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Integrated cities: The answer to India's urban planning woes?

An integrated city should provide residential and commercial spaces, along with strong infrastructure that is sustainable and efficient. We get an expert's opinion on how this approach towards urban development, can greatly benefit Indian cities

In the 1990s, India witnessed the emergence of two major trends information technology connecting cultures and people and improved mobility of capital across geographic boundaries. At the same time, India's cities emerged as influencers of socio-economic change and now figure prominently on international city rankings. Today, our cities are the focus of global commercial activity and interest. They contribute significantly to the world economy and attract substantial investment. They are also hubs for education, job creation, innovation, arts and culture.

It is increasingly crucial to view our cities as urban 'platforms'- integrated ecosystems that drive stakeholder engagement. The urban landscape in India can be made more sustainable, if we can ensure inclusiveness, governance, ecology and unique identities for each of our cities. A new norm is fast emerging: continual urban reinvention that brings together diverse communities and creates unique city experiences.

What should urban planning focus on?

It is within this context of urbanisation that is continually reinventing itself, that integrated cities assume significance as a promising model of urban development. An integrated city usually comprises of a mixed-use ecosystem that nourishes industry, generates employment and enhances quality of life. The emphasis is on creating self-sustaining and resource-efficient ecosystems, replete with residential and commercial spaces and supported by a strong infrastructure of power, roads, water, drainage, sewage, etc.

Interestingly, urban planning as a concept dates as far back as 5,000 BC in India. Excavations in the Indus Valley, have revealed streets in grid plan with well-designed infrastructure, an intricate system of drains, wells, dwellings, public baths and granaries. In the modern context, the evolving demographics, new technologies and global and local socio-political shifts, mean that urban planning must involve a long-term vision, backed by flexibility to ensure future-readiness.

Managing natural resources

Yet another crucial aspect of city planning, is resourcefulness in accounting for, harnessing and managing critical natural resources. The world over, urban ecosystems have traditionally been associated with the consumption of resources and with emissions. However, cities can also be the solution for a sustainable future, given the right mix of farsightedness, agility, resilience and innovation. Planned greenfield development, for example, offers the opportunity to create sustainable cities at the master planning stage, with the resultant benefits lasting across occupancy and through to its end of life.

The role of transit-oriented development in integrated cities

Transit-oriented development is yet another game changer, for a sustainable urban future. This approach focuses on land use around a transit corridor and is typically characterised by a mix of uses, pedestrian orientation/connectivity, transportation choices and design focus. Both, new cities and existing urban agglomerations, are increasingly focusing on transportation systems that feature a combination of mass transit, electric vehicles, bicycling and walking. Also, home buyers, renters and employers are drawn to areas with convenient access to transit.

How cities influence lives and livelihood

In an increasingly urbanised world, cities are leading economic growth and job creation, by bringing people together and encouraging innovation. They reduce the distance between products and customers and map people to employment.

Job creation is more likely to be accelerated by the introduction of tradable industries - 'tradable' in this context, refers to goods and services that are geographically mobile and, thus, subject to regional and international trade. Also, the right combination of policies and investments can accelerate industrial growth. Successful cities across the world are known to provide a conducive regulatory environment, in partnership with private sector firms and industries.

What should a well-planned integrated city provide?

Industrial growth and job creation are important enablers of integrated city development. A well-planned integrated city, will make available ample recreational facilities, together with generous landscaping, a walk-to-work culture and commercial and retail spaces, thereby, adding valuable time to a person's daily life. Such cities strengthen the sense of community, with appropriately designed public spaces, landscapes and open areas that serve as hubs for people to interact.

When it comes to integrated cities, the basic, underlying idea is to facilitate multiple stakeholder communities to come together on common ground, with city development emerging as a participatory process. Multi-format residential projects, ensure heterogeneity of development, landscape and communities that are intrinsic to cities.

The future for integrated townships

Today, cities across the globe are evaluated on their performance as a source of inspiration, productivity improvement, well-being support and their ability to attract individuals and institutions. With India urbanising rapidly, integrated townships and industrial clusters can meet the imminent demand for planned, sustainable housing, while also creating employment opportunities and decongesting larger, over-crowded cities.

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