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We need to manage spatial growth better

A building is no longer just a structure with four walls and a roof but often considered as an edifice that gives identity to the city itself. With middle-income countries with high and growing population (like ours) set to urbanise rapidly they need to give special attention to spatial growth and find solution to growing urban slums. Choice has to be made between crowding versus liveable density, slums and sweatshops versus more humane housing and office conditions.

Lessons learnt while tackling the Covid-19 pandemic that has highlighted the life-and-death implications of crowded neighborhoods that are ill equipped to curb the spread of disease are also need to be considered in our future city planning. As our life slowly crawls back to normalcy from the pandemic, planning for a better urban future requires understanding the forces that have shaped the cities we inhabit today.

Therefore, building tall is not a matter of creating a distinctive skyline with notable skyscrapers anymore but a way for future survival. Much more than a vanity project, enabling the construction of taller buildings is a matter of liveability, especially in view of the present pandemic, scarcity of land and ever increasing population.  Vertical layering perhaps is the only feasible solution to create enough floor space to accommodate growing populations without packing people into smaller and smaller spaces.

The stakes of the spatial evolutionary processes for today’s rapidly growing our cities which also have much lower per capita income, are high. In most of our cities where urban horizontal expansion is not managed well are becoming unliveable and are a source and cause of many new problems. Such unhindered and unplanned growth will ultimately result in cities becoming bigger while people living in those remaining poor. But crisis can also occur in cities that grow at higher income levels, if the spatial expansion of these cities is unplanned or if their planners make poorly founded assumptions about how cities grow.

No doubt, governing the drivers of urban spatial form and function are complex institutional and decision-making processes that combine with fundamental economic forces to affect the size and shape of a city’s built-up area, the heights of its structures, the contours of its skyline, the distribution of its population densities, and its floor space per person.

Recent approaches to the urban development policy have tended to focus on urban density as key to liveability and efficient resource use, inspiring plans that seek to recreate features of downtown districts in rich countries. However, for Indian cities, it’s always better not to blindly emulate efficient cities in developed countries, but start with understanding processes that affect our cities due to urban spatial evolution.

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