Traditionally, Indian human settlements have always been very compactly built, except perhaps in the coastal or hilly regions. The inherent advantages of a compact settlement are many. However, over time, various global movements such as the ‘garden city’ movement and so on have led to cities spreading horizontally. The invasion of the automobile only added to this. However, we seem to have come a full circle now. The problems that we today face with commuting long distances, environmental pollution on account of combustion engine driven vehicles, time and health casualties, safety issues, etc. have brought us back to understand the most desirable spatial configuration of a city..
Way back in the year 1973, the term compact city was first coined by George Dantzig and Thomas L Saaty, two mathematicians whose work had a profound impact on urban planning in the modern day. According to the United Nations HABITAT III New Urban Agenda Draft outcome document for adoption in Quito, October 2016 : “We commit to promote the development of urban spatial frameworks, including urban planning and design instruments that support sustainable management and use of natural resources and land, appropriate compactness and density, polycentrism, and mixed uses, through infill or planned urban extension strategies as applicable, to trigger economies of scale and agglomeration, strengthen food system planning, enhance resource efficiency, urban resilience, and environmental sustainability”.
“We encourage spatial development strategies that take into account, as appropriate, the need to guide urban extension prioritising urban renewal by planning for the provision of accessible and well-connected infrastructure and services, sustainable population densities, and compact design and integration of new neighbourhoods in the urban fabric, preventing urban sprawl and marginalisation”.
“We commit to promote safe, inclusive, accessible, green, and quality public spaces as drivers of social and economic development, sustainably leveraging their potential to generate increased social and economic value, including property value, and to facilitate business, public and private investments, and livelihood opportunities for all.”
From the above, it is clear that the present day thinking and general agreement the world over is for developing compact neighbourhoods.
Need and demand
In most cities in India, central city areas, particularly residential areas have become very old with stressed infrastructure. Buildings have also deteriorated and outlived their useful life. New projects coming up in far flung areas lack adequate infrastructure and are difficult to access. Therefore, the need for redevelopment of central city areas arises to unlock property potential, capture value and redevelop. The inherent advantages of the centrality of location, well established infrastructure and connectivity added to the need for housing and commercial spaces fuels the demand side of redevelopment. Policy in most states in India today fortunately recognises the inherent potential and provides for the same. Real estate industry advocacy has also contributed to the favourable policy climate.
There are many advantages in redevelopment and it is a win-win situation for all the stakeholders. Firstly, the owners of existing properties in the neighbourhoods get free of charge, new housing and infrastructure, of a larger size and better specifications, sometimes with some monetary benefits as well. Secondly, the real estate developers are given additional floor area ( FAR/FSI ) so that they can generate additional space which can be sold in the open market and offset costs. Thirdly, the local agencies are able to mop up revenues for providing the additional infrastructure to support the increased densities. Fourthly, a percentage of EWS housing is mandatory and contributes to inclusiveness of the development. Finally, the city gets a new urban form and face, technologically advanced, sustainable and contemporary.
The Mumbai experience
Owing to its geography, the city of Mumbai has always been short of urban space. The policy of redevelopment in Mumbai, the first of its kind in the country, came with redevelopment of the slum areas ( SRD ). Under the popular SRD scheme, several lands of high property value got developed where the slum dwellers were resettled from their shanties into ‘pucca’ high rises and the developers put up housing units which were sold in the open market.
While there has been a considerable amount of housing stock created, particularly for the EWS population, which would have been otherwise not possible, alongwith infrastructure development, there have been issues as well. Only those lands with high land values where the developer sees good profits get redeveloped. Further, the quality of redevelopment for the EWS has also been in question. However, despite these shortcomings, the model has found many takers.
The popularity of this model, with variations, has also spread to lands occupied by cooperative housing societies, MHADA colonies and other areas. Even government quarters are proposed to be redeveloped in this manner. The city as a whole has been densified and the demands on the infrastructure have increased. At the same time, the infrastructure including public transport is under renewal to gear up to this challenge for improving mobility. The already compact city is able to contain itself by accommodating more and minimise sprawl.
The Delhi experience
At the national capital, the initial Master Plan was based on the American model of wide roads and ‘drive to work’ philosophy, thanks to the Ford Foundation which had a major role in its planning. However, with the changed circumstances and the uncontrolled sprawl, the need to contain the same and grow more dense has arisen. Safety considerations, availability of large tracts of unutilised or under utilised land in the city has prompted the latest version of the Master Plan to take a serious look at the conscious provision for redevelopment. The MPD 2021 squarely address and provides for redevelopment. In areas close to the Metro lines, an FAR of 400 is permissible with an additional 15 per cent FAR mandated for EWS. Christened as Transit Oriented Development (TOD), intense compact developments are permitted along the Metro lines so as to encourage mass transit. Further, redevelopment in other areas is also permitted with a high FAR of 300. The real estate industry is now permitted to develop and contribute to the development of the city, which, till recently, was the sole preserve of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
Just as in Mumbai, in Delhi too, the whole initiative started with using the model for slum redevelopment. Unfortunately, there were serious hiccups and the Katputli slum project has been hanging for long, unfinished. Nevertheless, many other redevelopment projects are on the anvil.
Being a city of government housing colonies, there is a need to revamp the under utilised government housing. Moti Bagh was the first of the 50-year-old government colony to be redeveloped. Kidwai Nagar redevelopment is the next to get going at full speed. Many other employee quarters are soon to be redeveloped. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has already undertaken over a dozen redevelopment projects, for both commercial and residential purposes with the association of various developers. The Rail Land Development Authority is also working on redevelopment of its underutilised lands. Several DDA flats are also envisaging redevelopment. While policy is evolving and clarity in rules emerging, the city is soon to shed its low density, low rise, segregated land use image of an urban sprawl and shaping up into a high density, high rise, mixed use compact development.
The policy frameworks in both Mumbai and Delhi are very much in tune with the global thinking, to promote safe, sustainable, thriving, compact developments which can enrich the lives of all segments of the society and at the same promote the economy and take people out of the cycle of low incomes and make them more prosperous. While the redevelopment policy is no doubt good, the implementation needs to be speeded up and time bound. Further its integration with city wide infrastructure improvement, particularly mobility, holds the key to success.
Despite all the efforts to improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in the urban local bodies, particularly in Delhi, getting municipal approvals and completion certificates (CC) still appears mysteriously slow to most proponents. The operational ‘nitty gritty’ continues to be irksome and far from seamless. Sensitising municipal officials to customer service on the one hand and creating consumer awareness of the procedures on the other hand are in need of urgent reinforcement. However, with the strong stress of the central government on ‘development’ and commitment to improve the systems of local urban governance, the national capital is poised for a paradigm shift for the better.