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The Urban Vision : Capture the BIG Picture
Name: Hafeez Contractor
Bio: Hafeez Contractor commenced his career in 1968 with T. Khareghat as an Apprentice Architect and in 1977 he became the associate partner in the same firm. Between 1977 and 1980 Hafeez has been a visiting faculty at the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai. He is a member of the Bombay Heritage Committee and New Delhi Lutyens Bungalow Zone Review Committee.He has a Graduate Diploma in architecture from Mumbai and has a masters in Urban design from Columbia University, New York. His practice had modest beginnings in 1982 with a staff of two. Today the firm has over 350 employees including senior associates, architects, interior designers, draftsmen, civil engineering team and architectural support staff. The firm has conceptualized ,designed and executed a wide range of architectural projects like bungalows; residential developments; hospitals; hotels; corporate offices; banking and financial institutions; commercial complexes; shopping malls; educational institutions; recreational and sports facilities; townships; airports; railway stations, urban planning and civic redevelopment projects.
Posts by Hafeez Contractor:
I am writing in reference to the article “Parking lots tower too in free FSI boom” on The Times of India, Mumbai recently that says that developers have got a bonanza in the form of higher FSI in lieu of constructing these parking slots free of cost for the BMC .
One look at our roads will tell you that there is a desperate need for a reserved public car parking garages for both private cars and taxis. It is becoming almost impossible to park in any neighborhood of the city these days. There is absolutely no space for people to drive or walk on most of our streets today. We need to stop using roads as parking areas and give it back to motorists and pedestrians. So the bottom line is that parking garages for private cars / taxis is the need of the hour.
I would also like to further comment on two larger points that the article raises – redensification & Public Private Partnerships. I don’t understand why the media still uses the cliché of high FSI Benefits the Real estate sharks. When one talks about increasing the FSI, it is always seen as a selfish wealth- generating mechanism for the developer. Well, the builders make money in any case- with an increased FSI or otherwise. But he definitely makes more money in a scarcity market like ours than in a market with a rational demand and supply situation. On the other hand, if you think about pure economics, increasing FSI will unquestionably benefit the poorest and the middle class. A leading economist once said that this attitude of attacking the private enterprise and rejecting an increase in the construction of badly needed built space because some developers or land owners might get rich is like preventing farmers to cultivate wheat in the middle of a famine because they might make money by selling their wheat. The city desperately needs new buildings to house its people which the developer will build with their extra FSI. So I don’t think there is anything wrong with developers adding to the built space of the city in exchange for building public amenities like parking garages for the city. It is a win-win situation.
Public-private partnerships is seen as a way to go in every other sector, so why should the infrastructure sector stay behind? The Government today simply doesn’t have the money to build these public assets. The Private enterprise can deliver on these amenities when incentivized rightly. It is important that we embrace public-private partnerships instead of fearfully rejecting them.
The slums prevalent in many Indian cities are an evidence of the massive shortage of low cost housing. The census states that 42.6 million people lived in slums in 2001. This constitutes 15 per cent of the total urban population of the country and 22.6 per cent of the urban population of the states or union territories reporting slums.
Why the crisis?
The reason for this crisis is because India has not created housing in proportion to demand. We need to resolve this situation by two-ring strategy
- Government subsidized Economically weaker section housing.
- Drive the creation of Market drive affordable housing
Economically Weak Segment housing
As the statistics reveal, a large part of the demand in housing comes from the lower income segment. Within this segment, there is a need to deliver government subsidized housing for households with less than INR 10,000 monthly income. It would be highly difficult to be able to deliver market driven housing to this segment; even though PPP models can be a good option.
Another important point to note here is that the earlier thinking of accommodating social housing in the outer edges of the city is inappropriate. First of all, most of these families work in the central areas of the city; and adding the cost burden of travelling long distances will make the schemes unattractive if they are in outer periphery of the city. Also, there can’t be segregation of different segments of the society – We have seen the ills of that slant of thinking in many world cities including in Paris , recently , that saw mass rioting in outer edges of the city which only housed poor migrants.
As mentioned previously, the government will need to subsidize the housing for the economically weaker segments of the society with less than INR 8,000 monthly household income. To facilitate the dream of making Indian cities slum free and making affordable housing accessible to every Indian, I propose that the government set aside large parcels of subsidized (or free) land within city limits for social housing. An FSI of 4 should be then given in these areas, which can then be used to produce large units of affordable homes and related community and social facilities. It is important to emphasize that high density development is crucial here. An FSI of 4 will allow us to create approximately 29,000 units per 100 acres whereas an FSI of 1.5 will allow for creation of only 11,000 units. A high- density design will also allow us to create better spaces, amenities and parks on the ground leading to a better urban environment. Also , we should add housing stock not only to fulfil current need but with consideration of future demand.
The creation of these affordable homes needs to be a not- for- profit endeavour. The government should ideally set up an organization or vehicle to facilitate this. The Non-Profit Organization will essentially deliver affordable housing at production cost (construction cost + other services charge ) in our cities that are facing severe housing crisis. We need to develop tools so that the best of the private sector participate in this scheme and deliver a premium product. The market will find it attractive especially due to the scale. There needs to regulative mechanisms to ensure that this housing stock doesn’t eventually end up in the speculative market. Depending on the city – a superior quality high rise construction + infrastructure can be delivered anywhere between INR 1500 to 2000 per square feet. These new schemes will, in essence, be aimed at stimulating a sense of urban renaissance in our cities.
Market-driven affordable Housing:
The market can also be directed to create houses for a family with an average household income of above INR12, 000 per month. To be able to achieve this – It is important to create a regulatory environment where the private enterprise is tempted to get involved in affordable housing development. There is also a need to subsidize land prices towards development focused on social housing. It is also important to set up incentives like offering low-interest loans or giving tax holidays to developers who work in the affordable housing segment. Another idea is to offer subsidized quality housing, funded by the speculative market. In this concept private enterprises that seek to create affordable housing will acquire additional area (extra FSI) for their commercial objectives equal to the area constructed in the social housing program. As a result the additional FSI cross-subsidizes the social housing program.
The world’s urban Population is set to double from the current 3.4 billion to 6.3 billion by 2050, according the United Nations. India will be at the forefront of this urban rise. Keep in mind that the scale and pace of the urbanization that India is going to experience in the coming century is unprecedented by history. It requires us to act fast or we will have to deal with social and environmental crisis of disastrous proportions.
The present set of problems that the world faces in area of environment, poverty and health; demands that India craft a vision of an entirely new developmental model. The manner in which cities have grown in the past thousand years has been acceptable up till now. But we are at a tipping point at the moment and we need to choose a new path.
Think about it- The world simply cannot continue to grow in the current model. The current model of development that is employed in the most advanced economies of the world doesn’t allow all the population of the world to use its resources fairly. For example – Today even though less than 5 percent of the world’s 6.45 billion people live in the United States, this small population consumes roughly 25 percent of the world’s resources. According to some estimates, the average American consumes five times more energy than the average global citizen, 10 times more than the average Chinese, and nearly 20 times more than the average Indian. If everyone in our planet were to live the average American lifestyle, then we would require 5.3 planets. The current developmental model only allows the rich to live a certain quality of life at the expense of the poor.
So clearly, the world simply cannot develop in the current model of growth. It would simply be implausible to move our entire population towards a reasonable level of “Human Development Index” with the current models of growth – Simply because we don’t have resources to sustain it. So does that mean that we stop all development and halt the progress of our civilization? Well no. It means that we need to conceive a brand new type of development model.
At this point , I also have to highlight that cities in many ways are the appropriate model for the future. Cities, in fact, allow all of us to share resources and they are the most efficient way for human civilization to distribute its resources fairly while conserving its important flora , fauna and biodiversity. But we need to relook the way we perceive the city.
In the current developmental Model – we seem to talk about a host of non-renewable resources. But we miss the most important – Land. Arable land that grows food and nurtures the planet earth and its inhabitants (both humans, and other flora and fauna) is limited. Without food, humankind cannot survive; people will die of hunger. The current model of Urbanization is threatening our food supply and the existence of our planet. We need to conserve land desperately and come up with a new type of developmental model.
The future urban development model of the world will conserve land vehemently. Instead of converting hundreds of acres of farmland into development zones like today; Urbanization of the future will have to be creating farms and forests in already developed zones. Multi-layered high density towers will be the way to achieve this development model as they are the best way to ensure compact urban centers. In today’s times– High density development has been equaled to skyscrapers which are only seen in an iconic manner. But high density towers will have to be seen as a tool to reduce our ecological footprint. The design and form of the high density towers of the future will again be different. The high-rise of the future will be small cities in themselves and will be self sufficient pods. The mega towers of the future will have multiple levels of gardens, parks and farms in the sky. They will have vertical networks of mass- transport: The elevators of today will act like networks of mass-transit similar to subways / rails of today and will transport millions of people.
Instead of just using energy – our cities will be producing energy. The cities of the future will conserve every drop of water that falls on us. In essence, the cities of the future will have to increase the bio-capacity of our planet instead of reducing the earth’s bio-capacity. The key task of the infrastructure provider of the future will then have to be about adding to bio-productivity of the planet. At that time – Existing cities will be villages and existing villages merely historic sites. The large quantity of the agrarian economy will be centered in these areas. Most of the world’s population will live in these areas and will rightly leave large parts of our earth for other species .
The megapolis of the future will require a whole new way of thinking, a whole new set of rules and laws. We will not have land rights but we will have space rights since land will be extremely precious. The political reality will be different too. The lowest strata of our society will be treated with great level of respect. The government will provide social housing for the poor like any other basic infrastructure provided by them today.
India’s young population is going to be a great asset in this age. Europe & North America is already aging rapidly and birth rates are far below those necessary to maintain current population levels. Because of its one child policy, China is also set to age rapidly in about 20 years. But more than half of India is below 25 and growing. So India’s youth will be an asset to the world.
In this future – The world’s people will be global citizens due to huge levels of inter geography – migration; and collaboration between people of different regions paving a way for a world with little conflict. There will be tremendous intermingling of people from different cities much like global cities of today and a new global state will evolve. Our talented young people like others across the globe will move between these megapolisis as new economic opportunities come up .
This Article was first published in The Times of India. It is excerpted from The Urban Vision’s Project “Visions: Future Cities”
The idea of reclamation has been an area of debate for a long time. The judiciary’s verdict in the 1990’s against reclamation in Mumbai has turned into a kind of a bible. There is no question about the fact that reclamation hurts environment and doesn’t offer the same kind of ecological functionality as a natural forest. But so does urbanization – Today’s urban world contributes to environmental degradation in one-way or another. Therefore, it is important for us to develop in a more structured and organized manner so as to mitigate the negative effects of progress.
There have been prominent examples of reclamations around the world. Famous instances include Washington, D.C. which was built on land that was once swamp; Back Bay in Boston, Massachusetts; and the polders of the Netherlands. The southern Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau and the city-state of Singapore are also well-known for land reclamation. Large-scale land reclamation has been undertaken in different parts of Singapore since the 1960s. The entire East Coast Park in Singapore was built on reclaimed land and includes a man-made beach. By 1990, the total land area of Singapore was 633km square from 581.5km. There was an increase of 51.5 km square through reclamation, which made up 8.9% the total land area. Malaysia has reclaimed about 1,214 hectares of its coast
Monaco and the British territory of Gibraltar are also expanding due to land reclamation. In the recent times, man made islands have been another way of land reclamation. Kansai International Airport in Osaka and Hong Kong International Airport are instances of such a technique. The Palm Islands and The World close to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates are other examples of artificial islands.
When there are such outstanding examples of reclamation around the world, it is appropriate for India to look seriously at reclamation as a tool in improving urban centres. I believe reclamation is a way to shape public urban spaces which cannot be created within the existing fabric of dense cities. One cannot have a common coastal protection act across the length and breadth of the country. While it is critical to protect the coasts of less developed areas, one cannot use the same strategy for intensely developed areas lie Mumbai or Chennai.
I have time and again proposed water front promenades and green public concourses with reclamation along the coast of Mumbai. The Western Waterfront Development proposal is a scheme that attempts to rejuvenate the urban environment of Mumbai. The city with its continually ghastly-unplanned developmental pattern has devoured open spaces, thus affecting the citizenry’s quality of life. The waterfront proposal is an endeavor to bring the architects, the developers, environmentalists and the citizens of Mumbai to collaborate in an idea that touches the future of the city and the everyday life of its civic community.
What is now miles of under utilized and neglected waterfront area is envisioned as a new and vibrant community space, blessed and intertwined with a dramatic ribbon of sea front parks, walkways and waterfront esplanades. This new open space system was conceived as an integral part of Mumbai’s urban renewal program. The waterfront proposed experiences ranging from broad, sweeping greenswards and parks along a naturalized shoreline to large interpretive parks. Further, series of intimate social and active spaces for play; gatherings and events enrich the park experience. It has been conceived of as common ground for a new and diverse community integrating Mumbai’s cultural heritage narratives woven throughout in the language and traditions of 21st century recreation. When completed, these parks will finally link city’s downtown centre to its suburbia and, ultimately, reintroduce the citizens to their city’s once revered oceanfront.
Often, when framing urban policies we in India adopt a view where we try to create policies where all the lobbies are satisfied, .Most times this may not necessarily translate to a great vision. When you analyze a city like Bangalore, there is an inner older city and the outer city which is mostly new developments. The old Bangalore with tree-lined roads and little gardens has always had great appeal. This character of Bangalore, largely shaped by these tree-lined streets, is slowly vanishing, given the shortsighted way the city seems to be cutting off its trees.
The new development plan is going to further destroy this invaluable quality of Bangalore as the garden city. The widening of the roads, the cutting down of the trees, the new high density plans will wipe out the Bangalore that we all love and remember. I am all for urban redevelopment and change. But we can focus on high density development and new infrastructure while conserving the valuable features and heritage of our cities. I think the idea of creating a single law for the old and new segments of the city is not an intelligent solution.
I believe the inner city with its charming character should have been preserved as it is. It should have been the nucleus and they should have kept the FSI or density constant in these areas. The major metro lines, infrastructure projects and higher density development should have been focused on the outer city circle. I call it the “Medhu wada” concept- The old charming Bangalore should be preserved, almost as it, in the inner circle and higher density outer city with new infrastructure should be created as a ring around the existing city. In that way, you could have kept the intervention in the exiting parts of Bangalore to a minimal. Of course you would need a few crisscross expressways and an underground metro system. This way we could have retained the older charm of the city and the outer city could have been designed like the state of the art mega city of the future.
Skyscrapers are saviors in our urban state of affairs. When you compare our population in our cities to the amount of land we have, the only way to provide better living conditions is by building higher. We have stretched our urban resources and globalization will only mean bursting the balloon.
Our cities have grown without any planning and now we are facing the consequences .You can’t close the eyes to the development. You will have to create the infrastructure. People living in a city will use the infrastructure in any way. So you would be better off establishing organized infrastructure. We should have a broader vision and provide solutions appropriate for the future of the city.
The conflict between heritage and development that is being played out yet again over the past few months stands to hold the Mumbai’s future at stake if not resolved pragmatically. The extremist positions that are being illustrated in the media is visibly pointless- On one side there are lobbyists who claim that the new developments will “destroy our heritage” ; even as the pro-development lobby talks about how the heritage lobby arrest any move towards regeneration of the inner of core of the city thereby ensuring our “economic ruin”. The answer lies in between. We need get out this of the heritage or development mode and stop viewing them as opposite ends of the spectrum. Heritage and development are not contradictory to one other. In fact, a great city is a fusion of the old and the new. There is clearly a need to discourage divergent positions and look for balanced solutions that integrate the past as we progress.
Even as it is important to respect the legacy of our city’s architecture and public spaces; one also has to dig deeper to recognize that a number of dilapidated sections of our old city that have been categorised as heritage. Often, a number of activists use the idea of preservation to freeze a place in time and fight against any sort of development. It is this type of mindset that I question. The manner in which neighbourhood after neighbourhood is being classified as a heritage zone is something I don’t agree with. Who are making these decisions on our heritage? A number of the cities neighbourhood that require desperate revival are being labelled heritage zone. This type of approach will be disastrous for the longer term health of the city. A city cannot be frozen in time and we need to appreciate that greatest allure of any city is the element of change.
There is absolutely no question that Mumbai is home to some of the worlds most valuable architectural jewels and I concur that these landmarks and their immediate precincts need to be protected. But to have a blanket law that classifies large parts of the city as heritage and thereby demand total preservation of those areas is unreasonable.
Internationally there are many great cities that have preserved their heritage while allowing new development. The addition of the glass pyramid designed by I.M Pie in three-sided western courtyard of the Louvre, which is arguably among the worlds most prized architectural heritage is an example of integrating the old and the new. Barcelona is another city that allows the vibrancy of past and present to come together to create a dynamic cityscape. The city has the radical architecture of Antonio Gaudi and the more recent Santiago Calatrava coexisting close to the historic core. We need to look at such strategies of preserving our heritage precincts while allowing progress. Solutions that would prioritize different aspects of urban growth should be explored in such a way that it does not deter developmental growth and at the same time does not fade the city’s heritage values
Also it is important to note that architectural conservation is costly, and as a result a lot of private property owners are unable to manage the upkeep of these structures leading to decay of neighbourhoods. They are also often unable to redevelop these buildings due to monetary impracticality. A number of these old buildings had a higher FSI than the current 1.33. Without higher FSI projects are usually not financially feasible. As a consequence, few buildings get renovated and the city is saddled with inefficient, obsolete neighbourhoods.
There was a time when I used walk extensively- from my college to the office and home and to almost everywhere else. I remember always looking forward to those walks to reflect, think and relax. I am nostalgic about those times in my favourite city – Mumbai.
But, have you had a ;look at our streets recently? Have you seen how many people walk on the road as compared to the footpath? Look closely, no one actually seems to be walking on the footpaths- A majority are literally in the middle of the roads.
Over the years – we have managed to drive pedestrians out of the pedestrian-ways – first came the informal vendors, at one point municipalities started building toilets in middle of the footpaths, then there were milk booths and more squatters. To top it all, neighbouring societies started putting repulsive flowerbed on the ground so as to get rid of all of the above. Even as the footpaths of the older part of our cities have dilapidated, they have disappeared in the newer part of our cities!
The departure of the institution of walkability in our cities is one of the fundamental refection of the complete failure of our cities. Think about it – the great cities of the world are all by nature essentially great places to walk. Walkability is the most critical element of a good city. Creating walkable cities is a great way to address the environmental crisis of our era. Also, more people on the streets mean a more superior opportunity for social interaction and thus an excellent way to create a socially inclusive community. A walkable city will also add to the aesthetic, sense of character and vibrancy of a city. So at this point in time, as we try to address the challenges of our urban centres, it’s critical that we address and invest time in enhancing the pedestrian culture of our cities.