Friday, March 25, 2011

"Good Planning is Good Business" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

One of the ill-myths of the Twentieth Century still regarded as common wisdom is the paradigm that poses planned societies against the so called “free markets.” The fact is a well tempered land regime supports consistently performing urban development markets! This is a symbiotic relationship, not an antagonistic one.
Planning appears antagonistic where it is poorly conceived and inaptly executed. Where there is scant participate of stakeholders, and a large influence of corruption, the regulated system is but a pawn in the hands criminals. This is not planning! This is Pune!.

Despite all of the media hype, Pune remains an unplanned city! The last Development plan cleared for central Pune City was completed decades ago. Town Planning Schemes are matters of history. The fact is that this huge metropolis has no holistic integrated plan. Moreover, what we call Pune is not Pune! There are numerous local authorities, cantonments, municipal corporations, an infotech city, MIDC industrial estates and now SEZ’s all growing independently.

While the Pimpri-Chinchwad Development Plan was completed ten years ago, the Pune Municipal Corporation still falters in the malaise of procedure, completing its patchy planning work in ill-conceived, adhoc and isolated chunks. The units of planning have no meaning. What is the rationale for a Balewadi –Bavadan Plan? Is it one watershed? Is it a Ward? Is it a common catchment area for infrastructure networks? Is it the constituency of any elected official?

Who plans the Kirkee, Dehu Road, Lohagaon and the Pune Cantonment? What about Alandi, the Hinjewadi Infotech Park, MIDC estates, Pirangut and many other growing areas? Who knows what the Pimpri-Chichwad New Town Development Authority is doing? Why is it restricted to a tiny corner of the metro? Does it still exist? While all other metropolitan regions in India have development authorities, we lag behind here also.

On what basis do we set FSI Ceilings? Why FSI 1.0 for residences and 2.0 for I.T. buildings? Why not 3.0? FSI is supposed to relate to the carrying capacity of an area, not to the whims of people. Why not relaxations for weavers and potters? No one has an answer!

There is no integrated road development plan inter-linking the diverse islands of urbanization and urban miss-management. Different bus systems ply common roads in the metropolis. The rapid transport bus system is exclusively for PMC buses and not for private buses, or cars with multiple passengers. What is the rationale?

We have remodeled our airport for the fifth time in so many decades, but are over-shadowed by Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Cochin and many others. This fifth incarnation is but a shadow of what the region requires. Where is our new airport?

How can students walk across University Circle? Can bicycles safety ply University Road? Why are cycle signs installed where no lanes exist?

Why do people drive two wheelers without helmets, four wheelers without seat belts and that too on the wrong side of the road! Do we have motorized traffic police to bring order?

Why were side walks removed on Fergusson College Road and M.G. Road to make space for parking. Streets are for people!
The electric supply situation in Pune is primitive with an unpredictable, daily off and on chaos of starts and stops. The lack of any surety in the power sector has created an inefficient galaxy of privately owned and run generators, polluting the air and the sound of the city. This is the most inefficient and dirty way to produce power. Tons of food goes rotten daily as refrigerators go off. Workers sit idle and owners pay their wages. Imported fossil fuel is burnt, while indigenous power sources go waste! There is no plan for a private power generation company in Pune like the AEC or Torrent in Ahmedabad. There is no plan for sustainable energy!

Lack of a modern sewerage system has resulted in the pollution of the subterranean aquifer system upon which a large percentage of the Pune population depends for drinking water through tube wells. This has proved a bonanza for local corporators who ply water tankers through their drought-prone constituencies! Like everything else, there is a “number two system” in potable water supply. Vast areas have been taken under urban jurisdictions that no local body can imagine to serve. There was a regional water supply plan prepared by Kirloskar Consultants more than a decade back! Why has it not been fully implemented? And, What next?

Extensive and deep rooted corruption in every aspect of the management of local authorities has deepened the situation. Paying bribes is “de rigor” and there is a hand out to accept them in any aspect of the city’s development. Doing business in Pune involves a great deal of “laisioning” to get through the maze of opaque rules, discretionary powers and corrupt officials.

The fact is that free enterprise thrives on planned systems. A property market cannot function unless buyers have some surety that land use zones are stable; that water supply, sewerage and storm drainage will function; that there is 24X7 electricity; that roads will access properties; and that legal disputes will not arise over boundaries and even ownership.

Reserved plots for schools, hospitals, gardens and public utilities further enhance land values! The total lack of planning, and the lack of coordination between public bodies, assures the inhabitants of the Pune region that such a secure land market will never exist! Is this oversight or a public policy? Is it neglect or considered policy?

The recent land grabbing attempts on the COEP campus, involving the collusion public officials who did not even record the compliant of an invasion of over one hundred miscreants on to the campus, sends a threatening message to average citizens. If the nation’s oldest engineering college can become prey to land grabs, where does the resident of a lonely cottage stand? What security of property does the common man have? Will the local chowki refuse support, being a part of the crime?

Koregaon Park is an example of a residential neighborhood being turned into an intense commercial hub lane by lane, bribe by bride. Boutiques, bars, eateries and restaurants are spreading like a cancer through this once pristine residential area. Koregoan Park can only boast of being Pune’s Pot Pong.

Moreover a Development Plan is really not what people think it is. It does not assure access to ninety percent of the habitable land; it does not institute rational plot boundaries, nor does it amalgamate odd shaped and small pieces of land into rectangular plots and into sizes useful for the population. Many layouts now within the Pune Municipal Corporation, which were sanctioned by village panchayats under the Pune Regional Master Plan, have not created standard road widths, reserved open space plots or amenity spaces. Even the demarcation of individual plots was not done. It is now very difficult because it requires the cooperation of numerous plot owners with diverse interests and claims. Narrow lanes with no turn around cul de sacs make access difficult.

All of this chaos severely reduces the land supply and curtails the market turn-over, driving up prices artificially, excluding more buyers. Such a perverted land market benefits no one except the spot investors who cash in through buying and selling during upward market swings. It benefits corrupt officials whose bribes grease the system. It benefits land sharks who steal land! It benefits realtors who openly facilitate vendors who try to sell land that does not belong to them!

In a rapidly growing and vibrant city like Bangalore there are still ample opportunities to buy bungalow plots and to build one’s dream house. Likewise for Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. Not so in unplanned Pune. There simply are no sanctioned layout schemes!

In free market urban economies as diverse as Singapore, Atlanta, Tokyo and Frankfurt planning has been carefully done. Plots have been pooled, reconfigured and the areas for roads and public amenities deducted, prior to handing the remaining land back to the original owners. This essential technique called LAND POOLING, once common in India, is no longer used. It was developed in India under the name of Town Planning Schemes. Due to antiquated legislation the procedures resulted in endless legal disputes and the process came to a stand still. In Gujarat the legislation was corrected and land pooling is an effective, participatory land development tool.

In the interest of effective land markets and property tax systems we must restructure and amend the concerned town planning legislation, so at least peripheral areas can be pre-planned.

A half-baked measure called the Gunthewari Scheme created a one year window for illegal layouts in urban fringe areas to be regularized. This was something like a “loan mela” where defaulters are rewarded and honest citizens pay the price!

All this has been done at the cost of the public and of those who unknowing purchased plots in illegal layouts. Under the Gunthewari act owners were given one year to have their illegal plots demarcated, and newly registered under the bonanza! On the reverse of each registered plot plan a seal was placed declaring that any regularized plot under the scheme would suffer loss of road widening compensation. For road widening land acquition there is no FSI compensation, and no TDR credit. As most of these plots are connected by three meter wide lanes, which are inadequate even for two vehicles passing one another, road widening is inevitable! For road widening land will be acquired! Unknowing plot owners will pay the price, with roads paved right up to their bed room windows!

FSI is also restricted to 0.75 on these plots to compensate the “public interest” as no parks or amenities were provided in the original illegal layouts. Thus, the population densities are arbitrarily reduced so that those remaining inhabitants with no amenities, or open spaces can enjoy the absence of any public amenities in less pain.

And, what is happening in all of the slums, chawls and illegal buildings where the majority of Punaries live? There is inadequate potable water, no sewerage systems, muddy footpaths, no street lights, over-crowding, illness, illiteracy and deprivation! Hope is only an election slogan! In free wheeling, open economy Singapore, sixty percent of the people live in public housing.

Surprisingly in Thimphu, Bhutan what cannot happen in Pune has happened!
Every piece and parcel of vacant land in the new capital plan has been pooled into a common land bank and then planned into a rational arrangement of parcels. The remaining demarcated plots have been handed back to the original owners. Thus, unlike in Pune, no one arbitrarily losses their land to a public land use just because someone else makes an ad hoc decision to place a school or a park on their land!

Under Land Pooling owners surrender thirty percent of their land for roads, open spaces and amenities. The seventy percent which is returned to them has an immediate value enhancement of a hundred percent over the unplanned value! Now useless, angular and fragmented and odd shaped land parcels are transformed into marketable, rectilinear properties! A raw material becomes a commodity.

Forty-three thousand square feet worth Rupees forty-three lakhs is returned as thirty thousand square feet, worth Rupees Eighty-six lakhs! When the roads and services are put in place, the value jumps again to Rupees Two crores! At the same time a viable urban resource mobilization takes place through related land taxes and the collection of development fees! These resources are then re-invested in new urban infrastructure.

In Thimphu, the urban area was divided into fifteen “Urban Villages” where Local Area Plans were integrated into the city’s over-all “Structure Plan.” Thus, trunk infrastructure, major arterial roads and the regional open space system remained untouched, while land owners participated with planners to employ their “pooled land” to create viable Urban Villages. Each Urban Village over-laps micro-watershed.

Each Urban Village has a Village Square with a post office, health centre, crèche, pub, cyber-cafe, dry-cleaner, amenities shops and park. This garden square is at a walk-able distance from walk-up apartment buildings that are allowed the highest densities and FSI’s. Near the high density Village Square is as Express Bus-stop that is a “pull-off” from the Urban Corridor that runs through the spine of the lineal valley city. There are also pay-as-you-park lots allowing people to leave their vehicles and move around in the city from the Urban Villages to nodes, hubs and the Urban Core along this mass transit corridor!

This plan encourages walking, promotes efficient mass transport and assures good land use practices. It relates densities to mixed land uses, Floor Space Index and infrastructure levels. What is outstanding in the Land Pooling system is public participation, micro-level planning, facilitation of infrastructure networks and private development. Plot layouts are not left willy-nilly to greedy land sharks, but are professionally patterned and assembled.

With all of these near-by examples staring us in our face we prefer to create a dual system of legal and illegal development; planned and unplanned urbanism; serviced and un-serviced plots; sincere employees harassed by corrupt officials; multiple authories with no plans!

We need not look to the west, and say this is all beyond our means! We can learn from our neighbors! Even in nearby Gujarat, there is a revival of the Town Planning Scheme mechanism that is a great stimulus to their urban economy. It is in the interest of all realtors, architects, engineers, contractors and developers to insist on good planning. All citizens of Pune will live a better life in a planned city.

Good planning is good business!


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