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Let us design a world-class city

With the onset of 2007, Delhi will complete fifty years of modern town planning, reports KT Ravindran.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 03:09 IST

With the onset of 2007, Delhi will complete fifty years of modern town planning. Through the years, we have seen the slow erosion of the idealism that underpinned the MPD-62, and the progressive rise of ruthless pragmatism in the planning process.

In this golden jubilee year, DDA is not in an enviable position with a million problems, public ire about non-implementation of plans, lack of vision, etc.

The builder lobby and their political patrons who had derailed the plan implementation have got away while the planners who timidly complied are now holding the baby.

No one can deny that we as a democracy value the rule of law and the instrument of this rule of law is a valid master plan, whatever its flaws or deficiencies.

The benefits of a plan are often not visible as people take it for granted and only the problems get noticed. That physical planning and development now have a public presence is evident from the amount of newsprint and tele- media time hogged by the master plan.

After 50 years, the Draft Plan 2021 makes a few good moves in its new chapters on urban design and heritage conservation. The two-dimensional land use plan approach has proven to be an inadequate tool to develop a healthy city and the full five pages devoted to urban design in the Draft Plan can partly fill this gap. 

Urban design as a discipline looks at the city as a network of buildings, spaces, and landscape, qualified by activity. There is no room for number games of statistical charts and abstracted land use color codes.

The city is designed as a three-dimensional entity, not within a broad-brush land use category, but as human networks that generate real activity.

Urban design uses strategies that see every structure as a building block. It recognises pedestrian-friendly, well landscaped public spaces as the glue that bind the individual design moves in the city to a palpable wholeness, that will generate endearing public spaces.

After fifty years of planning without urban design, the Draft Plan now recognizes the need for three-dimensional design. It identifies the fact that Delhi's strength lies not in its urban planning-driven sprawl, but in the fully urban- designed Shahjehanabad with its unassailable image structure and in New Delhi, one of the world's most celebrated examples of good urban design. Within New Delhi lie two of the best examples of urban design: Connaught Place and the Central Vista.

In the MPD 2001 also, these urban design districts were classified as 'Special Area'. Implementation, however did not happen as no definite mechanism for their implementation was identified.

The new plan can also end up in the same blind alley unless separate urban design cells are created within the local bodies with specific mandate to take up three-dimensional studies and proposals not only for the areas rightly identified in the Draft Plan, but also for the National Urban Renewal Mission, the Commonwealth Games, redevelopment of unauthorised colonies and more importantly, for heritage areas.

The Bureau of Indian Standards has already classified 'urban design' as a legitimate profession for governmental employment. There are over 500 qualified urban designers in India and a new institute of urban designers is awaiting registration.

What is required now is a pro-active, professionally qualified, official cadre of urban designers to be put in charge of salvaging the living environment of Delhi. Urban planning and urban design can work together towards creating a well designed city.  

KT Ravindran is an urban planner and dean, School of Planning and Architecture.