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Smart cities need smart planning
To build an ambitious and visionary plan of creating 100 new smart cities a totally new urban development policy embracing the latest concepts and trends of urbanisation is necessary.

URBAN DEVELOPMENT can be classified into two categories, ie., creation of new urban centres and expansion of existing megapolies: large, medium and large.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) tried to address these concerns. But by focusing on renewal of the older parts of existing cities and towns, the JNNURM failed to ensure planned and orderly growth of new suburbs while the improvements to the old localities have been marginal. Therefore the strategies for these two streams of urban growth have to be distinct taking into account, the peculiar needs and problems of each.


The nuts and bolts of a smart city

However, some general principles of urban design and development should  form the blue print of smart cities. Like designing roads,  provision of space corridors mass transit systems, separate water lines for raw use and drinking water, rainwater harvesting, dedicated cooking gas lines, underground power cabling, solar powering of street lights, compulsory generation of solar power for domestic use, dedicated space for schools, shopping, recreation in each neighborhood, creation of office spaces near neighborhood, public transport with pedestrian and cycle lanes... These guidelines apply to both green-field development as also to organic extension of existing cities and towns.

Preservation of the architectural heritage is another consideration. Unfortunately, India has failed to draw upon the experiments and experience of cities like London, Paris and Berlin in the West; and Singapore and Hong Kong in the East.


The four types...

For the purposes of Urban Design and Development habitations can be classified as follows:

1.    Metropolitan conurbations with a population of more than 50 lakh: planning should aim at restricting and retarding further growth while concentrating on renewal of existing rundown areas.

2.    Large second order cities with a population of over 25 lakh and growing cities with a population of over 10 lakh: construction of mass transportation railroads should be prioritised to facilitate growth.

3.    Large towns with population between 2 lakh and 10 lakh and growing cities with a population of over 10 lakh: organic expansion should be considered.

4.    Towns with population less than 2 lakh, new urban habitations: concentrate on the choice of location.

Considering the travails of urban megapolises all over the world, it should be the aim of Indian urban planning to ensure that no urban conurbation in the various categories grows beyond the limit of the next higher category. In respect of all new cities, the limit should be 10 lakh.

The strategy of planning and implementation should be different for each of these categories depending on the peculiar challenges and problems that they pose.


Do’s and Don’ts

 The laying out of arterial and lateral / concentric roads and determining their specifications should be the exclusive responsibility of the Urban Development Authority and not the elected civic body in all categories of urban habitations. Even within each segment bounded by the radial and lateral roads the formation of the main road grid should be the responsibility of the UDA. Only in the sub grids so formed, should urban developer be permitted to lay the internal roads, water/sewerage lines, etc and other common utilities according to specifications laid down by the UDA.

No new habitation should be allowed to be developed with out the UDA first creating the essential infrastructural amenities. The sad experience in Indian cities / towns today is that new suburbs don’t have even the basic needs like roads, water supply or sewerage and yet, high rise apartments have come up to create ugly warrens of concrete, creating new problems of public transport and traffic control. Ameerpet and Kukatpally in Hyderabad, Sank farms and Kailas colony in New Delhi; Kodambakkam in Chennai are but a few telling testimonials to this phenomenon. In the design of these sub grids, the contrarian experience of Mumbai and Bangalore shows that more parallel roads with cross road intersections at longer intervals make for better traffic flow and control than too many criss-cross roads resulting in greater number of road junctions. Between parallel roads, service lanes can be provided as in Lutyens, New Delhi.

Presently, urban planning and development are governed by a plethora of legislation, almost entirely enacted in the states. Except in large cities, this function is also combined with day-to-day civic administration by elected bodies. This is an unsatisfactory management not conducive to injection of modern concepts and practices while at the same time exposing it to political pulls and partisan interests. Issues of land acquisition and public – private partnership in the process of planning and development, involvement of specialists in planning and association of urban developers in building new townships- all these will need a new and forward looking legislative and systemic framework. A model central legislation based on our own and international experience merits serious consideration. In this context, the Gujarat Town and Country Planning Act 1976 could serve as a template.

The ambit of proposed legislation

Each urban habitation, large or small, old or new, will have an urban development authority independent of the civic authority, which runs the day-to-day affairs. This will be composed of specialists and a few administrators. It will be the responsibility of the UDA to draw up a master plan in active consultation with experts and after detailed interaction with the public stakeholders over a reasonably long period.

 Such a plan would have incorporated the essential features listed above. All approvals and sanctions for development, as also the creation of the main infrastructure should be the exclusive domain of the authority and in conformity with the master plan. The concrete jungles that have sprung up in the new suburbs of cities like Hyderabad and Chennai are the consequence of such powers remaining with the panchayats even after the constitution of UDAs.

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