Innovative planning needs real foresight
City planning should be people friendly and its implementation needs to be made more transparent and accountable
Curitiba, a relatively unknown city in Brazil is a model of good urban planning. To arrest the city's degeneration, the mayor sponsored a contest for an integrated town plan, debated the best entries with the residents and finalised a progressive plan.
The slums were relocated with productive employment, illegal buildings gave way for legal and modern architectural houses, sidewalks, and bike paths were constructed, an integrated transport system was adopted and trees were planted everywhere. Citizens volunteered for the betterment and collected taxes to fund the upgradation process.
Sounds utopian? The plan succeeded because of, and not in spite of, the politicians. The mayor of Curitiba was elected for four consecutive 5-year terms and the United Nations recognised it as one of the best planned cities in the world.
Can we replicate the success story in India? Radical urban transition needs radical integrated planning. Urban India has to adopt new planning strategies that integrate land use, slum development, transportation, water, drainage, power supply and solid waste management with broader population concerns.
Worldwide, cities are undertaking impressive programmes of innovations and renovations. They are moving away from the single-city model to more multi-core urban zones to reduce congestion. For example, Tokyo is expanding suburbs and developing satellite towns. Shanghai is building several complete towns, with industrial functions and residential, leisure and educational facilities.
At home, the Planning Commission too has agreed to undertake multi-core zones for town planning and evolve a National Town Plan Act but most of the plans are just policy documents. The panel found that 1,200 master plans have been drafted by various agencies in the country but none implemented.
Several global cities are using high technologies such as the Geographic Information System to make decisions on service planning and delivery. Hamilton in Canada has evolved a strategy to determine where the future growth of the City will take place over the next 30 or more years.
Cities like California are experimenting with daylight, occupancy sensors, high-efficiency gas appliances, and low-flow toilets. Many cities are factoring disaster management in planning. Having survived the 2003 SARS outbreak, Hong Kong's 2030 plan includes open spaces, and public hygiene to better tackle future epidemics.
Urban planning requires foresight and an efficient mix of resources. Plans must be flexible to respond not only to present needs but also for the future. A well maintained information system can make possible the fine-tuning of proposals at various stages of implementation. The town plan must cater to the needs of the informal sector to make it an integral part of the city development process. Planning should be participatory and people friendly as in the case of Curitiba and its implementation should be made more innovative and transparent.
By 2015, there will be 33 super cities in the world, 27 of them in the developing world alone including Delhi and Mumbai, with population exceeding 20 million each. The moot question is — can we muster the political will to rein in our haphazard and runaway growth to grasp our global destinies?