Most of our cities are on the verge of collapse. Congested roads, over-flowing garbage, unreliable water supply and poor civic amenities are proof of failing urban governance. As the year comes to a close and we look forward to a new year with hope and optimism, we can take stock of what has gone wrong and what we need to change in order to look forward to a better future for our city.
Pune is blessed with many natural assets and a rich cultural history. But unless we identify the source of the malaise that has set in during the last three or four decades, we will be heading into a future worse than anything experienced so far.
But where do we start? Will Pune be transformed by the Smart City Mission that everyone is talking about but is quite unable to define? Will more investment and innovation be the key to making our city prosperous? Will another dose of urban renewal like the failed JnNURM be the answer? Many questions but few convincing answers.
We feel it is time to understand that without the solid foundation of a good environment, no superficial add-ons will ever work. We’ve seen the recent havoc caused by rain and flooding in Chennai and before that in Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities experiencing disasters often wrongly termed as natural calamities when they are actually man-made, because of neglect of the environment. Cities have filled their lakes and water bodies, razed hills for roads, airports and other so-called “development” projects without any respect to their natural assets.
In terms of city planning, this means respecting the natural assets of our city. Land use plans should strictly keep off rivers, streams, lakes, water bodies and unique geographical features like hills and hill slopes, urban forests etc from “development.” Similarly, man-made heritage like the ghats, historical, architectural and cultural structures should be preserved because they give a unique character to the city.
Another major concern is traffic and transport for the city. Pune has suffered from such onslaught from the automobile as roads were widened for the convenience of the motor car with scant respect for other modes — particularly the bicyclists and pedestrians. In the process, trees were massacred and parts of the city turned into a war-like zone with massive flyovers and other infrastructure mainly for the benefit of the personal automobile. While cities across the world are putting constraints on use of personal automobile (congestion charging in London, City Bike Hire Scheme in Paris, New York and increasing number of other cities, hiking parking charges for personal vehicles, and turning core city areas into ‘Car Free Zones’) and investing in public transport and non-motorised transport (walking and cycling), we continue to follow the old and failed vision of automobile dominated city planning. If we address these issues with seriousness, we can look forward to a bright future for our city.
Patwardhan is a trustee of Parisar, an NGO working for environment.