Category Archives: Infrastructure

Livable Cities: Green landscapes and election promises

Trees and green spaces are an integral part of an urban landscape. The great cities of the world boast of some of the most diverse public spaces that are green. Central Park in New York City and Hyde Park in London are just two examples that come to mind.

However in India, there is a near total lack of green urban spaces of that scale. Yes we do have the largest “national park in an urban boundary” claim by way of Borivili National Park in Mumbai, but that’s hardly the center of Mumbai; and even that is being encroached up with drastic results.

Gautam Patel makes a fantastic case of the need for more green space and how the politicians manipulate this theme come election time.

In the run up to Mumbai’s municipal elections, of the many to-be-left-unfufilled promises made by political parties, two were common: less corruption and more “infrastructure”. The latter, in our peculiar notion of what makes a ‘world-class’ city, only means more roads, more bridges. No one promised to make our city more liveable. In my constituency, apart from the familiar talk-to-the-hand and offerings for lotus-eaters, there were many odd symbols for candidates: a sewing machine, an LPG cylinder and something that looked like a pasta machine cross-bred with a meat grinder. Not one had a tree or anything that looked like it.

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Slum-free cities: Freeing slums or freeing lands?

Prof. Yatin Pandya writes an interesting editorial on the issue of slum lands in urban contexts.

Original article here.

Slums have been in perpetual state of persistence in political parlance and policy promises. From slum removal in seventies to slum-networking in 2000, there has been a paradigm shift in addressing slums in urban Indian context. By 2000, it was a realisation that formal systems – government or private, has failed in addressing affordable housing to nearly half of urban population. On the other end, individual initiatives by slum-dwellers have managed to find them basic shelters if not decent housing without any external help. What they have not been able to provide are collective infrastructure and what they do not have is legal tenure of land. The first deficiency makes them defined as slum with squalid conditions while the latter condition describe them as squatments through illegal ownership of land.

The UN defines slums as a building, a group of buildings or area characterised by overcrowding, deterioration, unhygienic conditions or any one of them endangering health, safety, or morals of its inhabitants or the community. This refers to squalid conditions of living and not the legality of land ownership. By this definition even sizeable part of old cities in India, like Shahjahanabad in Delhi or pols in Ahmedabad will get included in it, which are well-known holistic living environments.

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The Design Aesthetic of Modern Indian Cities

Indian cities have multiple aesthetics. As do all cities, and human settlements of varied sizes all around the world. This has been true right through history.

However Indian cities have a clear demarcation in terms of the urban aesthetics when looked at within the time frame of the last century.

The big four metros, all cities in existence for at least 400 years have an evolved sense of architecture and urban aesthetic that spans from the Mughal times to the British Raj. Each city got its own distinct version of style and look. However this sense of aesthetic took a nosedive post-Independence.

All of a sudden, for every great piece of architecture, there were 100 examples of very banal, characterless buildings. Entire sections of cities, or even entire small cities grew up with no sense of architectural character and style.

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Looking Westward for Design Talent?

Over the last decade, India has undergone change like no other period in its 60+ years of Independence. Besides the lifestyle changes, the transformation of the physical realm is going ahead at a shocking pace. Metros as becoming megalopolii and small mofussil towns are now competing for the title of regional hubs.

Infrastructure has not kept pace with this development in the way we would want it. A two hour commute from Gurgaon to NOIDA or Goregaon to Churchgate are the classic examples. However there seems to be a sense of urgency that is now creeping up….maybe a decade too late, to get things in order. Case in point, the new airport terminals in Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi all opening in the span of 12 months.

Gautam Bhatia, a very well know architect and writer talks about this event in his recent article in the Times of India and touches upon a very “touchy” topic. Why does India invite foreign architects, planners, and designers to conceptualize things for them. Where is the homegrown talent and the pride in the same.

His reasoning for the most part follows a very predictable arguement that has been tossed around for a few years. However from whatever I have gathered, there is a dearth of the technical expertise to somehow figure out the logistical and programming challenges that come with mega projects. And with the need to get them built as of yesterday; there is a very small margin of error for experimentation and a trial  error exercise.

It is only a matter of time, if not already in place; that Indian firms will have the expertise that they have picked up working side by side with these foreign firms to have the confidence to deal with megastructures and projects. Till then there is no shortcut out. Or at least one without risks.

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Pride of India ?

By Gautam Bhatia / Times of India

When questioned about the cultural and technological stagnation that came with socialism, a bureaucrat in Nehru’s time once remarked that all the best work had already been done in the West, and we merely had to pick ideas for our own use. At a time when Indian inventiveness and productivity were state-controlled and highly suspect, borrowing made a lot of sense.

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The Mumbai CBD Exodus

The following news article about the impending exodus of finance powerhouses from Nariman Point, the CBD of Mumbai; is not surprising. Infact, some would wonder why it took so long.

Since the 90’s we have had proclamations from politicians wanting to make Mumbai the next  Shanghai, Singapore or Dubai; depending on the flavor of the month.

What most people dont realize is that Nariman Point is over 40 years old in the present form. And its buildings are crumbling or in poor shape. And the rents are double that of Midtown Manhattan.

Infrastructure wise, its not as bad as other parts of Mumbai. However it would serve some owners well to demolish and build more efficient buildings, in terms of space, design and sustainability. Then the sky-high rents are justified.

Inevitably it may happen. As more and more businesses move away, owners might do just that. I’d rather they be proctive about it, than doing it as a reaction to market forces alone.

UBS, JP Morgan lead Nariman Point exodus

By Pooja Thakur, for Bloomberg

MUMBAI: UBS AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are leading an exodus of finance companies from Mumbai’s Nariman Point financial district as they balk at paying double midtown-Manhattan rents for crumbling four-decade-old buildings.

UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, moved to a new complex on the site of a drive-in cinema about nine miles north. JPMorgan, the second-biggest US lender, shifted to an adjacent suburb, while private-equity firm KKR & Co. went about three miles north of Nariman Point. Axis Bank and broker Motilal Oswal Financial Services are moving in the next year.

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McKinsey and Company on India’s Urbanization

McKinsey & Company recently came up with a comprehensive report titled “India’s Urban Awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth”. The executive summary of the report is below. The entire report in PDF format can be read here.

India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth

 

India has a young and rapidly growing population—a potential demographic dividend. But India needs thriving cities if that dividend is to pay out. New MGI research estimates that cities could generate 70 percent of net new jobs created to 2030, produce around 70 percent of Indian GDP, and drive a near fourfold increase in per capita incomes across the nation.

Handled well, India can reap significant benefits from urbanization. MGI offers a range of recommendations, the vast majority of which India could implement within five to ten years. If India were to follow the recommendations, it could add 1 to 1.5 percent to annual GDP growth, bringing the economy near to the double-digit growth to which the government aspires.

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Pune Gets a New Cricket Stadium

UK architect Michael Hopkins is set to design the new cricket stadium outside Pune. The stadium is touted as an IPL friendly stadium and in terms of facilities will surpass the best in the world.

I wonder what the fascination is with foreign architects. Anyways, Michael Hopkins claim to fame is the design of the new facilities at Lords, the mecca of cricket.

image

Here is a blurb from Hopkins website

The sloping site enjoys superb panoramic views. Rebalancing levels results in a bowl of terraced seating for spectators centred on the Match Ground, creating a "place" around which development can grow. Four stands sit over this terrace accessed via a wide pedestrian concourse, the gaps between not only providing views to the horizon but airflow and daylight. Upper levels include further seating for spectators, a Members’ Pavilion, hospitality boxes, and facilities for broadcasting and press. Parking is provided on surrounding land.

With cricket played November-May, the sun is often low. Membrane roofs provide shade and, together with the elegantly braced structure of the steel and concrete stands in this seismic zone, create a memorable form for the Stadium.

This stadium bears importance to the IPL with the recent announcement that Pune is one of the new IPL franchises for 2011.

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India’s Vertical Quest

VERTICAL LIMITS WHAT STOPS INDIA FROM TESTING HIGHER GROUNDS?

By Preeti Parashar / Indian Express

As the world’s tallest building, the 828-metreBurj Khalifa, alters the skyline of Dubai, other nations look on to join the race of tallest skyscrapers! Countries across the globe have been modifying their policies for developers and engineers to innovate and explore new designs. Where does India stand in this race? Do we have policies or guidelines that can make these skyscrapers a reality in India in the next ten years? The answers are still uncertain.

Given India’s low floor space index (FSI) policy—government regulations that allow specific number of building floors based on the land area, thus determining heights. India doesn’t have many skyscrapers (defined as buildings of over 24 m in height). As of now, except a 300-metre-high TV tower at Worli, Mumbai, India cannot boast of many tall buildings. Shreepati Arcade, constructed in 2002 is another tall building in the city with 45 floors and a height of 153 metres. Soon two residential towers in Mumbai—Imperial Towers (149 m) and India Tower (a hotel, 301 m)—will be completed.

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Entrepreneurship in Public Infrastructure

It is no surprise that India has a booming communication infrastructure when it comes to mobile phones. The early problems of under-capacity all seem to have vanished and thousands jump on the mobile bandwagon everyday.

However, the exact opposite happens with physical infrastructure, especially intra city transportation. Traffic in most cities is nightmarish and it has only gotten worse every year. Every once in a while, a grandiose foolish scheme like the Bandra Worli Sea Link come to fruition but its more to inflate the politicians ego than to solve the problem for the long term.

Sarah Lacy in an article on TechCrunch.com makes a compelling case for the entrepreneurial spirit in the mobile sector, with Bangalore as a case-study. 

I completely agree with her reading of the lack of physical infrastructure having something to do with the fact that the government is in charge.

Entrepreneurs: Start. This. Company. Now.

By Sarah Lacy / Washington Post / TechCrunch.com

Thursday, November 19, 2009 1:29 AM

BANGALORE, INDIA ¿ It?s almost as if Russian cell phone carrier MTS has bought the naming rights to Bangalore. I half expected my immigration stamp to read ?BANGALORE! ? BROUGHT TO YOU BY MTS.? The carrier recently launched service in the uber-competitive Indian telecom market and has erected billboards every twenty feet or so. I have never seen so much advertising by one company in one space. They all sport an agro looking dude with his face twisted in some rebel-yell while he does inscrutable things with robots and mechanical arms holding different tech gadgets.

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Bureaucracy and other spanners in India’s works

By DAVID LASCELLES / Business Day

THE world has become so accustomed to labelling India as one of the world’s great engines of growth — alongside China — that it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that the reality is a little less dazzling.

Concrete and chaos are the best words to describe India today, as I discovered from a visit earlier this month. The concrete is the building activity you see everywhere, the chaos is the sense you quickly get that things are barely under control.

A typical Indian scene is a large construction site, cement mixers grinding and cranes toiling, while sacred cows munch the grass alongside and a torrent of battered cars, rickshaws and filthy trucks crashes by on the pitted roads. The air is full of noise and grit, but out of it will rise the gleaming headquarters of some new Indian corporate giant.

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