Our cities need to be planned for the future, but developed for the present
One hundred and eighty master plans had been produced by the town planning department (TPD) of Rajasthan in the span of barely two years, with very little science or scrutiny. “We need to ensure that master plans translate into something concrete on the ground,” said the Rajasthan chief minister during our meeting on masterplans. “Let us showcase the impact of good planning in one city.”
Sawai Madhopur became the front-runner for three reasons: first, with a population of 150,000, it could be the model for smaller cities; second, with Ranthambore Fort and the famed tiger sanctuary, it had cultural and environmental significance; and third, its current master plan was due for revision.
I was entrusted with the preparation of the master plan for Sawai Madhopur. Discussions were held with the MLA from Sawai Madhopur and government officials, where we agreed on a two-fold goal: first, to produce a progressive, integrated Spatial Development Plan (SDP) 2035; second, to identify key development projects for immediate implementation. My mandate was essentially to “plan for the future, but develop for the present”.
In planning for the future, the emphasis was on collaborative processes to balance diverse objectives: between local government representatives; sectoral departments —forest, water, tourism, agriculture, infrastructure; and local communities.
The final draft Sawai Madhopur SDP 2035 was completed on November 30, 2016, and submitted to the TPD. It is a comprehensive roadmap for the growth, conservation, and development of the Sawai Madhopur city region. Three specific progressive features of the plan are highlighted below.
First, is the replacement of one-size-fits-all standard regulation, with those specific to Sawai Madhopur, detailed at both block-level and individual site-level. An online geographic information system (GIS) based platform has been developed to enable individual property owners to view zoning regulations for their parcels of land, thereby bringing the plan to life.
Second, the regulation of “land use” is combined with “city form” to overcome the usual haphazard nature of development. The design of form-based regulation is informed by evolving global theories of “new urbanism” that emphasise compact growth and neighbourhood communities. The SDP 2035 codifies both land use and city form, using a conceptual framework called “O.N.E. Land Zoning” (Open protected zoning, New growth zoning, Existing redevelopment and infill zoning). The framework enables zoning to create a visible distinction in form and density between rural, peripheral and core city spaces.
Third is the introduction of a new land use classification — “Urban Agriculture”. The purpose of this zoning is to bring alive the symbiotic relationship between urban-rural linkages of agricultural demand and supply, while simultaneously reducing the ecological footprint of food from farm-to-table.
In line with the second objective of “develop for the present”, three transformational projects have been designed in detail.
The first is a road development project, strengthening the central spine connecting three sub-centres (Old Town, Alanpur, and Mantown), and integrating the networked services along the spine.
The second project is the revitalisation of the city’s 17 km-long water channel (Lutiya nallah), that is also designed to provide 175 ha of continuous green lung space, with walking and cycling trails linking the three sub-centres.
The third project is the development of the corridor connecting the tiger sanctuary to the tourist centre of the city, as a tourist walking trail zoned for “green” establishments of food and retail.
Detailed project reports for these projects have been developed as part of the SDP 2035, and are under varying stages of progress for implementation. They are prioritised from a larger listing of development projects in the SDP 2035.
Behind this is the understanding that the role of the planner is expanding to cover not one but three roles: bringing technical capability for plan preparation is important, but no longer enough. If the plan has to succeed, planning professionals need to also engage with the details of implementation of projects, as well as with the challenges of enforcement of proposed regulations. The ongoing sealing of illegal constructions crisis in Delhi, is a live example of failed zoning that results in enforcement challenges.
While each city is unique, the Sawai Madhopur SDP 2035 could serve as a template not just for Rajasthan to get the best of the twin-objective of ‘planning for the future, but developing for the present’, but also other Indian cities. It can help urban planners come up with master plans that impact citizens in terms of the quality of life and leisure that they enjoy in their neighbourhoods, and the pride of identity with the city they live in.
Swati Ramanathan is chairperson, Jana Urban Space Foundation, and co-founder, Jana Group.
The views expressed are personal