The Beauty of India


From a planning and design perspective, China no longer needs our help. It took 20 years took to get to that point, but my last two trips there have left the impression that US architects and planners have given the Chinese the most relevant information that they need to build their own country with enough technical and sustainable criteria to know right from wrong. For now, China has caught up with (and in some cases surpassed) the rest of the developed world, allowing them to pull the throttle back a bit on what gets built and where.

Signature projects continue to happen, like the second half of the 2010 World's Fair (Better City, Better Life) and Shanghai Tower, soon to be the tallest building China. Meanwhile, the Chinese people have realized their own transformation and appreciate the marvels that they have created as they adapt to their new lifestyles in working, living, shopping, learning, eating and entertainment. There is a bit of a sense of arrogance now in the big cities, but also a general understanding of what makes China work and a confidence that they have reached a platitude of their own. In hindsight, the agricultural countryside and rural areas still have not been addressed in a meaningful way and the masses will continue to migrate towards the large metropolis which will eventually feel the strain and force further redevelopment.

International planners and architects are now setting their sights on India with more intent. For some, this territory is not new. Many of the world's largest AEC firms have multidisciplinary offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. What is new is the reception that these businesses are getting - and it's welcoming.

Even today, India remains at least ten years behind China in terms of utilities, infrastructure, building design and technology. This gap will not close anytime soon as the freewheeling politics in New Delhi are structured completely different from the edicts in Beijing.

What is clear is that like China, land planning in India has taken the forefront in helping decide how the country will develop and where. Unlike China, land parcels are fragmented and difficult to assemble and therefore, large scale private development is slow. Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that help foster tax free enterprises that help import and export all kinds of products and services from power to computer chips to wind turbines are creating jobs and propelling the basic need for economic growth that will eventually be the catalyst for national change. This manufacturing base for both domestic and international growth is essential now.

Like the Chinese culture that many architects and planners admire, India offers a completely different aesthetic for design. The country's vibrant colors, spices and religions invigorate all five human senses at once and the people are extremely positive about what lies ahead. English language and units of measure make communication easier and being centrally located makes global solutions possible supported by India's unmatched technological capabilities.

Indian people love both discourse and debate. Their decision making process is engaging and entertaining; as democratic as one can image and almost to a fault. It can become tiresome, but we must embrace it. For just as the Chinese are receptive to outsiders "in a polite way", Indians want the same access to our intellect and global experiences, but expect to participate wholeheartedly.

Finally and most important, we need to show our willingness and commitment to search out and align with local strategic partners that share similar values and ethics. After all, it's their country and by taking the time to nurture these relationships in a coordinated effort shows that we have patience, allegiance, stability, confidence and consistency, which ultimately leads to credibility and trust.

And in our business, there is nothing more important than that.

Rick Abelson is a Director at Online Land Planning, LLC.



The world's cheapest homes

No reason why that can't be done ANYWHERE in the world. Maybe there is a connection between "homelessness" and the sheer cost of getting anything built, in many cities today?

I nominate industrialist Ratan Tata as "person of the year" for actually doing something practical about this problem. While we're busy repudiating "free markets", he beautifully illustrates the old Adam Smith dictum about honest men making profits by producing what people want, at a fair price.

Proposals and consequences of homes.

The argumentation about land rents and then comparing them to a proposed project in Mumbai that supposedly solves these problems would be devestating save for the tiny problem of the actual text of the link:

    That’s because cheap housing nearly always necessitates large tracts of cheap land on the outskirts of cities where developers can take advantage of the economies of scale that come with developing many houses at once. Is it any surprise that Tata and its competitors are all operating on the urban fringe?

    Without an aggressive program of well thought-out dense development, integrated mass transit, and car-use demand management, the combination of cheap cars and cheap homes could create for India the same intractable land-use conditions found in every major metropolitan region in the United States since the end of World War II...



Plans versus land values - who wins?


Why is the obsession always with "getting the fringe dwellers into the CBD"?

Cheap land is just as attractive to businesses/employers as it is to dwellers.

It is economically impossible to progress directly from third world poverty to "totally dense", modern, healthy, walkable, integrated cities. In fact, it is economically impossible under any circumstances without creating massive "disparate impacts" where the lowest income earners will be priced out of existence by high and rising land values.

"Edge cities", multi nodal development, and mixed land use, "democratise" opportunity of convenient location. What is more, they also democratise the creation of wealth. I have come to the conclusion that monocentric urban planning, in tandem with invisible regulatory urban boundaries, have created a transfer of and accumulation of wealth unprecedented in human history.

Ricardian rents are all about convenience of location. Agglomerate convenience of location, and you agglomerate capital gains too.

The lowest price urban land and the flattest land value graphs are to be found in the metros with the most relaxed zoning.

There might be gains to be made in system-wide efficiency, from the incorporated infrastructure providers point of view, through rigid planning. But movements in land values are EVERYTHING when it comes to the overall consequences.

This is the message I am most at pains to convey in forums like this.

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