Cities away from cities
Creating new cities may be the much needed antidote to the skyrocketing housing prices and congestion on our roads, says Sudheer Nair
The 21st century finds a majority of the world’s citizens living in cities and other urban places, for the first time in history. As the planet becomes increasingly urbanised and affected by human activity, the need for a more environmentally sustainable form of urban design has never been greater.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute 2010 report, 590 million people will live in Indian cities by 2030, almost twice the population of the United States today. The study states that India will require 20-25 new cities in the next 30 years near the largest 20 metropolitan cities by providing adequate infrastructure, but funding could be a big bottleneck.
A recent example of a big city coming up is the Lavasa city project in Maharashtra close to Pune, billed as India’s largest hill city. The Vijaynagar Area Development Authority in Karnataka is developing a ‘New City’. The New City would have a capacity to accommodate a population of 5-10 million, according to estimates.
The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) plans to build six greenfield cities across the country over the next five years — Dholera in Gujarat, Manesar-Bawal in Haryana, Indore-Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, and Dighi and Nasik-Igatpuri in Maharashtra. This means the plan is to have five brand new cities, which are bigger than Navi Mumbai, in the next five years.
Will such new cities work?
Kumaran and Rashmi Jaishankar, project engineers in a Bangalore-based real estate company, think the success of such cities depend a great deal on the jobs that are created, and whether each of these cities hosts a population of around one million.
For any smart growth of a city, the environmental aspect needs to be taken into account. Quality transportation facility design to deliver the highest quality of urban life is another factor. It is also important to maximise energy efficiency in offices and schools, apart from houses and hospitals. This also minimises the city’s carbon footprint. Environmental sensitivity and long-term sustainability should shape everything about any new city.
Any person who lives in crowded cities will concur. “If people can easily commute between their workplace and home, and also have a better quality of life and meet ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ at a new location, then the housing shortage can be partly addressed,” says Viswanathan, who works as a finance controller in an MNC. The current housing shortage is a result of everybody moving towards existing cities, thus making real estate more expensive.
“Whenever there is a new city, real estate business will certainly boom especially because of the size of our population and because people always want a better standard of living,” explains Sara Varghese, school teacher at National Public school Indiranagar.
Our goal to have new cities should not be to design the city of the future but to influence the city of today. The achievement will be hollow if new cities become known for their high rise buildings or Special Economic Zones. “Most Indian cities today are reeling under problems of infrastructure collapse because of increasing population, lack of planning and poor management; so a new city can be built only if there is a pro-active government and planning,” opines Yair and Izzie who head departments in a real estate company.
Poor infrastructure is what troubles Madhu Singh, Business Manager. She is “flabbergasted” with the present infrastructure and the traffic jams that she and her colleagues suffer everyday to and fro from office to home means that she will consider moving to a new city if the city is in Karnataka and if she can get a decent job, accommodation with proper civic amenities that are sensitive to the environment and intelligently planned infrastructure integrated with public transport system to meet the fast-evolving future.
Clear revenue sharing
Shashank, a marketing director of a real estate company based in Pune, explains that the private sector won’t mind setting up a part of the city in Karnataka (like Lavasa in Pune) so long as the revenue sharing model is clear. Interest of the private sector in creating brand new cities has been limited mainly because of large requirement of funds, land acquisitions and litigations.
Better connectivity and transportation system in existing cities are important, points out Asha Menon, a lawyer. According to her, creating a new city is a burden on the government exchequer. An increase in housing demand and congestion in cities can be addressed by providing higher Floor Space Index (FSI) in existing cites and improving the infrastructure to support such developments, she points out. On a larger level, she adds, “An ideal situation is when the real estate sector evolves, the way the auto or telecom sectors have evolved in India where there is a product for everybody. So, while you have premium housing at one end of the spectrum, for customers who can afford it, you also have a house for the mid range and a house at the other end of the chain. Every person should be able to buy a house based on his or her purchase capacity.”
‘New cities mean new opportunities’
“New cities bring new opportunities,” according to Pravin Malkani, President, Patel Realty India Ltd. He adds, “Therefore one should see a softening of inner city (current city limits) prices as the outer satellite cities and townships would offer people a more comprehensive lifestyle option and ease of living with lesser congestion, better infrastructure and better planned neighbourhoods etc. Whether it would serve as an antidote and cure the problems of our inner cities really depends on how these satellite developments are connected to mainstream work-and-live areas, and the availability of infrastructure in these satellite towns. Migration to most Indian cities has been due to poor availability of infrastructure and jobs in our hinterlands, and this unfortunately does continue to be the reality six decades into our independence.
“There won’t be any short-to-medium-term antidote effect of these ‘new cities’ going forward, but on a larger (five years plus) window, the satellite townships would be the place to stay in, as the congestion, pollution and space crunch in inner cities would be extreme.” But, would such new cities work and why? Malkani explains that if planned well and provided with basic infrastructure, they would work like a dream.
“The fact that such cities are being planned by the private sector and are even being managed by them over a larger time span would eliminate issues like overflowing bins, potholed streets, broken pavements, stray dogs, hawkers etc. Several such townships are being built (like Neotown - Bangalore South). An earlier example is the Hiranandani Powai development. When announced, Powai was hardly a suburb, but as it grew and people understood the value of the infrastructure and systematic approach of the developer, today it is a much sought after suburb and continues to appreciate creating value for the citizens.”