Cities across the country and indeed in many parts of the world periodically undertake the preparation of a Development Plan (DP), also alternately called the Master Plan. This is a strategic, long-term document that provides a spatial context to the vision, goals and the development policies of a city.
It is customary that the beginnings of a new Development Plan preparation should include a demographic study. Since the DP is futuristic, generally looking at a twenty-year time frame, the demographic analysis projects a population likely to occupy the subject city twenty years hence. The needs of this population are then projected in the Development Plan. This is considered axiomatic, especially in Indian conditions, where cities are adding populations. It is evident that a larger population will need more business, more housing, more offices, more schools, more health centres, more open spaces and other physical, social and recreational infrastructure. These projections are based on standards for various amenities that have been worked out and are accepted by city plans. These standards vary from country to country. In India, they vary from state to state and sometimes from city to city. But a reference to some reasonable standard is a fundamental requisite of urban planning. Nationally, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has recommended the URDPFI
(Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation) Guidelines that also suggest amenity standards. Many of the states in India follow these guidelines or use them as reference points.
Since the Development Plan is futuristic, generally looking at a twenty-year time frame, the demographic analysis projects a population likely to occupy the subject city twenty years hence.
Population projections could be made through the use of several methods and a whole separate educational stream has emerged engaging in the complex matter of population studies. For example, the Cohort Survival method
traces changes in each five-year age group of the population over a period of time broken up into five-yearly intervals. As the cohort progresses, it becomes subjected to different mortality, fertility and marriage factors at different periods. The changes that take place in the composition of each cohort in the five-year time are calculated and applied. The Component method
begins with the postulate that two components contribute to the change in the population of a settlement — natural increase through excess of births over deaths and net in-migration. The two components are separately worked out and added to the base year population. The Growth Rate Extrapolation method
calculates the annual exponential growth rates for previous decades and extrapolates them for the projection period by the curve fitting method. The idea behind these and several other methods is to arrive at a futuristic demographic figure that would most accurately reflect the true population twenty years hence. Since this requires a great degree of expertise, cities undertaking the exercise of making a DP would hire a professional group or institution that specialises in such calculations and projections.
However, the truth is that in the volatility witnessed in the Indian urban context, many such projections go awry and sometimes are surprisingly wide off the mark. This has specially happened in the case of mega cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and many others. For instance, the population of Delhi in 2001 reached 13.8 million while the Delhi Master Plan
had projected a population of 12.8 million for the year 2001. Similarly, the 1967 DP of Mumbai projected a population of 7.06 million for the year 1981. However, the 1981 Census revealed that the population
of the city had reached 8.22 million. The megacities of India have multiplied their populations way beyond the projections arrived at by population studies undertaken by demographic experts. Such miscalculations could happen on account of inadequate assumptions and hypotheses and the difficulties of capturing a dynamic city condition into those assumptions and theories.
Miscalculations could happen on account of inadequate assumptions and hypotheses and the difficulties of capturing a dynamic city condition into those assumptions and theories.
The consequences of lower demographic projections are that infrastructure and amenities planned by the city remain much lower than the requirements as stipulated by the standards accepted by the cities. The cities, therefore, end up with a shortage of schools, hospitals, public open spaces, roads, water, sewerage and solid waste management facilities, only to name a few significant physical, social and recreational infrastructure. Cities cope with this situation by generally lowering their standards. This essentially means lowering the living standards of a city. Since populations of cities in India have kept mounting and are likely to continue the trend for several coming decades, lowering standards is not likely to become a one-time exception.
It is sometimes possible to maintain amenity standards without diluting them in the instance of built amenities. For instance, schools require buildings. And it is possible to create more space by building vertically by allowing higher floor space index. This, indeed has its limitations, as overcrowding of children and very tall buildings have implications of safety, other ancillary amenities within schools and overcrowding in play spaces, and as a consequence, the quality of education and overall personality growth. Hence, additions to a school building to accommodate more children is a call to be taken with the utmost care.
Since populations of cities in India have kept mounting and are likely to continue the trend for several coming decades, lowering standards is not likely to become a one-time exception.
But this becomes a larger problem where public open spaces (POS) are concerned because they are unbuilt spaces. To illustrate, if a city with an area of 100 sq. km has a population of one million and provides 10 sq. m of POS per person (as per URDPFI guidelines), a total of 10 sq. km. of its area would be marked as POS. Forty years later, if its population rises to two million and if the URDPFI guidelines are to be followed for POS, a total of 20 sq. km of its area should be put under POS. The city, however, will find it difficult to find this additional open space if the city has already built on its lands which is the most likely scenario. The consequence would be the reduction of POS standard from 10 sq. m. per person to 5 sq. m. per person. This is exactly what happened in Mumbai in 2015 where citizens rose in vehement protest
against a DP proposal to reduce POS from 4 sq. m. to 2 sq. m. per person. In the face of these protests, the draft DP had to be cancelled and a fresh formulation was ordered by Maharashtra’s Chief Minister.
In the light of the above scenario, population projections in a Development Plan should follow what I propose to call the optimum method
based on accepted standards. This means that a calculation ought to be made about the maximum population that could live in the city based on the standards and then ab initio plan the land use for that ‘end population’. This would guarantee the maintenance of standards and the quality of life.
A calculation ought to be made about the maximum population that could live in the city based on the standards and then ab initio plan the land use for that ‘end population’.
The city may continue to face pressures of additional populations willing to move into the city. This would require a two-fold strategy. The city could bring within itself additional land areas for development to accommodate additional population in consonance with the stipulated standards. Additionally, it would have to withstand any dilution of its standards and disallow any changes to its Development Control Regulations that have a bearing on the further densification of cities.
It is quite clear that the cited methodology would only be possible if governments and planners concentrate on the creation of economy and infrastructure in other potentially viable cities. Decentralised urbanisation clearly holds the key to sustainable urbanisation. In its absence, a handful of megacities of this country are all set to get denser, falter in their quality of living and become more unsustainable.
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