Spotlight on livable cities, Part III: Responding to the challenge of livability

By |2023-12-19T14:42:09+01:00November 29th 2016|Gender and Inequalities, Integrated Planning|

by Shipra Narang Suri

What do cities in India need to be more livable? In the four part series “Spotlight on livable cities”, ISOCARP Vice-President Shipra Narang Suri aims to answer this question by approaching it from various angles, giving examples from different areas of urban planning. In this third part, she talks about how Indian cities could be made more livable by improving urban services, mobility, public-private partnerships and the situation in slums.


Urban housing, infrastructure and service delivery

The challenges of urban housing, especially for low-income populations; infrastructure provision; and the delivery of a variety of urban services including (among others) water, sanitation, education and health, are long-standing concerns for Indian policymakers. As per the latest National Sample Survey reports, there are over 80 million poor people living in the cities and towns of India. While this figure is contentious and debated, at the same time it is widely accepted that ‛shelter poverty’ is much larger than income poverty in urban areas. This is mainly a result of heavily distorted land markets and an exclusionary regulatory system that fails to accommodate the needs of the poor, or adequately address challenges of slums, informal settlements and pavement dwellings. A resettlement policy is urgently required which lays down guidelines to minimize displacements and ensure rehabilitation of project affected persons based on human rights to adequate shelter. As slums are a state subject as per the Indian constitution, state slum laws also need to be reviewed across the country.

In terms of services, too, Indian cities lag behind on almost all counts. It is estimated that water supply is available for an average of 2.9 hours per day, across all Indian cities and towns; less than 20 per cent of waste water is treated; and solid waste management is grossly inadequate. National benchmarks have recently been developed for the four key service sectors, viz., water supply, sewerage, storm water drainage and solid waste management.

Urban transport, however, is one area which is witnessing quite some innovation. A range of options are being tired, from improved and environment-friendly bus services, introduction of bus rapid transit, and the development of metro rail systems. Integration of transport and land use planning is a key suggestion of the National Urban Transport Policy adopted in 2006, and Transit-Oriented Development is slowly becoming a strategic focus in several key cities, such as Delhi. The capital has seen the development of the most extensive metro-rail network in the country over the past decade, which now ferries upto 1.7 million commuters every day on seven lines. In addition, all public service vehicles in the National Capital Territory ply on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a much cleaner fuel than diesel. This policy, when introduced in 2001-02 under directives of the Supreme Court of India, was extremely unpopular, and riddled with several glitches, the most important one being limited availability of CNG and the long queues that snaked for several kilometers outside the handful of stations which supplied the fuel. These, however, have now been addressed effectively, and the Capital is relatively free of diesel smoke. Between 2000 and 2008, carbon emissions had plummeted by 72% while SO2 emissions decreased by 57%.

The experience of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor, on the other hand, was not as positive in Delhi, and the corridor was never extended beyond roads covered in the first phase. Delhi, and other Indian cities, would do well to learn from Ahmedabad in this respect.

The Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transit System – Demonstrating innovation in policy, technology and implementation

The Janmarg BRTS, as the BRTS system in Ahmedabad is known, is a much-lauded initiative for many reasons. Developed under the broader vision of “Accessible Ahmedabad”, which aimed to redesign the city structure and transport systems towards greater accessibility, efficient mobility and a lower carbon future, the Janmarg BRTS was inaugurated in 2009. The project itself aimed to provide high quality, reliable public transport services comparable to a much-more expensive metro system, which would attract ridership from all classes of society. Extensive technological applications such as Automatic Vehicle Tracking and passenger information systems, the use of smart cards, surveillance and security systems, and Area Traffic Control Systems at junctions ensured superior service and helped build a brand identity for the Janmarg system. Dedicated right-of-way for the buses and median bus stations with barrier-free access and at-level boarding enhance accessibility and save time

Innovative public-private partnership arrangements have been used to provide Foot Over Bridges, landscaping and maintenance of the corridor, as well as operation and maintenance of a pay and park system. The Janmarg BRTS today carries an average of 125000 passengers per day using 70 buses. Financed initially through a combination of JNNURM (central government) funds (35%), Gujarat state contribution (15%) and local government contribution (50%), Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited, the company incorporated to manage the system, today generates a daily revenue of about Rs. 0.75 million and meets all its operating costs, including bus cost.

Urban renewal and revitalisation of historic areas

Urbanisation, along with the pressure it creates on urban land and services, also has a significant bearing on the older/historic areas within cities, often leading to deterioration and decay, as well as the loss of harmony and a sense of place. Unfortunately, this dimension of liveability is frequently neglected by policy-makers. This is not unusual as traditionally, across the developing world, rehabilitation and conservation of historic and inner-city districts receives little attention in urban development policy, with the focus mainly on monuments, or remains of monuments. The emphasis on modernisation – means that older city areas which cannot be ‘modernised’ easily) are ignored, therefore continue to decline, and are eventually torn down. In India, too, the urbanization of poverty and poor planning on the one hand, and the desire to ‘modernise’ and ‘develop’, on the other, have combined to play a rather destructive role vis-à-vis urban heritage.

According to a recent UNESCO publication, historic areas in India are faced with multiple challenges. As historic areas provide economic and residential opportunities to a large number and wide range of residents and migrants, they become melting pots for very diverse groups of people. At the same time, they can become ghettoes for the urban poor and those working in the informal sector. With deteriorating urban services, overcrowded housing conditions and lack of interest on the part of many owners to maintain their properties, historic districts in Indian cities increasingly resemble urban slums.

Conflicting interests of the poor and the middle-classes, who prefer a sanitised, restrictive approach to urban conservation, and the lack of political will to resolve these, mean that historic districts continue to suffer from neglect and decay. The fragmented governance framework vis-à-vis cities has also played a part in the neglect of urban heritage. While the Archaeological Survey of India focused its attention predominantly on individual or groups of monuments, the Town Planning Acts and the work of development authorities only emphasised new development Historic districts thus fell between the institutional cracks.

Clearly, the development and renewal of historic districts in cities, with their complex and layered built form, wide-ranging economic activities and multiple uses, need to be addressed as a whole, rather than as a sum of many parts. An important step was taken in 2004 in the form of the INTACH Charter, which proposed a concept of “Heritage Zones”. The Heritage Zone concept emphasises that the conservation of architectural heritage and sites must be undertaken in a holistic manner, and should go hand in hand with the imperatives of routine development process. An example of the application of the heritage zone concept can be found in the newly prepared City Development Plan for the city of Ujjain, which divides the city into 18 ‘kshetras’ (areas or zones), each of which is unique and treated differently in the overall plan. Detailed master plans are being developed for each of these kshetras.

Some of these issues of liveability faced by historic areas in Indian cities are being addressed within the broader City Development Plans (CDPs) prepared under the aegis of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Guidelines issued by the Mission emphasise that heritage conservation must be integrated with the overall plan for the city – an important step forward from the older approach of focusing on the conservation of monuments and structures, often virtually in isolation from their surrounding environment. However, while these guidelines are undoubtedly progressive, they still don’t go far enough in terms of being ‘people-centric’. The emphasis is far more on what heritage can do for the city in terms of revenue raising and increasing tourism inflows, rather than what it does in terms of promoting social cohesion and inclusion, sustaining livelihoods, and serving as important integrative symbol of the city (among others). Furthermore, historic precincts or districts are only one aspect of urban heritage considered in these guidelines, and thus adequate attention is not paid to their particular significance, or to their specific problems. There is little space devoted to the concept of ‘urban revitalisation’.

Keep a look out for the next part of our “Spotlight on liveable cities” series, “Building liveable cities” that is going to be published in the upcoming days!

Shipra Narang Suri