Observing that Indian urbanisation discourse was in need of a paradigm shift, eminent architect Kirtee Shah said age-old city planning tools like master plans should be discarded if contemporary challenges are to be properly addressed.
“Every minute, 30 people are added to India’s urban population. That is the pace of growth in our cities. The concept of master plans and growth corridors is completely irrelevant in today’s scenario. They are terms that don’t belong in 2016-17 but in 1996,” said Shah, President of the influential India Habitat Forum (INHAF).
“Master plans are essentially land use plans. For example, Ahmedabad has a 600-page master plan that talks about investment of billions of rupees and a single page devoted to resource mobilisation. We are at a stage where we have to look at cities in an entirely different way. The earlier you do it, the better for Thiruvananthapuram,” he added.
Shah was responding to a question posed by noted architect N. Mahesh at a vigorous public conversation in Poojappura ground on Thursday. The panel discussion, titled ‘Developing Trivandrum as a Green Heritage City’, was held as part of a three part national seminar series at HabFest-30, a celebration of the Habitat Technology Group’s 30th anniversary.
Moderating the debate, Mahesh said Trivandrum is the only capital city in the country without a master plan. He put this down to a lack of political will or bureaucratic impulse and insufficient public demand and apathy.
“At present, we don’t even have a vision document – the basis for a master plan – that looks at the city for the next 35 years. As a result, there is no consensus on what the character of Trivandrum should be. In addition, the effective absence of an Urban Art Commission is responsible for the ugliness of Kerala’s cities,” he said, linking these problems to pressing issues of encroachment, unchecked building practices and loss of the city’s green cover.
Terming Thiruvananthapuram an “ideal ‘green city’ candidate”, Mahesh said, “At least 14 per cent of the area should be green per international norms. Presently, we have only four per cent green cover. The city’s green belts have given way to a concrete jungle.”
Other needs of the hour were a unified transport system, a growth corridor for industries and regulatory parameters for heritage preservation, he said. Warning that the lakshman rekha had already been crossed, Mahesh noted that only a viable master plan, not stop-gap measures, would tackle these concerns.
Shah noted that far more serious challenges loomed for urban planners. “What kind of urbanisation will help create reduce the widening gap between labour force and livelihood development? Similarly, we need to understand urbanisation in the context of rural development, the informal sector and sustainability,” he said.
The forum saw representation from prominent architects, builders, engineers and other planning consultants. MLA O. Rajagopal had earlier set the stage for the debate by expressing hope that partisan politics would not hinder the city’s growth and development.
Architect Sharad Mahajan, of Pune-based NGO MASHAL (Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League), said the onus was on planning experts to take the initiative by presenting a master plan to the government. PRS Group chairman R. Murugan echoed this sentiment.
Noting that the master plan was a legal, not a technical, document, College of Architecture Trivandrum Principal Ar. J. Jayakumar said it had to be produced through legal processes. “Architects can only provide suggestions on heritage and social aspects of term planning efforts and help effect change from below,” Jayakumar said.
Architect B. Sudhir, from the Indian Institute of Architecture’s Kerala Chapter, concurred that master plans were complex documents which could only be produced by properly-functioning government machinery. He cited attitudinal problems and short-sighted political vision as problems facing city planning.
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