Urban Renaissance

A newspaper report in the Chennai edition of “The Times of India” dated 28/09/2016 mentioned about a key member of the state cabinet K Pandiarajan, Minister for School Education, Sports and Youth welfare as having made a statement regarding the setting up of an IT park-Tidel Park III in the city’s western suburb of Pattabiram.
He added that on account of the city’s expansion and the limited opportunities of employment for the youth it was necessary that Tidel Park III was set up at this area adjacent to Avadi a key defence zone.
This proposal might bring cheer to those from the western suburbs of Chennai who could find employment opportunities closer to their homes, but it raises several questions if we look at the proposal from the context urban expansion. The city of Chennai is ever expanding horizontally just like all Indian cities. The rate at which this phenomenon is taking place is only increasing by the day.
Let’s take the case of Chennai as an example; the southern metropolis had 176 sq. Km of area administered by its corporation prior to the expansion 2011. In October 2011 the urban local body expanded to an area of 426 sq. Km by merging several municipalities, towns and villages. An arbitrary exercise that left quite a few suburbs in the lurch. The corporation administered area is still not alarmingly high in comparison with other cities in the country or around the world. But in real terms the city of Chennai and its adjoining urban areas together make up the urban agglomeration referred to as the Chennai Metropolitan area. This area is much larger and includes far reaching areas towards the north, south and west of the core city. This template can be applied by and large to all Indian metropolises. Albeit this level of massive unplanned horizontal expansion is ill-advised and requires an unlimited resource called “Land” at our disposal, for the second most populous country land is a scarce resource.
Looking at the long term view of our cities and their expansion and again considering Chennai as an example: Can the city afford to expand its boundaries forever and continue to eat into neighbouring territories?
Our metropolitan cities are bursting at their seems with uncontrolled expansion, poor civic infrastructure, abysmally low standards of governance plaguing these symbols of growth. To address this challenge a multi-pronged policy is required. Some of the suggestions that are implementable in the long term and short term are:-
a) The 74th constitutional amendment needs to be implemented completely. Our municipalities deserve greater financial and administrative autonomy. All departments except electricity and police must be placed under the local bodies. This will empower local representatives and make them accountable thereby making governance efficient.
b) Make agriculture a profitable occupation and provide urban amenities in the remotest of villages, this requires a huge overhaul in the policy and implementation levels in several states.
c) Modify the land use policy- we cannot allow fertile agricultural land to be converted into residential use or even worse, put into commercial/industrial use. Strict implementation of land use policies and digitising land records to having approvals online will plug loopholes to a large extent.
d) This can be done in the short term and requires much lesser procedure. The FSI(Floor Space Index) limit needs to be immediately increased in our cities(especially Chennai) to encourage builders and developers to look skywards. This will significantly control horizontal expansion.
e) We need to protect sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands, lakes, rivers and urban forests. These green spaces existing within our cities act as lungs, they also improve public health and reduce impact of nature’s fury.
f) Developing tier II and III cities is important in reducing congestion of our metros and needs to be given importance as this will lead to balanced regional growth.
g) Lastly but not certainly the least our metropolises need a comprehensive public transport framework that takes into account accessibility, affordability, reliability and efficiency. Metro rail networks are coming up in most cities but an integrated transit system that includes last mile connectivity is vital. Organic change driven by innovation and combining best practices from around the world could give a solution.
These are some of the humble suggestions as given by various urban development experts and planners. Ideas have also been borrowed from tried and tested experiments around the world. If these ideas are implemented they could renew our urban landscape and help achieve sustainable living in our cities


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