Category Archives: Cities

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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Missed Chances and Government Bureaucracy: Louis Kahn and Gandhinagar

Government intervention and babudom are nothing new to India. It has thrived for generations and continues to do so even today. Soon after Independance there was a massive movement to bring the country on par with the Westernised world. New cities and towns was part of that scheme and Nehru, India’s first prime minister took the initiative to invite Le Corbusier to plan Chandigarh. The rest, as they say is history.

Corbusier was not the only architectural giant to leave his stamp on India. Louis Kahn, his contemporary also worked in India around the same time and would design and influence future generations of architects in India.

While Corbusier got the opportunity to design the masterplan and the important architectural pieces of Chandigarh, Kahn, did not get to do it in India. He did design the capital complex of Bangladesh, which then was a new country taking birth.

Paul John writes a very interesting article “With Kahn magic Gandhinagar would have  rivalled Chandigarh” that speaks about the missed opportunity for India and Kahn to design Gandhinagar, the new capital of the new state of Guarat.

If Chandigarh is Le Corbusier’s city, Bhubaneswar bears the German Otto Koenigsberger’s signature, Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar could have had American yogi Louis Kahn’s imprint — a strong rival to Corbusier’s Chandigarh — had the Indian and Gujarat governments allowed Kahn to design the capitol buildings. Continue reading Missed Chances and Government Bureaucracy: Louis Kahn and Gandhinagar

My Building Tallest

The late 90’s and the first decade of the 21st century can be rightly called the glory years of the Skyscraper Race. Countries tried to outdo each other in claiming the tallest skyscraper status. Before this boom, the Sears Towers in Chicago, USA held the claim for nearly 3 decades.

All that went for a toss as Asian countries caught on to this craze. The Petronas became the tallest building for a few years, only to be eclipsed by Taipei 101 in Taiwan. And then came the big kahuna of tall buildings, the Burj Khalifa.

And this is just the race for the top position. Change it to the top ten and there are dozens of buildings all across Asia, North America, and Russia that try to reach for the skies.

In all this, India is prominently absent.

Monika Halan writes a very well-laid out article titled: Reaching for the Sky: How Tall is my country.

She concludes

… it does not look as if India or Indians are unduly worried about failing on another parameter of global ranking. The lack of interest or even public debate on getting India on the tall building map could mean several things. One, we are not at the stage of economic growth where having the tallest building becomes something to think about. Two, there is no massive speculative real estate bubble in the country and cheap money is certainly not an issue. Three, the argumentative Indian does not need the prop of an icon of American culture to define India’s identity or its place in the world. Or it could just be that we are so sure that a fire in the tallest building will end in disaster with the fire engines (that can reach all of 10 storeys) stuck in a traffic jam caused by a broken-down cycle on the main road. Nope, we don’t even want to go that way.

Tall buildings serve their purpose in urban areas. Contrary to popular thinking they can be more sustainable in all aspects than their height challenged counterparts. And if India takes that road and goes tall, all power to the builders. But if its just to get bragging rights, then its a waste of time, money and opportunity.

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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India’s Urban Awakening

Warren Karlenzig at Green Flow makes some very valid points for India cities as they grow both in number and size. Some of the comparisons with China are pretty interesting, especially the one about planned phases of growth in national cities.

Making the Cities of India More Sustainable

Article by Warren Karlenzig at Green Flow

With Mumbai, one of the largest cities of the world, treating only 30-40 percent of its sewage, experiencing five-hour traffic delays and hosting massively expanding unplanned slums, urban sustainability needs to be viewed through a different lens than elsewhere.

India will add an additional 26 cities of one million or more by 2030 to its 42 one million+ cities today. The 2008 population in cities of 340 million in 2008 will soar to 590 million by 2030. The need for much improved urban housing and health services, let alone better planning, governance and carbon management, threatens the nation’s and thus the world’s economic stability: India’s population by 2030 is forecast to overtake China’s

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High-End Housing Booming Again

The world economic slump did not affect India as severely as it did other nations. And hence India is quicker on the upswing as things begin to move positive.

Real estate is one marker on the state of the economy. And in the case of Mumbai it looks like the already inflated market is going even higher.

On the back of a revival in demand, real estate developers are again building super luxury apartments, say experts.

Consultancy firms Jones Lang Lasalle Meghraj (JLLM) and Knight Frank India said there are about 7,000 such apartments to be delivered within a year in Mumbai alone, where the cost is not below Rs4.7 crore for a single unit.

“After the recession got over, real estate developers are back building high-end super luxury projects because there is good demand for such projects. At the same time, margins are also higher in these projects,” JLLM country head and chairman Anuj Puri told PTI. [ link to article ]

Are real estate prices in Mumbai really sustainable in the long run ?

Is Chandigarh a model city?

I’ve followed Himanshu Burte’s writing for a while and had the opportunity to meet and talk to him in 2009 at the Indian Architecture conference at the New School in NYC.

He poses a very valid question about Chandigarh, India’s first planned city in the Modern era. As an architect I have always been enamoured by the city and on the few visits there, have found it to be so very different from most Indian cities. However that is the architect in me, that thinks so.

Many a resident of the city lament about the things that dont work and how the planning is just so alien.

Himanshu builds up a really good arguement for the city.

Is Chandigarh a model city?

Himanshu Burte / New Delhi 

The first early example of what we can call a “rational” city, Chandigarh can be either loved or hated. In the first of a series of articles on architecture and architects that have, for better or worse, influenced the way Indian cities look and behave, Himanshu Burte critically examines Corbusier’s Chandigarh

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