New Mantra Of City Development – Throw Corbusier & Planning Colleges In Dustbin

Palace of Assembly – Le Corbusier

Many of these old master plans, Le Corbusier- inspired planning and ideas that we still teach by the way in the SPA(School of Planning and Architecture) and other institutions, first of all, we need to throw them in the dustbin,” said Sanjeev Sanyal, a confused economic adviser to the government of India.

What he meant is that the basic Nehruvian principles of planning a city must be dumped and more market-friendly city developmental models of planning must be adopted. During one of our interactions in an urban age conference held by the Deutsche Bank and the LSE in November 2014, Sanyal was rabidly intolerant towards state intervention in the planning processes.

What we experience post-2014 since Modi took over and announced his strong antipathy towards any state intervention, cities being foremost amongst them, many fancy ideas for attracting private capital investment were announced. These were quite in tune with what Sanyal is quoting.
100 smart cities were supposed to be the lighthouses of urban growth and SPV(Special Purpose Vehicles) as the new governance models of having quick and rapid development. The private capital was supposed to enter these smart cities for infrastructure development projects and ameliorate the problems of the people. However, as a practitioner and as an urbanist I can say this with full affirmation that it’s been a complete disaster in city development.

Neither the private capital entered these cities nor the SPVs could bring in a pro-people governance model. The SPV model was synonymous with writing an obituary of the 74th Constitutional Amendment thus reducing it to a mere bureaucratic riddle.

To get rid of Corbusier’s model the central government wrote a contradictory document called the National Urban Policy Framework(NUPF). Once again Sanyal was instrumental in authoring this document. The document was so controversial that it had an ignominious exit. Even the ministry of housing and urban development has not owned this document. The NUPF with 10 sutras etc., was supposed to be a developing vision for city development for the coming few decades in the country.

NUPF was supposed to be like the first urban commission constituted by the Rajiv Gandhi government which was headed by the famous architect, Charles Correa.

The aversion to the planning institutions by the BJP and its cohorts and advisers like Sanyal is quite natural. The basic principle of development is “let the market determine the development trajectory of cities.” This is quite opposite of what was discussed in the UN-Habitat III.  Not that the free-market economy principles have not been tested, in fact since 1990 the urban reforms were based on such principles. But, post-2008, across the globe, there has been strong criticism of the ways in which city development is happening.

John Closs the then executive director of the UN-Habitat reminded in Quito, the venue of Habitat III that to ensure the success of SDGs(sustainable development goals) we must go back to the basics of planning and get rid of the decades-old practiced model of laissez-faire. It meant that the free-market economy will not ameliorate the basic challenges of mass poverty, inequality, unemployment, infrastructure, climate change, etc., in contemporary times. Hence more focus must be given to the planning with a people-centric vision.

Sanyal is saying just the opposite. In the guise of failures of successive planning models, he is trying to inverse the entire argument. Failure of planning, globally and in the Indian context must also be understood in the same framework.

In the Indian context, the role of the state in planning was minimised and market-oriented principles were followed. That is why the city planning institutions in the country are not subject to political control of the city’s elected institutions. Nowhere in the country does the city and its citizens and residents plan for themselves.

The city planning is done at the behest of parastatals which are then guided by ustads (consultants), most of whom come from large consulting firms. These parastatals like the Delhi Development Authority, the Mumbai Development Authority, Greater Mohali Development Authority etc., are not answerable to the regional or city elected institutions and hence most of the planning is done in contravention to the provisions of the 74th constitutional amendment. The 12th Schedule firmly listed that city planning must be under the domain of the city administration.

Post-independence adopting Nehruvian principles, the city development plans emphatically spoke about the issues of the poor, housing, etc., though the exercise was not ideal or completely inclusive, still, it had an element of inclusion in it. However, post the 90s and now post 2014 after Modi’s era there has been a complete absence of these principles. Take for example the latest master plan of Delhi – 2041. It mentions that nearly 34 lakh dwellings will be required, but how this will happen, what will be the role of the agencies, etc., is quite ambiguous. What it intends to do is to play with the land pooling policy and usurp the village commons of the people and thus cater to affluent sections in the society.

Sanyal lamenting about infrastructure is true but not mentioning that the basic infrastructure must be laid by the state agencies and not to expect the private capital to invest in that area. If it does then there is a huge cost which the people have to bear. All that is being done and further consolidated is the massive drive for capital-intensive technologies to seek solutions for some of the basic problems like solid waste and even mobility in the town. The drive is such that instead of a playground there is a drive for a stadium and instead of a primary health centre for a multi-specialty hospital; instead of decentralised waste management for high capital cost waste to energy plants; instead of more pedestrianised and non-motorised mobility for more flyovers and more capital-intensive technological metros.

This will not be sustainable and confused Sanyal’s nonchalance with Nehruvian principles and in the name of new, serving the same recipe of a free-market economy is a time-tested failure.

Not the dustbin but many ideas to bloom which are people-centric. Cities for people and not vice-versa.

(This article first appeared in Deccan Herald)

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