Unlock Bengaluru: Can we nudge the city back onto the trajectory of sustainable urban growth?

At the current rate of consumption, two more Bengaluru cities, would be needed to accommodate the population projected over the next decade.
Unlock Bengaluru: Can we nudge the city back onto the trajectory of sustainable urban growth?
Unlock Bengaluru: Can we nudge the city back onto the trajectory of sustainable urban growth?
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By Madhav Pai & Jaya Dhindaw

From Bangalore to Bengaluru

In 1970, Bangalore had 1.6 million people and was popularly known as ‘pensioners’ paradise’. Within the decade, the emergence and expansion of public sector institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation, Bharat Electrical Limited, and Hindustan Machine Tools caused a sudden growth spurt. Soon, more growth occurred as textile and information technology industries gained a foothold in the city. By the 1980s, the population was growing at the rate of 45%, and today, about 11 million people call the city home. Along with increasing population, the city limits were increased from 70 sq km in 1941 to 710 sq km in 2011 (BBMP Restructuring Committee), and subsequently the name was changed from Bangalore to Bengaluru in 2014.

Since then, Bengaluru has emerged as the most vibrant city in the country, attracting a major share of Foreign Direct Investment and becoming the fourth largest technology cluster in the world. According to Jones Lang Lasalle’s 2017 City Momentum Index, Bengaluru has been ranked as the most dynamic city in the world.

Driving urbanization

Economic reforms and growing employment opportunities in Bengaluru continue to accelerate the pace of urbanization. Bengaluru today adds about 500 families and 80,000 sq. meters of built up area per day within its limits, with this trend expected to continue well over the next decade. Currently, the average Bengaluru citizen consumes 1406 kwh/annum of electricity, 80 sq meters in land and requires about 135 litres per capita per day (LPCD) of water. Further, around 2.2 million people or 25% of the population within the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Pailke (BBMP) do not have access to piped water supply. From the mobility perspective, based on road network estimates, only 13 percent of the land area in Bengaluru is under roads which is woefully inadequate.

At the current rate of consumption, roughly 1500 sq km (or two more Bengaluru cities) would be needed to accommodate the population projected over the next decade; and about two thermal power plants the size of the Raichur plant, to meet the electricity requirements.

In terms of governance, presently India has 30% urban population and 10% urban representation in the Parliament. Encumbered by lengthy and time-consuming processes with undefined goals and budgets, and lack of capacity, urban local bodies struggle to meet the ever-rising developmental demands that cities place on them. For instance, Bengaluru has less than a hundred town planners catering to a city of almost 11 million people and development occurring at the rate of 600 sq ft/minute.

There is, thus, a pressing need to shift from status-quo and innovate impactful sustainable practices in all sectors which can scale quickly. Moreover, the ethos of providing equitable access to services and infrastructure to all of Bengaluru’s residents should underpin these solutions, if we want to envision an environmentally and economically sound future. Instead of incremental, disconnected approaches, city agencies need to partner to push for disruptive changes and multi-sectoral solutions. Fundamentally, encouraging Bengaluru to embrace a more sustainable path will require initiating a process towards efficient use of natural resources, capacitating underlying infrastructure, empowering people, and building good governance.

The Emerging City Morphology – Centres, Corridors, Wedges and Peripheries

Even as large scale projects such as the Bengaluru International Airport, Information Technology parks, and the metro rail, continue to reshape and re-size the city’s landscape, presently, Bengaluru can be spatially envisioned as four geographic types of categorization – high intensity economic activity centres, mass transit corridors which connect people to jobs, wedges containing neighbourhoods and fast growing peripheries. As depicted in the diagram below, these activity typologies have distinct characterises and associated potential.

The Centres, Corridors, Wedges and Peripheries structuring of Bengaluru (see figure), thus, is a framework that provides a vision for the overall development of the city and can help formulate policies to organise and guide growth into areas that can support new development or are in need of redevelopment, and away from areas that cannot support it. In this place-based approach, while the Centres and Corridors should be areas of targeted high-intensity development, the Wedges provide the opportunity for improving efficiencies and preservation of resources such as lakes and natural areas. Peripheries, which are mostly unplanned, can leverage the benefits of a distributed system, thereby reducing costs of service provisioning.

Ensuring a resource-secure future will require investments in solutions that look at reduction in consumption patterns, behavioural changes, focus on renewable/recyclable sources and adapting legal frameworks for management, at the same time providing equitable access. Moreover, getting to compact, connected, coordinated and equitable growth which will help realize efficiencies in city systems will require a focused approach. Enabling dense networks which complement growth in corridors, planned and well-serviced peripheries and stabilizing neighbourhoods in transition with optimally cost differentiated services, so that roads, housing, public spaces and mass transportation networks can be capacitated and aligned to growth requirements will be key.

With a multiplicity of organizations and overlapping responsibilities, along with skewed political representation of cities and disjointed planning, a clearly articulated process is needed to ensure service delivery demands. Increasing meaningful stakeholder participation in planning and budgeting for the city, requiring transparency and accountability and building of technical and human resource capacity are needed to improve effectiveness and efficiency in governance systems.

Given the socio-political challenges, coupled with the pressures of a growing economy and recognizing that structural changes in governance will not be immediate, systemic interventions can be leveraged to bring about change in the city. This perspective of the spatial organization of the city can direct strategic planning efforts aimed at resource and infrastructure planning, investment allocation as well as better governance and service delivery in a meaningful manner.

Ultimately, this approach provides the opportunity to create differentiated service levels benchmarks for each area so as to unlock Bengaluru and nudge it back onto the trajectory of sustainable urban growth.

Madhav Pai is Director, and Jaya Dhindaw, Strategy Head (Integrated Urban Practice), at WRI India Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, a research institute that uses proven solutions and action-oriented tools to increase building and energy efficiency, manage water risk, encourage effective governance and make the fast-growing urban environment more resilient to new challenges. It is a part of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, Washington DC.

Views expressed are authors' own.

Main image By chopr (originally posted to Flickr as Bangalore at Night) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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