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Long term vision needed

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The need is to develop planned urban infrastructure with a long-term vision rather than addressing only the immediate requirements, writes Manit Rastogi

Indian cities are at a vulnerable juncture today, confronted with the classic dichotomy of the city as a machine versus the city as a bazaar. Our cities are not new, and are in fact traditional cities, which have grown organically. The economic boom has superimposed a modernist layer of the machine onto the erstwhile time-honoured natural development. A major fall-out of this has been distortion between infrastructure, transport and land use. For example, the Master Plan for Delhi 1962 was based on a poly-nodal, polycentric, distribution of work centres, largely based on road transport nodes. Even the most recent, much heralded MPD 2021 makes the mistake of prescribing the framework for the development of the city under various distinct sections such as land policy, public participation and plan implementation, redevelopment, shelter, housing, trade and commerce, industry and environment, etc. which creates segregation and isolation.
Hence, the superimposition fails to integrate the city as a naturally functioning ecosystem, and generates exclusive urbanization that leads to unsustainable growth with infrastructural issues. Our approach to infrastructural development, should therefore, not be centred around motorized transport, but instead focus on being more inclusive, by addressing the slower modes of transport such as walkability, pedestrian movement, cycling etc.

Today, as a by-product of shortsighted development, we have depleted our natural resources and capital indiscriminately. This is simply due to a lack of understanding that underpin economic development as well as individual well-being.
What is crucial today, is finding the appropriate models for sustainable urbanism that are not exclusively dependent on globalization, but are those that render themselves suitable for more than 50% of our urban population that constitutes the Indian cities. The challenge is to adopt methods of strategic intervention; to integrate the conventional city planning layers with the progressive doctrines that have come into play.

Development and expansion are inevitable, but must be geared towards sustaining our environment and its resources; and the advancement must not supersede the ecosystem itself. Under the guise of modernity, globalisation and development, we have failed to ascertain this aspect as a part of our lives. Gradual, democratic, and apolitical strategies must be evolved for the strengthening of infrastructure facilities, along with holistic thinking to provide integrated, yet innovative solutions.
Our cities’ master plans should primarily be positioned as master plans for the environment, with all the infrastructural requirements as subsets of the larger prophecy, of the preservation of our city as an ecosystem. The environment is not a solitary element that can be treated in isolation; and environmental strategy should not be a chapter in the master plan, but is required to be the preamble.

Environmental sensitivity and a greener world are core issues that need to be addressed today and will continue to be in the years to come. As India moves towards a turning point in its architecture and urbanism, and at a time, where everyone is mouthing words on green design and sustainability, we need to take that step back and re-position this to be the mainstay of our thinking and consciousness and therein lays the real solution.

Manit Rastogi is MD, Morphogenesis. Founded in 1996, Morphogenesis is a design practice engaging in a critical dialogue towards bridging the boundaries of art, architecture, urbanism and environmental design.

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June 2020
10 Jun 2020