India is urbanising rapidly and this trend is certain to gather pace in the next 20-30 years. It is anticipated that by 2030, 350 million people will move into the country's urban centres and 700 million will do so by 2050. The last two censuses (2001 and 2011) show that there has been a steady rise in the number of new 'census towns' (towns that have a population of over 5,000) over the years and in due course of time, many of these towns will grow in size and become cities.
Unfortunately, there are no proper plans in place for these new settlements as well as for the existing cities that are witnessing massive urban sprawls. This is not the best form of future growth and it would make more sense to establish independent new towns that are tailored to meet a variety of different needs.
Moreover, by 2021, 138 million people will be added to the working population and they would need employment opportunities. The new towns can provide a substantial employment base for the migrants from the rural areas. But this would need enormous expansion of civil construction, road building and infrastructure industries.
China understood this need for planning more than 30 years ago and invited foreign architects, town planners, urban designers, and construction firms to help the government to plan and develop new urban centres. Today, they are doing it on their own. But India is still way behind in recognising and providing for this shift.
Town planning and urban design must become an integral part in all state development boards. Until now, it has been done on an interim basis, every 10 to 20 years. For planning to be meaningful, it is essential that it is monitored regularly, adjusting to the changing needs over time.
At present, most masterplans are not upgraded regularly and they are nothing more than an outline for land-use patterns, with no planning in depth or detail. Very often plans do not even correctly reflect the situation on the ground. With all the sophisticated facilities available today, it is possible to have detailed three-dimensional visualisations of all buildings as built, and also show what it would be like if the city areas are developed as planned.
These projections should be then updated regularly, to correctly reflect new constructions. GPS surveys and aerial photographs can help monitor, control and visualise future development. We have the technical skills required to use sophisticated systems of development available today, but our planning systems are primitive and outdated.
As mentioned earlier, by 2030, we will need 300 towns to be developed as full-fledged cities. To ensure that they don't become disorganised slums, it is essential that an effort is made to plan a basic civic structure for these new cities.
In times to come, factors like clusters of IT centres, large universities along with related colleges and other teaching institutions, hospitals and medical complexes, will serve as nuclei for future cities. Whatever be the basic urban stimulant, states will need to identify a location, and plan and lay out the infrastructure for such settlements.
Town planning and urban design needs to be accepted as a basic component of governance and this calls for acknowledgement of the movement of large numbers of people from rural to urban areas, and providing for them planned development for a better quality of life. To meet this need, it will be necessary to involve large numbers of trained professionals. The present state planning boards employ very few architects, planners and urban designers. Morever, planning has to be a continuous affair and in order to effectively deal with this, a more dynamic planning framework has to be evolved.
The states also need to plan new urban centres with detailed land use plans. Proper conceptualisation and urban design forms the next important stage of development. Although the importance of urban design has been recognised within the country for more than 40 years, it has still not been acknowledged by our State institutions and planning authorities.
So what does an urban designer do? An urban designer helps to effectively integrate inputs from various specialist consultants that include traffic and transportation systems, the utilities network, the landscape framework and the overall land use plan, and gives it all a three dimensional form.
As a result, the city takes concrete shape, defining the quality of urban space within it, to meet a variety of different needs. The volumetric definition of the city helps to see and observe what one would actually experience, as one moves through different areas. This need not be finite and final. It can be indicative, setting out a broad framework, which can be adapted in different ways depending on detailed design and use. It, however, helps to define the direction and scale of the development proposed.
The building of some 300 new cities across the country provides a tremendous opportunity for the employment of a large number of agricultural labourers, who will move to urban centres. Along with this, there will come about the development of a large construction industry, manufacturing materials and components that will form part of the new structures. A comprehensive network of railways, and highways, and a nationwide communication network to serve and connect the new urban centres, will call for an unprecedented level of economic development on a massive scale.
In order to make all this possible, it will be necessary to actively involve the community as stakeholders in the new cities. We urgently need dynamic urban governance with a commitment to provide for a better quality of life for the new city inhabitants.
Ranjit Sabikhi is a Delhi-based architect
The views expressed by the author are personal