Sky Is The Limit for A Growing Delhi
Lessons in urban planning from the Capital
An excision of 5.1 sq km from Delhi’s poshest residential area will cause much heartburn among some well-heeled residents: but we welcome the move, with some caveats. The Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) has proposed shrinking the area of the so-called ‘Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone’ (LBZ) which radiates out from Raisina Hill and India Gate at its centre, to the dimensions originally proposed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker from its current 28.73 sq km to 23.6 sq km. This will effectively exclude eight upmarket neighbourhoods like Golf Links, Jor Bagh, Sundernagar, Chanakyapuri, Bengali Market and so on from the LBZ. It will also allow these areas of Delhi to grow vertically, a good idea since air is free but land is extremely dear. And this is a lesson not just for pricey Delhi but for all of urbanising India.
The floor area ratio (FAR), which limits how much of any project can be built up and how much ought to be left untouched for recreation, public spaces, parking and so on, could also be relaxed. This should be done with caution and extensive planning: too many people in highrises with too little space on the ground could create a nightmare for everyone. To make the development habitable, utilities like shops, power and water supplies need to be planned before construction starts. Delhi is earthquake-prone: taller structures are more vulnerable than those closer to the ground. Yet, much of Japan lives in quake-resistant skyscrapers. Before expanding vertically, take lessons from Tokyo.
Dense habitats, if properly planned to accommodate all relevant utilities and public spaces including playing fields and parks, are far more energy-efficient than cities that just sprawl in low-rise luxury. The time and fuel spent in commutes is a huge drain on scarce resources. To optimise these, we need to abandon obsolete town planning concepts and adopt mixed land use, as well. Here again, proper planning, regulation and enforcement hold the key. In their absence, mixed land use can create inhospitable hells for ordinary residents.