Why Are India's Cities So Short?

They're among the most populous cities in the world. So why are India's largest cities virtually bereft of skylines? Mark Bergen explores the answers.

1 minute read

February 16, 2013, 7:00 AM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Delhi Skyline

Francisco Anzola / Flickr

Bergen reports from Bangalore, a city more populous than New York or Hong Kong, where one of the tallest buildings is only 420 feet.  

"Cities in China and southeast Asia rise high, but Indian ones did not. Most grew like Bangalore: outwards and compact. Their skylines are almost nonexistent. And their urban ills -- millions without housing, millions more facing exorbitant rents and crumbling infrastructure -- are often given the economic prescription to grow up."

"It leads to a natural question: Why aren't Indian cities that tall? But there are others who pose a very different query: Why should they be?"

Limits on the availability of resources like electricity and water form a natural deterrent to vertical construction. "But the culprit for most Indian cities is the tight rein on building codes," explains Bergen. "The floor-area-ratio in Bangalore, up to 3.25 but around 1.25 in many areas, requires builders to pay for pricey land plots if they want to build up. (In a recent midtown rezoning, Manhattan proposed FARs as high as 24)."

Despite an institutional bias towards sprawl and low-rise housing, "some cities are now looking up. Recently, the national urban development minister urged New Delhi to permit more skyscrapers, and Gurgaon, a booming city in its periphery, floated an increased FAR. Bangalore, too, is seeing a slew of lofty, vertical projects."

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