I always knew that India was a country with low living cost. After buying the flight tickets to Delhi, I started looking for a hotel in Booking.com to stay during my two weeks. At this moment two facts caught my attention: the lack of standardization in the location of hotels in the city and the high price of the hotel daily room.
In general, when I am going to some city with tourism purpose, the first thing I do is to search all hotels with a zoom out, just to understand what part of the city they are located. This first analysis generally coincides with the area where most or at least the most relevant attractions and points of interest of the city are concentrated, such as museums, monuments, and consequently where much of the services, such as restaurants, theaters and street commerce are also found. In this first search for hotels in Delhi, I could not see any pattern. I thought Booking.com might not have a good entrance in India. So, I tried to do this same zoom out analysis by the Indian website OYO, which is currently the leader in number of rooms. Nor did I notice a pattern or find out which area was the most tourist friendly in Delhi.
The hotel daily prices also surprised me. Simple hotels with not so good user ratings, were, sometimes, more expensive than in the main tourist areas of Paris and Amsterdam known for having high accommodation prices, even comparing within Europe itself.
In the plane, arriving in Delhi, I could see a flat city, without many skyscrapers and with a lot of green area. On land, I experienced the chaotic traffic of India. I thought what I had seen in India traffic videos were exaggerated scenarios of reality. I was wrong. Videos do not convey the same dimension as when you are experiencing it there.
All modes of transport coexist harmoniously (sometimes not so) on the streets and expressways of Delhi, which range from well-signposted and paved to others that most closely resemble rural roads. And the streets ways never match the direction that the modes of transport are. Easily, on a one-way street, you can see cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks heading in all directions. At many times the solution is to stand still and wait for the knot to untie. However, the worst feeling that no video or photo can convey is the unbearable and deafening sound of horns, which even after 20 days I could not understand why Indians use it so much. I saw a lot of people horning during a red-lighting with all traffic stopped, which obviously didn’t work to dissolve the traffic ahead, as well as in dangerous situations, when cars came on the wrong way, and at that moment, the horn would serve as a warning, it was not used.
After this brief moaning, let’s get back to the hotel issues.
In one of the first lectures we were explained how the urban planning of Delhi worked. From 1961 to 2018, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was the public authority responsible for urban planning and real estate development in Delhi. Delhi’s first masterplan in 1962, MPD 62, predicted that large parcels of land would be acquired and subsequently planned by the DDA. Unfortunately, the planned development could not keep pace with increasing demands of urbanization during last five decades. The huge demand for housing and services, which could not be effectively met due to the complicated land acquisition process, resulted in unauthorized slums and settlements. Land has become scarce and expensive commodity due to immense population pressure and economic growth in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD).
To address the housing shortage the new masterplan MPD 2021, on July 2nd, 2007, stated “Alternative options for development and involvement of the private sector in assembly and development of land / infrastructure”. From 2007 to October 2018, policies and rules were worked on to enable the private initiative to enter real estate development. From this change, DDA will act more as a facilitator and planner and less as a developer.
The Box below shows in numbers how this Delhi development policy failed.
Source: Delhi Development Report 2008, Column 3 adapted from Bhan (2011), and Column 4 from Maria(2011)
Less than a quarter of the population lives in a “Planned Colony”. Approximately 13% live in planned resettlement (Resettlement Colonies), usually in the city’s outskirt occupied by residents who used to live in JJ Cluster. Which leads us to conclude that approximately 2/3 of Delhi’s population lives in unplanned areas with little access to basic urban infrastructure such as water, wastewater and waste collection.
The scarcity of space in a planned area, coupled with Delhi’s rapid population and economic growth, has consequently put pressure on property prices, which explains why hotel daily rates are so expensive.
On the third day of lectures the theme was housing and in the afternoon the field visit was on Kidway Nagar, a redevelopment project in a central area of Delhi. In a nutshell, the project consisted of demolishing the 2.3 thousand apartments and creating new 4.5 thousand apartments with a better standard than the previous ones within a gated community. These apartments were for the exclusive use of government officials (in India, every government official has a right to live in an apartment provided by government while working). By asking if, hypothetically, those apartments could be sold at market price, what would the value be, the developer said that the apartment we were visiting would sell for about US$ 300,000. The apartment in question was a ground floor apartment of less than 70m2, the used material of a questionable quality, within a densely populated condominium. Comparing to my reality, the price per square meter of this apartment is close to the price of beachfront apartments in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most upscale neighborhoods.
After this visit and over my two weeks in Delhi, I understood a little how the development model of the planned areas works. Many of the areas I visited, I had to pass through a gate and inform where I was going. It didn’t seem much of a security issue to me, with strict entry protocols, but more control points to make sure the location I was going to was inside that colony. These colonies are structured as large gated communities with controlled access. Inside the gates are residential areas, commercial areas and hotels. Because they are enclosed within its borders, it has poor communication with the surrounding urban fabric. Thus, Delhi urban pattern is made of several islands of planned gated communities surround by a mass of unplanned settlement. Perhaps this is a factor that explains the lack of standard in the distribution of hotels in the city and also one of the factors that influence the chaotic traffic described earlier.
Those who do not live in these expensive and planned colonies, end up living in denser, unplanned and unhealthy settlements, but with more affordable prices, that expand at a higher rate than planned housing, further increasing the pressure for basic urban infrastructure services.
In those few days in India I realized that it is a country of great contrasts. In this text I have only given a small example of these contrasts taking as an example the housing market, where few live in extremely expensive areas, while most squeeze in areas without basic infrastructure, or live on the streets, as they cannot afford even a sleeping space.