New Delhi, May 24, 2016: There are two crucial periods in Post-colonial India and their impact on Urban growth and development – 1947 (independence) and 1991 (liberalization of the economy). Both periods have had a significant impact on the evolution of our cities in India, especially Delhi. All the master plans of Delhi, MPD 1962, MPD 1991, and the latest Avatar MPD 2021 have failed to make our city safe and livable; with half the city living in “unauthorized” settlements. The failure of Delhi as a city has been consistent throughout; lack of affordable and rentable housing models leading to ever increasing slums, lack of sewerage handling systems, excessive garbage generation, water woes, traffic congestion, increasing lack of walkability and pedestrian safety and finally, a complete lack of urban legibility and identity.
Be that as it may, all is not lost. Delhi can still be amongst the most liveable cities in the world. For this to happen though, a fundamental shift in thinking is required, a shift in consciousness, moving away from our current understanding of the world, wherein we place ourselves above and outside nature to one where we consider ourselves as part of nature, as part of a delicate ecosystem which is interconnected. It is crucial for the masterplan of Delhi to become the masterplan for the environment of Delhi, with all other issues becoming a subset towards fulfillment of this single agenda – protection of the environment. The very basis of life, the existence of a city and its inhabitants, is dependent upon the basic needs of air, water and public health.
We need to recognize the fact that Delhi is an ancient city, or rather, conglomeration of cities built over time. We cannot use master planning principles that deal with the city as a machine, as a formal system of cars, roads and flyovers, which fails to integrate our organically evolved parts of the city. The older parts of our city are informal in character, more bazaar like, and were designed to be reliant on pedestrian and non motorized forms of transport. The city has to be greater than the sum of its parts, and in our case, strategic intervention based on local conditions as they exist today will by far be more successful than the long term implementation of an overall masterplan where local conditions are in a constant state of flux.
All cities are known by their common spaces and accessibility to these commons – public spaces, pedestrian pathways, parks, riverfronts, forests etc. The fact that all our masterplans segregate land based on use leads to a city full of boundary walls and setbacks with the net result that access to the city and its infrastructure is available only to a privileged few. We need to shift away from a model of Land-use segregation to one that defines Building use with the net effect that the entire open space of the city is available as a resource for all. This is a fundamental shift, albeit the only one offering equitable possibilities for all.
As a simple beginning, revive the Yamuna by restoring the Nullah network of Delhi and preventing the entry of Delhi’s sewerage into its primary source of water. Treat Sewerage at source before it enters the Nullahs and convert the Nullahs into fresh water streams thereby not only replenishing the water table of Delhi but also providing a fully interconnected pedestrian and cycling network throughout the city on the banks of the nullahs.
And finally, complex governance structures and multiplicity of agencies further worsen the possibility of collective thinking and implementation. A city is an ecosystem, it cannot be governed in isolated parts. Delhi needs a single nodal agency, which ensures and implements a health balance between an environmental masterplan and strategic intervention. Let there be no doubt, if we do not act now, our city and its survival is in peril.
The writer is an Architect, Environmentalist, and Founder Partner of the Architecture and Urban Design practice Morphogenesis based out of Delhi and Bengaluru.
Corporate Comm India(CCI Newswire)