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.