Next Generation Urbanization in India

New Model Cities can drive Transformative Change

Even though megacities will play a significant role in India’s urban future, patterns of growth suggest that most of India’s urbanisation will take place in smaller cities and towns; those with a population of less than 500,000 as established in the UN World Urbanization Prospects. In other words, growth will come increasingly from building brand new urban centres. This facet of urban growth represents a great challenge and a great opportunity at the same time.

At present, as we can see that the governance mechanism for planning and implementation in India is weak. Cities and towns lack the resources, the skill-set and the technical expertise to cope with rapid urbanisation. On the other hand, since these smaller urban centres are in an early phase of growth, they present a grand opportunity to engage new, innovative and sustainable ideas and technologies to urbanise.

However, at this point, in spite of the urgency of their need, new towns being planned by the Indian government are facing delays due to the typical bureaucratic problems.  Along with such holdbacks it is also becoming increasingly difficult for the private sector- be it developers, architects or planners, to deal with the already existing planning regulations often set by government administration while applying innovative solutions for sustainable growth.

Hence the emerging trend of private sector participation in city building may just provide an effective framework to efficiently drive inclusive and sustainable urbanization of India. Private participation in city making allows India to leverage the full potential of Urbanization and make it work as part of our growth strategy in a faster and more efficient pace. The creation of new cities by the private sector can absorb at least part of the 600 million people that are set to be added into India’s urban centers over the next 4 decades. The government should set macro guiding principles of sustainability & inclusivity in these towns which can then translate into a future with multiple networks of dynamic small cities that can boast of efficiency and higher quality of life.

Private sector participation in city building

Lavasa, the new city envisaged as Independent India’s first hill city, is a recent example of such a private participation in city building. Strategically located near Mumbai and Pune, Lavasa is taking its form on 25,000 acres of land. It is a phased development consisting of five towns and is said to be based on the principles of ‘New Urbanism’ and ‘Biomimicry”.

Lavasa is being developed by the Indian Infrastructure major HCC (Hindustan Construction Company), will create 5 new towns in the mountains about 45 minutes from Pune over the next decade.  The master plan of Lavasa was conceived by internationally known design consultants HOK, USA who conceptualized the city’s master plan with a focus on the local site conditions and environmental influences.

Lavasa has also won the ‘Award of Excellence’ from the highly revered Congress of New Urbanism. The master plan of Lavasa ensures that the natural open spaces are protected, so that the ‘hill station appeal’ is not lost.  Reforestation, green roofs, bioswales, rainwater harvesting, utilization of environmentally responsible material in buildings are a few practices in use at Lavasa. The master plan ensures the adaptability of land uses in view of changing market demands so as to ensure economic sustainability.

‘Green compact city’ Model

The Lavasa City Planning standards embrace the ideas of the ‘green compact city’ which can also serve as a “model” for future small town developments in India. Below are some of the driving Principles of ‘green compact city’ framework of city planning:

  • Creating new urban landscapes within compact city.
  • Urban boundary definitions to address Urban Sprawl
  • Integration of transport, land use and open space planning.
  • Creation of Soft green infrastructure for walking and cycling.
  • Supporting of urban-rural interfaces.

Biomimicry: Ecological Performance Standards for City Building

Private sector driven City Building has also allowed application of forward looking practices like ‘Biomimicry’ principles in city planning for the first time in the world in Lavasa. Lavasa’s city’s second town, Mugaon will become the world’s first region to draw inspiration from the concepts of Biomimicry in design and architecture.

Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Principles inspired from nature can change the way we harness energy, repair the environment, feed the world and heal ourselves.

Janine Benyus – World-renowned biologist and co-founder of Biomimicry Guild conducted a 3-day charrette in  Lavasa to conceive this ground breaking  masterplan .  The Biomimicry Guild has been helping companies and communities discover, examine, understand and emulate nature inspired strategies, with the aim of designing sustainable products and processes that create conditions conducive to all life.

“How do dragonflies outmaneuver our best helicopters? How do hummingbirds cross the Gulf of Mexico on less than one tenth of an ounce of fuel? How do ants carry the equivalent of hundreds of pounds in dead heat through a jungle? How do termites maintain constant temperature of 86º F in their habitat through heat and cold? The answers to these questions will be the solution to so many of our problems. It is time we learnt about nature, not with an intention to control, but with an intention to fit in and last for good. “explains Janine Benyus

She was especially excited about implementing biomimicry principles in city planning , given that cities are at the heart of the Climate Change & Eco System loss crisis today. “Today, we need corporates and business leaders to choose the path less trodden. We need new ideas and we need to revolutionize the way we live, create and exist. Lavasa is a brilliant attempt towards creating a human dwelling to emulate nature’s ideas. We need many more Lavasas in the world in order to ensure we last longer on planet earth” She had earlier stated.

This revolutionary idea attempts to look at the City offering the same ecosystem services as the wild or natural areas surrounding it. The idea is to have cities perform like ecosystems, not just look like them. In tangible terms , this type of city will harvest resources like water , sun’s energy and wind. Buildings, hardscapes, landscapes and infrastructure of the community will come together to grant the same level of life-sustaining ecosystem services as a natural ecosystem.  It’s the step toward having building and infrastructure projects that not only meet their own needs—they actually give back to the natural world. The ultimate ambitious goal for the Lavasa is to create a human settlement that actually enhances local ecology by functioning at least as well as a healthy, highly functioning moist deciduous forest. It is a bold goal which can bring on transformative change to our world and actually show the world a new model of sustainable human settlements.

The Lavasa development is going to look for inspiration for design from the brilliance of the moist deciduous forest ecosystem —animals, plants, microbes, and other ecosystems. These ideas will then drive innovative design of buildings, hardscapes, and landscapes in this new city. The Ecological Performance Standards being developed also intends to assist those native species most in need of help, by attempting, for instance, to provide vital corridors for their shelter and migration.

Mr. Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman, Lavasa Corporation Ltd affirms “Right from inception, our vision for Lavasa was very clear. We wanted to create a living space where man and nature co-exist in harmony while ensuring both, economic and environmental sustainability. Janine and her team along with HOK have brought this vision to life. Today, we are working briskly towards building the world’s first model town based on principles of Biomimicry at Mugaon in Lavasa. We hope this experiment will be a precedent to many future towns and cities across the world”

Towards Transformative change: New Models of City Building

Lavasa is part of the family of new model cities sprouting around the world that are breaking conventional barriers and setting new city building paradigms and ecological standards.  Other global examples include Masdar in Abu Dhabi or Songodo IDB in South Korea. These projects have the potential to be a game changer for our future world and may just show humanity the way forward in terms achieving the values of true sustainability.

Masdar city In Abu Dhabi recently completed its phase one development and the residents have started moving into the city. Masdar City is planned as clean-technology cluster designed by Foster+ Partners that aims to be one of the world’s most sustainable urban developments powered by renewable energy. It is located about 17km from downtown Abu Dhabi and will be home to companies, researchers, and academics from across the globe. Though the topography and geography of this city is vastly different from that of Lavasa, the intensions of sustainable development are shared by both these cities. Masdar is in the midst of a dessert and Lavasa in area with abundance of rain water for 4 months and pleasant temperatures all year round. These cities in contrasting environments can be viewed as references for India’s future cities.

Songdo IDB is developed on the 1500 acres of reclaimed land in South Korea is another example of efforts towards sustainable city development with private sector involvement.  This is private sector venture with partnership between ‘Gale International’ and ‘POSCO E&C’. Songodo IDB aims to be leader in South Korea’s ‘low carbon green living efforts’. The master plan of Songodo is similar to Lavasa in regards to the similar aims of sustainable green city development. Like Lavasa and Masdar, Songodo IDB too is utilizing principals of water harvesting, grey water reuse and technologies to avoid or reduce commute distances.

Lavasa, Masdar and Songodo are path breaking projects which offer the much needed developmental precedent and action leadership towards sustainable city building. As an urbanism enthusiast, one cannot ignore the impact these cities will make on our future urban development and also on professionals involved in the city design & planning. These cities are attempting to put many academic concepts into action. As in any development, there are set to be many challenges in making these visions into reality.  But these challenges are sure to seem tiny when compared to the influence and impact these projects will have on the future of cities.

This Article was Co-authored by Prathima Manohar & Aditi Nargundkar Pathak

Full Disclosure : Lavasa Corporation has sponsored some of The Urban Vision’s events

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The Urban Vision has been initiated with the core belief that cities offer a remarkable way to create a socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant society. The Urban Vision profiles best practices and the finest thinking in the key components of city building –Urban Design, Architecture, infrastructure planning, policy strategies et cetera.The Urban Vision will illustrate inspiring concepts that urban practitioners can take on so as to drive the world in the right path.