Low Density Urban Sprawl And Other Sacred Cows

A high ranking government official takes a critical look at the orthodoxy behind the fight against urban decay in India's cities.
August 9, 2006, 12pm PDT | davarnado
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"Is low-density urban spread preferable to high density construction?"

"Are our cities meant to be spheres of excellence in which those who contribute to the revenues of the city are afforded a unique experience of comfort and convenience? Should, on the contrary, cities be demographically elastic and accommodate all, irrespective of whether or not they pay for the civic services they enjoy? Take for example Intel Corp., which shall have to pay the local body of Portland, Oregon $1000 per year per extra person it hires to pay for the extra load on the city."

In the August 8 issue of the Hindustan Times, Raghav Chandra, Commissioner of Tribal Development in Madhya Pradesh, questions the re-emergence of urban renewal in India's cities. At the heart of his questions are major concerns as to the policies, practices, governance structures, and attitudes that belie how cities are planned and redeveloped:

"Should the Central government not create uniform guidelines to harmonise and standardise master-planning and building laws?"

"Should we not make the town and country planning department an autonomous body headed by a 3 member bench of experts with a fixed tenure, serviced by bureaucratic support staff of architects and planners?"

"Are we prepared to charge differential tariffs based on the principles of social cost of occupation of common space, cost of pollution and cost of service delivery?"

"Do we regulate fresh influx into the city? Or do we encourage anyone to migrate...into the city, in the absence of adequate employment opportunities elsewhere? Is in-situ slum management the right thing?"

Chandra's '5E' paradigm raises a critical question: Would revitalized cities still be 'a dazzle of stylish buildings with marginal impact' or 'the wonderful liveable places we dream of?'

Thanks to D. A. Varnado, AICP

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Published on Tuesday, August 8, 2006 in Hindustan Times
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