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Swati Ramanathan

4 August 2005

Bangalore is struggling with its identity as the country’s IT capital, epitomizing the promise of prosperity but paying the price with chaotic growth and an increasingly poor quality-of–life for its residents.

Ask yourself these questions: why have 68% of our 262 tanks recorded in 1960, disappeared? Why are our storm water drains clogged sewers instead of beautiful canals linking sparkling water bodies and recharging our ground water? Why are we disposing our toxic waste into surrounding greenfields, contaminating produce coming back into the city? Why is the greenbelt shrinking? Why are there over 800 slums and no affordable housing options for the poor? Why do land use and zoning violations occur with such breath-taking impunity? Why do our policies allow ugly towers that destroy urban scale and aesthetics? Why are our streets messy and undefined? Why aren’t there safe pedestrian linkages between public spaces? Why are we spending inordinate hours commuting and have such few public transit options?

The questions go on and on. They also illustrate the impact of poor plans. The answer lies in URBAN PLANNING. But don’t we have a planning blueprint for the city? We do. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) produces a Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) every 10 years. The last version was CDP 95. Powerful land politics, poor policy and implementation have resulted in a failed CDP 95, leaving us regularizing the illegal and planning around the unplanned.

We are now on the threshold of the most important planning outcome for Bangalore: CDP 2005. Bangalore is expected to become one of 20 mega cities in the world. The CDP 2005 must enable a vision befitting the city’s promise at 4 different levels, starting with the individual. Examples in each are:

INDIVIDUAL LEVEL: Good planning begins by ensuring that basic services are within walking or cycling distance from homes. Enforcement Policy must give a role to residents in ensuring that neighbourhood land use, zoning and building regulations are adhered to.

NEIGHBOURHOOD LEVEL: Poorly thought-out land-use and zoning will result in changes or violations. For example, in the absence of proper planning in Indiranagar and Koramangala, market forces have resulted in chaotic strips of commercial corridors on residentially zoned land, becoming the bane of local residents. Thoughtful planning would ensure two critical features: neighbourhoods with mixed-income housing enhancing opportunities for employment, community-building and safety; and Neighbourhood Centres with a vibrant blend of retail, business and services. These centres must have easy connectivity and parking. CDP2005 will have to specifically correct for past failures and plan for both aspects in the future.

Roads are an important part of the public realm. Yet, the experience of walking from point A to B in most neighbourhoods is uninteresting and often ugly. There is no continuity to our footpaths or building lines, no attractive facades, store fronts, glimpses into interesting interiors. Building proposals must additionally be evaluated for the positive or negative impact they make on the neighbourhood.

CITY LEVEL: At this level, plans must ensure adaptability for a sustainable economy. Allocating great swathes of land to any particular industry exposes the city to future urban wastelands and financial burden.

The lure of employment has drawn migrants but the city has no provision for affordable housing, with the resultant slums and encroachments on public land. Thoughtful planning links secondary businesses, housing, recreation and critically, easy transport and connectivity.

However, the city must evolve an identity beyond one of economic space. It is also about nurturing creativity, culture, social cohesion and values.

METROPOLITAN AREA: Much of the inexorable growth is in Greater Bangalore, outside the core city of 225 km2. One fall-out is the shrinking green belt, which is anticipated to reduce from 742 sq km to 494 sq km. This must be the last option. Many cities have shown alternatives to urban sprawl: Portland residents, for example, defined a growth boundary for themselves in 1976, growing upwards rather than outwards; it was recently voted the most livable city in the United States.

Additionally, at the metropolitan level, planning must provide for environmentally sound policies, protecting water bodies and greenfields.

Much work has gone into CDP 2005, including investment in compiling the most comprehensive digital data for any city in the country. However, three major aspects need to be addressed: the first is about how the planning decisions will be made and baked, given the massive impact they have on all of us. The attempt and process of public dissemination and involvement must be genuine in its inclusiveness, debate and dialogue. In this the BDA has shown tremendous leadership and as a fist step, put up all maps in a display they can legitimately be proud of.

(The entire CDP is not up on the BDA website. The documents on the website are the zoning and land use plans. In order to make sense of these plans, the maps are needed. There are about a 100 maps in A-3 size in colour. They are selling a set for Rs 5000 at the BDA.)

  • BDA website : www.bdabangalore.org

    The second is ensuring that this data is constantly current and used by all agencies. In a fast changing city, data is outdated in a matter of days, and multiple agencies creating their own spatial data will result in conflicting data and duplication of effort.

    The third is the gaping chasm between plans on paper and the reality on the ground. Unless there are implementation and enforcement mechanisms linked to the plan, CDP 2005 will remain – like its predecessors - an expensive government exercise, only this time with prettier maps.

    CDP2005 will define the city’s design, diversity and economic robustness. It will define whether Bangalore 2015 will be the city of promise or become the city of promises unfulfilled.

    Janaagraha is coordinating "Bangalore: A Map to the Future" - a workshop series (August 1-6, 2005) to study the proposed maps for holistic development of Bangalore city, enlist citizen comment and suggestions. The sessions are interactive and structured to assist citizens to comprehend the CDP and provide feedback collectively as groups e.g. industry, urban poor, citizens etc. The maps depicting the proposed plan for Bangalore are on display at Yavanika, 2nd floor, Nrupatunga Road, Bangalore. The outcome is expected to be a joint set of recommendations and issues on the CDP to government.

    Swati Ramanathan
    4 Aug 2005

    Swati Ramanathan is a co-founder of Janaagraha, a citizen platform for participatory democracy in Bangalore.

    Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

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    • Posted by Prasad on August 16, 2005 10:31 AM

      Swati's article very precisely addresses the Bangalore problem. I was born in Sultanpet, raised overseas and returned in 1962. Bangalore then, was beautiful. I remember a morning in August 1962 near the Malleswaram 18th Cross bus stand, and felt good to breathe the fresh air and live-the temperature was around 12 deg.C. Having left India in 1978 (Bangalore was still tolerable then) I found that each visit of mine to Bangalore was worse than the previous one. I am not complaining as I have no right to complain.

      Swati's observation of the footpaths not being continuous is absolutely correct. It is largely due to, in my opinion, the attitude of the legislators who are used to 'kaal rasthes' in villages where it is quite ordinary to walk in the middle of the path and move to the side when the bullock cart or the ocassional motor vehicle approached, leaving a cloud of dust and diesel fumes in its wake. Urban planners, not legislators from villages, are required and the execution of projects need honesty. During my last visit, while walking on the 'footpath' in Padmanabhanagar a slab of stone gave way and I found myself upto my waist in the ditch below. Who is the authority to address this issue?? Nobody-because it is the beauraucratic culture of 'responsibility shifting', 'blame pointing' and even finally being accused of not having exercised due care while walking on the 'footpath'by the pathetic 'babu'pretending to be busy, having a tall bunch of files in his 'in' tray.

      It is the lack of accountability and the serpent of corruption crawling through the corridors of the government offices which has to be blamed. The lack of discipline and the need to fulfil time bound tangible outcomes is a serious problem in Bangalore and also other cities. I visited Mysore with the hope of finding a noise free locality where I could build a simple dwelling to spend my retirement - shock horror- even Mysore has become a challenge. Is there a place in India where one can shout for help and not be heard?? Well, in my cynicism I feel that all of India qualifies-one's cries for help will be drowned in the ambience of scooter and car horns and and noise in general. I am saddened, to say the least.

    • Posted by satyananda on September 3, 2005 04:28 AM

      while looking for karnataka muncipal corporations act, i came across your article.it is nice to know that there are people like you to spend a lot of time on thinking and acting to improve our bangalore. though born brought up and lived here all my life, i have havent done much. i had been to look at the CDP, which is quite complex for an ordinary layman to understand. in a selfish way however, i am fighting against my neighbours who have encroached my land and are also constructing buildings violating bye-laws

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