Figure 1 Birds eye view of Delhi NCR; Source: Author

Any city however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich. These are at war with one another.”

-Plato (Republic)

Plato captured some compelling realities of cities in his writings, which remain true to this day. In global South, with an unbridled course of development, the disparities have also ratcheted up. The critical needs of urban masses remain in question forcing them towards the ever-growing struggle for resources. One of the major gaps the cities are facing in developing world is provision of normative entitlements such as housing and basic services to a huge section of population.

In Indian urban areas, an increasing influx of population and unmindful exploitation of limited resources have become key challenges for decision makers and city managers.  One of the most relevant examples of this is Delhi, the capital city of India, which would surpass Tokyo to become the most populous urban agglomeration in the world[1] by 2030. With a current population of 28.5 million (2018), Delhi is already facing mounting pressures on its resources. The marginalized and urban poor are not only living in deplorable conditions, they have no or limited access to the basic services and infrastructure in the city. These desperate times have led to desperate measures which are apparent in the form of a huge number of slums and unauthorized colonies proliferating in the city. The peripheral land available in the city is experiencing a reluctant transformation due to lack of an economic catalyst and inadequate transport connectivity to the city center.

This scarcity of land and unevenly distributed densities across the city has necessitated the need to redevelop and re densify existing precincts of the city.  In last few years, a number of redevelopment projects have been proposed in Delhi with an intention of capitalizing and re-densifying the prime real estate. In the slew of redevelopment projects slated, there are seven GPRA (General Pool Residential Accommodation) colonies, mainly housing government employees. The aim of these redevelopment projects is to replace the existing housing stock of 12,970 dwelling units to 25,667 dwelling units with supporting social infrastructure facilities. The total estimated cost is close to Rs.32, 835 crores including maintenance and operation costs for 30 years.[2] Some positive aspects of this redevelopment is replacing the existing old dilapidated housing colonies to augment the housing stock and making optimum utilization of land resources as per Master Plan Delhi (MPD) – 2021. Moreover, all these projects are using modern construction technology with green building norms and in-house solid / liquid waste management facilities.

Figure 2 East Kidwai Nagar development project (one of the GPRA colonies) clicked during the IGLUS site visit in Delhi

One of these residential redevelopment projects has already been implemented and is being seen as a model example to be emulated across the redevelopment of all the government housing. With a row of high rise towers and massive glass offices, it’s a choicest specimen for the government led redevelopment in Delhi.

While there are more statuesque motivations stated behind the project such as land value capture, smart growth, urban regeneration and inspiring a new ethos of sustainable and environmentally responsible development, the project has been embroiled in its share of issues and infringement of public rights. From exacerbating the environment problems by razing existing green cover to the evitable water crisis, from being car centric despite being next to choked roads to displacing close to 200 low income families, the project has had its own share of pitfalls.

Figure 3 Felling of 14000 trees in Delhi for redevelopment of government colonies. Source: An article titled “Delhi must rethink its redevelopment projects” in Hindustan times on Oct 18, 2018, Trees felled for the redevelopment project at Netaji Nagar residential colony, in New Delhi (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

There is no doubt that the spatial needs of the government offices and employee housing have increased multifold and needs to be dealt with, however, there are questions that the decision makers and public in general need to contemplate on.  Are the payoffs worth the environmental impact, pressure on resources and subsequent public discontent? Are these projects that use government and public resources ensuring the promised quality life for all?

Down the line, the payoffs of such projects are debatable, so is their contribution towards larger public good. The solution to this is envisaging these projects as a medium to ensure ‘quality of life for all’ through inclusive development and equitable distribution of resources. An equitable redevelopment project must be responsive to existing neighborhood conditions and people who may be affected by the project, including the occupants of the building, the people who live and work in the neighborhood around the project, and citywide groups that can potentially benefit from development decisions.[3]

This can enable an alternative paradigm for redevelopment of any scale/use. This idea of equitable cities through redevelopment can become a big part of the next perspective Master Plan of Delhi for year 2041. Besides identifying potential sites for redevelopment, it can enable a more responsive and responsible redevelopment through some mandatory guidelines and design frameworks. Redevelopment has an immense opportunity to bring about a drastic shift in the way large infrastructure and housing projects are envisaged. Some of the ground rules that can be incorporated in emerging redevelopment projects to foster inclusive, equitable and people centric development are:

  • Integrated comprehensive planning

All redevelopment projects in future must either be a part of the larger policy initiatives like Transit Oriented Development or In situ housing redevelopment, wherein instead of looking at isolated inspired projects, the whole functioning in and around, it’s subsequent impact on the surrounding areas and provision of services are taken into account. With redevelopment projects, it becomes imperative to consider the context and impact on everyday functioning, or they end up displacing, gentrifying the urban masses and exerting tremendous stress on what’s existing. These projects must compliment the extensive infrastructure already established in the city by bringing together various actors and disciplines, thus applying an integrated and comprehensive planning approach.

  • Discouraging privatized enclaves

The current approach of redevelopment projects in Delhi, be it the government housings or in situ slum redevelopment projects, all eventually lead towards creation of privatized enclaves and gated communities. This territorial and discriminative control over what are public assets creates more disparities and discontent among people.  It is important that public spaces, social infrastructure and localized businesses existing in the area must remain accessible, welcoming to all and account for current and future needs of the community.

  • Engage, educate and empower people

Redevelopment projects require a number of negotiations with what is existing, be it infrastructure, environmental assets and most importantly people and community. The pre-feasibility and preliminary studies must start from extensive community outreach and participatory design processes. The redevelopment guidelines under the next master plan of Delhi must include community needs assessment and community asset mapping as mandatory exercises before planning and design of all such projects.

  • Democratic Decision making

With great power comes great responsibility. While the government has taken this privilege of banking on the prime land in the city, it also obliged to consider its responsibilities towards citizens and stakeholders.  Such large scale projects envisioned by the government need to address the fundamental concerns in terms of transparency, accountability and process adopted. Government must ensure equity in all its undertakings and distribute fairly the benefits and the burdens of such far reaching projects among all the involved income and demographic groups.

  • Affordability and accessibility for all

Not only are these projects used for image building for the city and development, their sheer scale is intimidating. On the top of it they are fortified with high walls and extensive security systems making them private islands, cutting off a large part of mobility, transport and open space infrastructure.

In a number of global examples, it has been seen that the government establishments and infrastructure is used and consequently maintained successfully as public spaces. In Delhi itself, the design and planning of earlier government housing was always open with internal streets, local shops and open spaces accessible to all. The recent redevelopment projects and proposals are an antithesis to this approach of design and planning. This redevelopment approach needs to be reimagined to make these interventions more inclusive, equitable and accessible to all.

One of the major steps in this direction would be to add some percentage of affordable housing stock which can be leveraged by the communities and families that are otherwise forcefully evicted or displaced.

Delhi with its limited land resources and rapidly increasing population cannot shy away from wiping the slate clean and rewriting the story. However, to do it responsibly and being responsive to each and every citizen irrespective of their income group or affiliations to government is the major challenge and opportunity that the city has.

This is the moment when history is being rewritten. There cannot be a more opportune time to move from a totalitarian governance model towards an egalitarian society. And where better to start, but the government establishments to set an example.

As William Shakespeare famously said in his book Coriolanus,

“What is city but the people?”

References

[1] United Nations, The world’s cities in 2018, Available at: https://www.un.org/en/events/citiesday/assets/pdf/the_worlds_cities_in_2018_data_booklet.pdf

[2] Press Information Bureau, Government of India; press release titled “Cabinet approves redevelopment of seven GPRA colonies in Delhi”, July 05 2016, Available at:  https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=146815

[3] CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, Equitable development guidelines (March 2018), Available at: http://www1.cuny.edu/sites/islg/wpcontent/uploads/sites/5/2018/03/ISLG_EquitableDevelopmentGuidelines_smaller.pdf

 

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