Words like livability, sustainability, mixed use and walkability have become too fashionable in urban development and planning. Though these concepts have noble goals their usage in Indian cities are mostly restricted to plan documents only with the reality on the ground much different and may not align with the aspirations such words reflect. Its quite disturbing to see vastly differing pictures of our cities on paper and on the ground. The problem is a serious one because cities being the main hub of economic activities, their potential failure poses a much dire threat to the development of the nation.
Although the reasons why effective planning outcomes do not materialize are well documented and discussed at various forums, ground reality has not changed much. It’s also true that unless there is political will at the top nothing much can happen at the ground level. Presently, the incumbent government is only concerned about its success in the next elections. Therefore, policy objectives are often aimed at meeting the ruling party’s interests rather than mutual decisions taking into consideration the local citizens who are affected the most by them. We need to develop an inclusive system keeping in view all the relevant stakeholders and the agencies concerned to work mutually for the development of well-organised cities that take into account the community’s welfare.
Frequent interference by the interested parties and elected representatives in planning processes can derail good planning outcomes. Political interference in planning recommendations can seriously compromise the quality and impartiality of professional advice being provided to council and the public. Its especially so when there is politician-builder nexus which is a common feature in India. Lack of transparency and governance issues force the common man to develop an attitude of disgust towards the system itself. This eventually leads to non-compliance of rules, including tax avoidance.
The disrupted cities with masses living in deplorable conditions require urban planning. This stems from the basic economic problem of scarce resources and increasing population in cities. The increase in environmental issues, poor sanitation, over-population and several other problems the cities face call for experts from different fields of research to forecast population growth, recognise means of commute in the city, devise strategies for land use, and identify water demand and supply to meet growing needs of the urban population. Poorly planned cities lead to increased hazards such as perilous housing, poor sanitation, destruction of environment and increased pollution and health risks.
Any unforeseen natural disaster can only exacerbate the already wretched condition of the cities as has been recently seen. The segments of society most vulnerable to the hazards are the urban poor, who have residences in slums or other perilous localities, deprived of basic services required for human life.
So, there is an urgent need on the part of urban planning experts to deliberate on these issues. The issue is a serious one as the pace of urbanisation in recent years has increased and according to estimates, nearly half the country’s population will reside in urban areas in coming few decades.