Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Why Not Create A Brand New City Centre For The Capital

The proposal to redevelop outdated government housing presents an excellent opportunity to create a brand new City Center in the heart of the capital - an opportunity to create a new image of our times for the city of Delhi

The Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister has recently approved a proposal to redevelop seven existing government colonies to meet the increased housing demand for government employees. The colonies selected are Sarojini Nagar, Nowroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Thyagaraj Nagar, Srinivaspuri, and Mohammadpur, all of which are located in the heart of the capital and constitute prime land.

Looking at the plan of the capital city of Delhi one realizes, that a substantial part of what is now the central area, consists of housing for government officials, which is run down and ready for renewal. This is quite apart from the area of Lutyens' New Delhi, occupied by ministers and the upper echelons of the bureaucracy, which has been declared a 'Heritage Zone'. The area of land occupied by government housing is large, and this presents a unique opportunity to build a complete new high-tech Smart City Centre, in the heart of the capital itself. A comprehensive urban development proposal for this substantial area of obsolete government housing, would make more sense than developing individual pockets in isolated segments. With the availability of sizeable parcels of government land, and new regulations permitting intensive high rise development, this would be a very realistic proposition. With a detailed urban design concept, it would help to create a major new focus of activity for the rapidly growing population of the city. Concentrated high density development in this prime central location, would be more meaningful than the currently proposed high intensity zones strung along metro corridors. Apart from generating substantial profit for the government, such a project would act as a trigger for comprehensive urban renewal in other areas. For effective implementation however, the Ministry of Urban Development will have to put a stop to the current practice of fragmented development of government land.

The current proposal to redevelop colonies of residences for junior government employees that are in particularly poor condition is understandable. However, when seen on a city level plan they constitute a series of isolated pockets within large areas of government housing. While this may be a good starting point for the renewal of government housing, it is important that such development be conceived on a city level scale to ensure effective overall integration. Almost all the government housing colonies are together located in the heart of the city which in today's context, constitute areas of high commercial value. The government housing colonies consist of a series of large contiguous areas, which are eminently suitable for comprehensive redevelopment. It is important therefore that comprehensive detailed urban designs be prepared for development of larger areas, which may be implemented in stages over a period of time. Colonies like Sarojini Nagar, and Netaji Nagar should be considered as part and parcel of the adjoining Lakshmibai Nagar, Kidwai Nagar West, Nowroji Nagar, Moti Bagh and Ramakrishnapuram, the total area of which is over 2350 acres. A detailed urban design study for this entire area, effectively integrating traffic and services infrastructure, along with a comprehensive provision of updated housing and support facilities, would be more meaningful in relation to anticipated future use and change.

Recent development implemented on government land, is unfortunately poorly considered in terms of long term implications. One such project is New Netaji Nagar near Moti Bagh where on a site of 1 10 acres, 492 residences for senior government officials have been built along with 500 EWS units. As per applicable regulations 7500 dwelling units could have been built on this one site alone to accommodate 37,500 residents.

In East Kidwai Nagar on a site of 86 acres, 4747 apartments for government bureaucrats are currently being built. In a poorly designed concept, a series of similar multistory blocks have been unimaginatively laid out in this prominent location, with limited communal facilities pushed to one corner. A pocket of approximately 8 acres, facing the heavily trafficked Ring Road has been earmarked for commercial development. In order to meet the enormous parking requirements three levels of basement have been built. In the process all existing mature trees have been cut down. No attempt has been made to provide any link with the adjoining area of South Extension, which is a major shopping destination. In fact the entire area is being built as an isolated gated enclave. Despite this being labeled as a high density development, the total achieved FAR
of 203 is way below the permissible FAR 300 for this area. It is unfortunate that at a time when there is increasing pressure on the need for maximum development of land in urban areas, government land in prime areas is being so grossly underutilized.

As per news reports the capital's largest new Secretariat Complex is being planned to be located at either Lodhi Estate, or Sunehri Bogh. The new intelligent complex is expected to be developed in a campus of six to seven towers, of 40 storey height. Such massive development if actually implemented, without proper planning of infrastructure in this central area, would be totally disastrous. This kind of development of individual land parcels will be counterproductive in the
long run, and will systematically destroy all future possibility of achieving the so­ called smart city concept that the government is harping on.

What is urgently required is a detailed plan, along with an urban design exercise for the future redevelopment of the entire government land in the central area of the city. Leaving in place the major roads that serve this area, along with existing parks and select major buildings, it is possible to develop a totally new independent traffic network, with all the latest high-tech systems to enable handling of the increased volume of traffic. This can be effectively linked to the metro rail system, and the proposed future bus rapid transit system. An updated high-tech underground infrastructure network can be simultaneously laid out to provide efficient distribution of IT services, electricity, water, drainage, sewage treatment, etc. A system of service tunnels or alternatively a completely separate level catering to unimpeded car movement, along with a sizeable services network, effectively taking care of the complete future hi-tech service needs of skyscrapers above, would help bring about a new approach to development of this high value land. Coupled with multi level parking above grade, landscaped decks, and a linked system of bicycle tracks, and a continuous pedestrian network, this would completely transform the area. Such a development would ultimately be much more cost effective, and be much easier to implement and maintain than providing several levels of below ground basements, for parking and services.

Multistory structures above can be planned to provide a considerably increased number of up to date new government housing replacing the existing dilapidated units, along with substantial public housing serving different sections of society. Together with the necessary support facilities, like local shopping centers, community centers, hospitals, schools, fire stations and electric sub­ stations, this would meet the needs of all residents, and help create a vibrant mixed use development, instead of a series of gated government housing compounds.

The proposed new Government Secretariat could also be effectively integrated into the proposed urban complex, along with a new Civic Centre for the city. There would also be enough space for a substantial commercial complex with high rise office towers, shopping malls, cinemas, and meeting halls. These could be linked to a system of parks and recreation areas, with substantial open space to cater to a wide range of communal activities, like weekly bazaars, haats, Rahgiri type get-togethers, music sessions, open air theatres, etc.

Implementation of the total development can be done on a process of cross subsidization, to cater to all sections of society, instead of developing this area for the use of middle and upper income groups only. Government land is public land, which needs to be systematically planned and developed, with the long term interests, of the total city population in mind. In this day and age it makes more sense to conceive integrated development on a large scale, instead of proceeding with rebuilding on small individual parcels of land. A comprehensive plan worked out in detail, can be constructed section by section in stages, over a period of time.

The proposal to redevelop outdated government housing presents an excellent opportunity to create a brand new City Center in the heart of the capital - an opportunity to create a new image of our times for the city of Delhi.

Tags assigned to this article:
urbanisation government colonies Sarojini Nagar housing

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