For the past two decades I have traveled across many Indian cities as well as cities abroad. They all have kept me wondering, why all of them are messed up. For me it hardly matters that some part of the city is well organized, big roads, etc., but what about the other remaining parts? It may be more than 50% of the city that is plagued with problems. Do we know there is something called as urban planning and have we really understood the meaning of it?

Though we can boast that the city of Mohenjo-Daro (built in 2500 BCE) and Harappa were the first planned cities. But have we learned anything from this? Post-independence, we did plan Chandigarh, for which I surely would like to give credits to Pandit Nehru, who attempted to visualize the importance of a planned city. Later, there were few others like Gandhinagar, Noida, New Mumbai, etc., but what after that? Unfortunately urban planning got just restricted to planning of new cities. What about existing cities? Aren’t they supposed to be planned too? Or existing cities have to just address issues they are facing? Existing cities are left at the mercy of FSI, to be managed by developers.

We have urban managers (IAS officers) who have been managing (?) our cities since independence. They are no doubt trained managers to deal with complicated urban issues, but our cities are not made of issues, they are made of people. And when we talk about people, we are basically dealing with humane environment. Every city has its own environment (physical and natural) which give character to a city. It also has a range of development typology. Every city grows with the existing high-density development (core city, which also has a cultural identity) in the center and extends to the low-density development to the periphery. Currently, we treat our cities as a flat paper, insensitive to the uniqueness and controlled by FSI and not by contextual urban design guidelines. I was speechless when I heard the argument that if NYC has 14 FSI and it is functioning properly, Mumbai too can have the same FSI.

In short, we have not understood the definition and importance of basic urban design and planning and now we have the Smart City concept. I am not against the concept, but it seems to me that all these competitions and discussion about Smart City in Pune is just to get that extra point to fit into the criteria of social inclusion while planning Smart City, and you get MONEY. Nobody realizes and knows that social inclusion is there in our Laws and Acts. All our development plans (DP) are supposed to be prepared that way.

My question is, if Modi Government had not declared the Smart City concept, would the media and Municipal Corporation made such ‘out-of-the-way’ consultation? I don’t think so. Few months back, when the development plan of Pune was prepared, where was the consultation process? It was due to the attempt of few wise planners that the faults in the plan were identified and it was put on hold.

The urban managers are asking for suggestions from the local residents, as to how can Pune be made into a Smart City. Now what are they really going to do with these suggestions? At least I don’t know. It seems it will be incorporated while preparing the plan. Which plan? Is it in the DP prepared few months back or is there going to be a new Smart Plan? We are not able to manage even the existing infrastructure. The mismanaged BRT service, Solid Waste, Sewerage are live issues dancing in front of us. It is such a sad situation, the Municipal Corporation doesn’t even know what should be the height of footpaths, its width, pavers, etc. I can find at least 30 different heights and widths of the footpaths in Pune. We have such heavy traffic and why do we have paver blocks?

Managing basic infrastructure and utilities well, is the obligatory duty of a Municipal Corporation (and not a Smart city program) by placing a proper system in place and realizing that Pune is made by Punekars, Pune will be automatically SMART. 

Urban Planning: What is it anyways?