Monthly Archives: March 2018

Sealing & FAR: Politicians can see what the media and the older generation have missed

Every now and then I get to one of the much maligned’ commercial’ spaces in Delhi. Currently under attack from some RWA members these commercial spaces could be in CP, GK2, GK1 markets or Khan Market, or on mixed use streets mostly within my radius of regular commute.  I meet up with friends for coffee; I land up to listen to some blues, enjoy some bookshop browsing, savour some new cuisine, or I buy myself some stuff.  I am struck by the preponderance of the young in such places. Cheerful, dressed lightly and laughing they are mostly oblivious to the ‘commercial doom’ being forecast.

I don’t see older people at Delhi’s commercial spaces, simply because they are not designed to be older friendly. Traffic jams, no safe footpaths, being forced to walk on the road along with trucks, unregulated traffic and messy parking all contribute to an unpleasant experience for the older generation

This is perhaps why it is not the young, driven by work, growth and entertainment that are opposing ‘commercialisation’ but the older RWA members who feel sidelined and insecure in the melee.

It is not the commercial spaces that are the problem but the management of the environment around them which irks the elderly. Rightly so. Not only commercial, many other facilities such as metro stations, small nursing homes, eateries, playschools required by the young and aspiration filled population of Delhi are troublesome because of parking problems and traffic jams because the periphery is badly managed or because restaurants put untreated waste into their sewers. The distinction between commercial activity and its fallout(‘externality’) has to be clearly seen to be managed. It has to be taken into account by policy makers, planners and by implementing agencies

This is a point the few older RWA people, fail to get as they attack commercial establishments and traders. This is a point the Media has not considered in it’s otherwise widespread coverage

Does that mean unbridled conversion of residential to commercial? Certainly not.  It’s not a ‘this vs that’, black vs white proposition. Youngsters, older people, women, traders and residents are not separate or disparate entities. They are connected socially, economically and as members within a family.

Changes in population also require corresponding changes in supporting facilities like affordable commercial and office spaces too. As prices for commercial spaces escalate and there are only those many jobs in comparison to the increase in population. The ordinary entrepreneur who seeks to fulfill her ambition finds herself at sea. As businesses move to a greater orientation towards services this middle class ‘start up’ finds no legitimate space available at an affordable price. There are no SFS offices unlike SFS flats. There is a dire shortage of planned office space in virtually all areas of Delhi. Choked and pushed into a corner for survival the entrepreneur seeks to find a place in urban villages, in residential areas, or wherever else she can to create a livelihood. This too escapes the older citizens who can’t seem to empathize with the young and the restless. The politicians know this but it has escaped media attention.

I am not arguing for an unbridled increase in FAR or providing amnesty to those who resort to unauthorized residential and commercial activity. All I am making a case for is to shed the paranoia of increased FAR and shift our attention to a keener, more active regulation and oversight of how residences and commercial establishments conduct themselves in society in relation to waste, untreated effluents, fire safety regulations parking in public spaces and pedestrian movement. Densely populated and successful cities do not trivialize those conditions.

Any planning model has thresholds beyond which known formulae fail. This is precisely what is happening here. The authorities are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people. Add to that, the desire to maximise profit through land has compromised DDA’s ability to plan in public interest. When profit through land is staring an organisation in its face it is very hard to plan for those who can only pay less.

Instead of blindly dismissing the increase in FAR we need to pause and think slowly. This auto-conditioned response to ‘commercialization’ must stop. The needs of the many must be considered before surrendering to the fulminations of a few.

 

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Densification is the way to Decongestion.

The drive initiated by the Supreme Courts’ monitoring committee and the subsequent sealing followed by changes to the Delhi Master plan has kept many of us in URJA engaged in several discussions. The DDA has increased the FAR for commercial units in residential areas and has faced opposition from several public activists in Delhi

Bluntly put, there is no choice but to increase FAR in many areas. Delhi has a booming economy with one of the highest per capita income among all states in India. There is the massive population of Delhi with spending power, fuelling the demand for goods and services. The demand supply dynamics coupled with a burgeoning young population of aspiration filled voters will simply prevail. Over the years the UD ministry has failed to create adequate commercial space which is accessible to the ordinary entrepreneur. Expensive high end mall space just does not do it.

The idea of TOD(Transit Oriented Development) and Densification which planners (including the DDA) have envisaged for Delhi is the need of the hour. But the operational departments of the DDA as well as other Government departments, Police, Municipalities etc. involved in managing the city have failed to achieve this planning objective

There is no ‘elsewhere’

A conversation about exporting our waste, traffic and migration to elsewhere and making exclusive enclaves, returning Delhi to some city of yore is unrealistic.  The original idea of Delhi was based on a planned city where there was an ‘elsewhere’. Buses could be parked far away, sewage could be discharged untreated into the flowing river, Municipal waste could be taken to Landfills, people could live in NOIDA and Gurugram while Delhi’s planned colonies and SFS flats remained pretty enclaves of peace.

It didn’t quite work out like that. Delhi was allowed to metamorphose into a dense cluster of unauthorised colonies deprived of basic amenities, motorized vehicles reached unimaginable numbers, urban villages became vote banks as well as concrete jungles, landfills overflowed & collapsed, the parliament legitimized all past illegal construction and then; outlying rural areas refused to take pampered Delhi’s waste and Haryana started to deposit more and more sewage and draw more water, along with Delhi, into the Yamuna making it into a filthy drain.

Appealing to the rule of law with unclean hands

After having had the law on FAR changed to their own advantage as well as resort to illegal encroachment on public land and build unauthorised dwelling units, it is somewhat disingenuous of a few residents to take a holier than thou attitude towards increased FAR for commercial activity. Residents forget that they are the consumers of the same commercial services that have made their lives ‘convenient’. Residents forget that they park their own cars on footpaths and buy cheap from illegal vendors on footpaths. Civic agencies and the police have been simply incapable of law enforcement or timely implementation of policy. Violations should be punished but moving forward, the city has to plan for itself differently to remain sustainable

Densification for Decongestion; Managing chaos is the way forward for Delhi

Best be rid of the idea of decongestion by offloading our mess onto some other place. There is no scope for it

A municipal ward/assembly constituency cannot remove commercial space from its geography and ask for it to be taken elsewhere. Which other ward will accept it? They have enough troubles of their own!

Now that we have reached this urban crisis the intelligent thing to do is to look at what opportunities we can find here and turn this to our advantage. Economic growth and the availability of a large range of goods and services, which would otherwise not be viable, have now become possible. Cheap radio cabs as an option to owning cars, delivery of a wide variety of services including multiple cuisines, delivery of online retail purchase are some of the services that become viable and accessible only at scales higher densities provide. Properly done, densification appears to bring about economic & lifestyle benefits and vibrant places with amenities close by.  Mixed use areas provide more dwelling diversity & densification comes in many shapes other than just high rise.

There are many options which are beyond the scope of this article but businesses benefit when a diverse, multi-generational population has amenities close to home. Mixed use areas can reduce our dependence on automobiles by building in bike lanes, pedestrian-only streets and easy access to rapid transit. These multi-modal transport elements help to manage traffic congestion and reduce parking issues. These are well known ideas practiced in cities with high population densities. This may require redevelopment or retrofitting and remodeling for change but it does appear to be the best way forward given where we are now. Transforming ageing infrastructure is also an economic growth opportunity.

This is not possible for the authorities to achieve without a public buy in. Just putting out a public notice inviting comments will not do. A time frame should be fixed and a comprehensive plan to engage with the residents through local political leaders, RWAs and Market Associations, religious institutions and public spirited citizens should be carried out to plan for the future management of the city.

It must also be stated very clearly that densification and TOD, in Delhi’s context require finely managed urban spaces. This includes heightened monitoring and intervention by the DDA, Municipalities and the police for compliance. But all this requires up to date and very accurate maps that take into account the truth from the ground with the minutest detail being reflected. Many maps in the master plan are outdated and inaccurate*.

Good urban design with detailed physical planning and design is essential for a better city. It cannot be left to happen on its own.

There is little room left for the authorities to abdicate their responsibilities any longer. Any new plan for Delhi absolutely must have a special provision for penalizing and punishing officers if they are found to have obviously ignored a violation of public spaces and environment laws. Dereliction of duty is no longer an option. Thus far and no further; bureaucratic unaccountability should not be acceptable to the public.

Any violation of  public spaces by citizens too, must be dealt with swiftly.

The resident of Delhi must pull herself out of the rut of old thinking which, unfortunately is being reinforced by a few noisy voices. The citizens have no choice but to be open to change. We cannot keep thinking about the past. Nostalgia is good but the future has to be better.

Note

  • The Residents of Alaknanda found this to their horror when it became evident that some officers in the  DDA had facilitated the sanction of a giant mall in the middle of DDA SFS housing based on traffic movement on a non- existent road as well as by violating the provisions in the MPD.
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