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Bringing Back Harappa and Mohenjo-daro
Sray Agarwal,Deputy Editor,The IIPM Think Tank  New Delhi  01/01/2011 12:44:27 AM

  India has always had a history of planned civilization, but with urban migration and pressure on the cities and metros, residences started to mushroom and gave no space and time for planned cities to creep in. Today, every inch of an urban area is being converted to a residential unit. There were these days during Mohenjo-daro civilization that town planning was so scientific that it formed the fundamentwal of modern urban town planning system. Mohenjo-daro for that matter was designed in a grid pattern with straight streets and had houses that were sound-proof. Paradoxically, today most Indian cities are reeling under problems of infrastructure collapse. The problem is all ought to increase given the fact that India today has more than 300 million people living in its 5000 cities and towns — which is like accommodating the entire United States in one third of its land area!
The problem today is just not of urban planning but extents to the whole vision of futuristic planning. Currently, urban governments lack a modern planning framework and most importantly the urban transport planning is rarely holistic. It goes without an iota of apprehension that citizen participation is pertinent to make such robust planning successful. Given the size of population that is expected to enter urban areas in next couple of decades, the consumption of energy too would increase. Thus, it becomes very important in our planning process to have clauses for not only conserving energy but also to produce energy. The next generation urban planning needs to convert every drop of rain and every ray of sun into energy.
Our current model of cities/town has no space for different demography that is in heterogeneous mix in our society. So if on one hand we have Antilia that boast of 4,00,000 sq ft then on the other we boast of world largest slums, where life is a case study. The homes of poor in our nation are outright unfit for human habitation and do not even promises basic amenities. A common Indian earning either spent on treatment of so-called curable diseases or on pay-and-use toilets! There has been no provision in town planning to provide enough affordable land or housing. It’s very important to create space for such section of society as well. Not only poor's but even the fairer sex does not feel the city to be theirs.
Numerous surveys conducted across cities of India have shown how women in India feel unsafe on roads. Urban planning has still been not able to promise a sense of security to the women of India. They still face insecurities and further have to deals with myriad anti-social elements. The problems of safe mobility add to their woes. Even affordable transport systems do not come to their rescue as most of the time they are overcrowded and sometimes dangerous and unreliable. Moving from women to children and other dependents who are again most vulnerable to a society that has de-linked social contacts from neighbourhoods and urban space. Increase in traffic has made it too dangerous for children to play out in open on the streets, which has not only reduced their ability of natural-learning but also have made them socially inactive. They have to all the time depend-on a caretaker to escort them around playgrounds or entertainment parks. However, among all these categories of people, there is still one category that gets blatantly ignored but do form a pivotal part of society. Across the world, especially in our nation, the so-called unproductive workforces are left on themselves to survive. The elderly a.k.a senior citizens in India not only suffer from series of social subjections and exclusion but also suffer from lot of diseases that ceases their mobility to large extent. Most of them are either left on the streets or are thrown in sub-standard old-age homes. In order to give these people their due respect and space, urban planning needs to start from designing outdoor spaces that are easily navigable and walkable which eventually would make mobility less stressful and free of anxiety. Involvement of older people with respect to housing issues, such as locality and land usage for special housing would encourage exclusion of older people to downsize from society.
In order to make a utopian urban space, the future planners need to think of future generation and population expansion along with keeping in mind the changing lifestyle, technology and trend to make cities sustainable and long-lasting. The following ten points in shorts summarizes the needs of future urban planning especially in a country like India.
Series of affordable and low cost quality housing is important to convert slums and ‘unsafe’ buildings into livable spaces.
Mobility needs to be redefined. Streets and roads that are currently meant for vehicles needs to be redesigned to accommodate the elderly on foot, children on bicycles, advance public transport system and along with making them safe for women to commute any time.
Public transportation options should be updated along with connecting it with suburbs and satellite towns with proper structures providing “safe space” for all kind of public transit.
While refurbishing and developing new societies, “building-mix” should be considered that would ensure existence of residential building along with community centre and place of learning, medical, worship, recreation to avoid time wastage in commuting for basic goods and daily services.
Provision of converting almost all possible natural resources in various energy forms should be provided to make cities and societies self-sufficient in energy needs.
Green buildings, agri-land, ecologically sensitive building and green buildings needs to be encouraged with spaces and natural settings for different form of life.
Pedestrian-oriented cities with proper waste disposal (and waste recycling) system would enhance the whole system of planning.
Allow people’s participation of all possible age-groups and genders in urban town planning processes.
Safety at homes and outside is very imperative to make the whole system sustainable and reliable.
A city needs to make provisions to safely accommodate excluded members of society be it orphans, elderly, mentally and physically challenged citizens or people with different sexual orientations.
Urban planning should provide environment for organic growth that leads to self learning, creativity, innovation and acts as a sources of inspiration as well. These attributes would not only let a society achieve a utopian dream of livable space but would also enhance the quality of life. Along with proper urban planning that would accommodate unprivileged class, children, women elderly and youth; such vibrant structure would encourage private participation and mushrooming of well designed society that would further reap what I would like to call “synergy of life.”

(The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization)


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