Dear Minister for Urban Development Mr Kamal Nath, Chief Minister of Delhi Ms Sheila Dikshit and Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Mr Tejendra Khanna, and all those who can influence the planning process in Delhi,
I write to you first as a citizen who is proud of Delhi, the city that shaped her identity, accepted her for what she was, that made her fall in love with urbanism and the big-city life. I also write to you as an architect and urban planner, because I can sense sharply the enormous potential of Delhi and am heartbroken by the seemingly myopic attempts to ‘leverage’ available government land without consulting the people, and without adequately giving back the city, its people and its vast and rich history. Allow me to explain.
Delhi is fortunate in being one of the only mega-cities in the world to have large amounts of government owned land located centrally. This means that the government has the opportunity to plan and implement ambitious urban renewal schemes of the scale that most governments across the world can only dream of. Especially in the case of an ancient city like Delhi with tremendous heritage, social and political value, this is a golden opportunity indeed.
From what we know, however, it seems that the government is seeing these lands as opportunities for financial gain rather than as a chance to create lasting social and physical infrastructure that would benefit future generations. ‘Densification’ is being seen as a lucrative solution to redevelop vast amounts of under-utilized land (read low density). However, while the city does urgently need more housing, it also desperately needs parks, recreational spaces, cultural spaces, water bodies and much much more.
Within the bucket of housing, for the sale of illustrations, we know that a spectrum of solutions are required as opposed to only creating ownership ‘flats’ for government employees and for sale via the private sector developer. I would like to see, for instance, government-created rental housing stock for low- and middle-income families and singles. Located centrally, such a stock, similar to housing created in cities like Amsterdam (In many Dutch cities, ownership and rental housing co-exist in a nearly 50-50 ratio), would be instrumental in creating a vibrant city centre with a diverse population that has excellent connectivity to employment centres such as Connaught Place and Central Secretariat and metro links to peripheral areas as well.
As I ponder and bring to my mind the areas in question–Laxmibai Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, the dysfunctional Safdrajung airport, Sarjini Nagar, etc, I feel strongly that the government should invite a competition to create an urban design scheme for this entire area. Once seen as a large bloc, new opportunities will be unraveled. Young, creative minds will contribute fresh ideas that an expert panel can vet. Shortlisted designs must be displayed publicly, using large-scale models, interactive audiovisual exhibits and citizen meetings. The city’s active civil society will be delighted to participate in mobilizing public opinion. Once informed by this wide consultation, I am confident that the government will take decisions that are far more relevant to the city’s future. Delhi will truly be able to emerge as a ‘world class city’ in a way that is environmentally sensitive and inclusive and not merely cosmetic. Above all, India would be able to put forth an example of participative, forward looking urban renewal, the likes of which the rest of the world can admire and imitate.
The powers that be, I beseech you to not push this letter aside as the ravings of an unstable mind, but as the passionate and anguished outpourings of a young citizen who desperately wants her country to take its (rightful?) place in the global order, as a country that stands up for her citizens across barriers of class and economy, as a country that has the wellness of its citizens right at the centre of its political and economic philosophy, as an upright nation with a bright and golden future.
Citizen, Architect, Urban planner
Feel free to react at mukta DOT naik AT gmail.com