Cities must have a human heart

  • Subharti Guha
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2016 16:03 IST
A view of traffic in Vikas Marg during the odd-even vehicular restriction trial in Delhi. (HT FIle)

The much concerned health of a city such as Delhi cannot be solved in a day, but measured steps can prepare a brighter future for us and our children. Cities are complex objects, although they are made of individual elements, but they must always be looked as a whole with their surroundings through integrated planning techniques. This must be a complete growth model, at the core of which should be the agenda of human comfort level in a city. By doing so, we can prove that better livability will directly contribute not just to a healthier Delhi, but a more economically sustainable model that can be at par with a global model such as London.

Promote neighbourhoods

Neighbourhoods must have limits. By limits we mean the size. Currently, Delhi’s neighbourhoods such as Safdarjung are far too big and need to be broken down. It must restrict grid sizes of 200m to 300m and make the other roads as public (un-gated) and open up accesses. This would reduce traffic on main roads.

We need to restrict the number of families in a neighbourhood, without which we cannot provide enough amenities such as schools, hospitals, parks and playgrounds. Packing people in dense areas will lead to far too much competition for amenities and end up being more expensive. Density is the basic model of cities such as London and parts of Europe.

The city model should be to make people in neighbourhoods responsible for the development of schools and hospitals.

Give a push to street activity

We need to change our road building strategy. Widen footpaths along corridors which are already commercial. To make these commercial spaces accessible, we should reduce road width and increase footpath size with shaded trees and allow hawkers. This will discourage cars and encourage walking. By doing so we will limit more people parking around footpaths. This will also lead to more people walking on the streets.

Integrated transport: Reduce Metro stops

We think if the whole city is connected by Metro, it would be a better place. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Cheaper MRT transports such as Metros only encourage more people to move to an already congested Delhi. We need to reduce Metro stops, as more stops mean more time of travel. We need to integrate models of transport such as rickshaw, autos, Metros and railways; and authorise them with a card system like Hong Kong. A user must be able to travel through multiple modes of transport to reach door-to-door destinations. Only when the transport is comfortable for a citizen in Delhi will he be willing to give up his car. This centralisation will improve the differences in transport payments and redistribute it between all — Metro, autos, rickshaws.

Encourage growth in sub-cities around NCR

Satellite towns close to Delhi only increase the cities’ burden as they congest connectivity zones and increase delays. If we really want Delhi to open up, we need to zoom out into sub-cities such as Meerut, Rohtak, Rewari, Bulandshahr etc, in neighbouring states and connect them with high speed rail. This will reduce travel time to an hour and at the same time provide ample space for people to reside. It’s by far the most efficient and faster way to connect cities. China, America and Europe already have such plans in place. It should be remembered that having a high speed rail between already dense cities would choke them further. Also, none of these connectors will be of any value if done individually. Everything must be done together, through a proper research and a drafted plan with planning guidelines followed to the T. Equal participation is required from all stakeholders — investors, government and most importantly people. Such a model builds economy faster than one can imagine.

Focus on nodes instead of wide roads

The new alternate car number plate policy was first implemented in Beijing a few years back with an idea that it would encourage people into car-sharing; alternately people chose to buy new cars as it didn’t cost as much. It increased car sales rapidly and put more cars on the road with added benefit to the petroleum industry and Beijing’s smog pollution level continued to increase. We need to focus on how to reduce traffic at intersections where there are jams. Increasing widths and investing public money in flyovers will only make the streets more populated with cars, in-turn increasing pollution and jams. Similarly, increasing FAR on an existing land is a strategy doomed for collapse such as the housing in front of AIIMS, which once completed would clog one of the best flyovers in the city. We need to impose a tax during peak hours to discourage motorists from entering congested areas, employ guards to monitor a centralised parking model. This would reduce illegal parking.

Propagate a low-rise housing model

Heavy population and paucity of land encourages investors to populate the city with massive multi-storey housing. But housing is generally something that is beyond the reach of the common man. We need to create more low-rise high density plotted neighbourhoods or go for interesting models of incremental housing proposed by the Dutch architect John Habraken or Belapur housing by Charles Correa. At the ground, we Indians are way more social than people anywhere in the world. We love to know our neighbours so why did we ever change that? This model works far better.

The author is a UK-based architect and works for conceptsG

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