continue with lopsided development both economically (where half of the nation still is based on agriculture economy) and socially, and would go through the same adverse effects as undergone by African cities such as Kenya, establishing a direct and a disadvantageous link between structural adjustments and urban poor.




    Shaping Cities: Studies in History, Theory and Urban Design

    David Harvey

    Post Metropolis & Condition of Post Modernity

    Master Plan 2021


    Swapna Banerjee-Guha

    Ideology of Urban Restructuring in Mumbai: Serving the International Capitalist Agenda

    Rushidan Islam Rahman

    Consequences of Structural Adjustment

    Policies on the Poor

    Barney Cohen

    Urbanization in developing countries: Current trends,

    Future projections, and key challenges for sustainability


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