Issues in the megacity of Delhi and lessons we need to learn

A splendid amalgamation of the old and the new, Delhi, with its effervescent history and rich heritage, has been a perfect host to the development of many diverse yet connected and contrasting yet harmonious paradigms of human settlements. Delhi is truly a saga of diametrical opposites…Old Delhi, with its Mughal-era monuments, entwined around-with busy bustling narrow lanes on one hand, and New Delhi, with its planned zones, new-age buildings and wide streets, crowned with lush greens on the other…

Established around 736 CE, earlier locations of Delhi fall within the ‘Delhi Triangle’, bound on the South and the West by Aravalli Range (called ‘Delhi Ridge), and to the East by Yamuna river. Ruled by many, Delhi’s strategic location was a key factor in the establishment of this area as the seat of power’, thereby being captured, ransacked, and rebuilt several times. Hence, the present Delhi represents a cluster of areas of diverse identities. The overlapping developmental characteristics of these different clusters impart a stunning cultural heritage and a challenging course for the future.

A megacity already, Delhi, with an area of 1,484km2 and a GDP of nearly ₹ 7.79 trillion, has a population density 0f 29,259.12 people per square mile, which is one of the highest in the world already. And it is expected to be the third-largest conurbation after Tokyo and Mumbai. The bigger the city, the more attractive it becomes for migrants. And for Delhi, the enormously rapid demographic expansion and the substantial pressure to provide basic amenities and infrastructure to all is becoming extremely challenging.

Demographic explosions coupled with urban agglomeration (esp. for population adjacent to sub-urban areas) puts massive pressure on resources and infrastructure to cater to the ever-growing demand for housing, office and retail areas, commercial & cultural spaces. Even a well-planned system gets over-burdened within months of its execution. As a result, the relation between urban spaces and spatial reality is lost. Consequently, highly zoned urban spaces are fragmenting the city into many mono-functional sub-parts catering to specific uses, fuelled by purchasing power. As a result, brutally long commutes, burdened transportation systems, and excessive energy usage have become the new ‘normal’. A highly congested network of major arterial roads in the city leading to hours-long traffic jams, leave commuters frustrated and exhausted. Air-pollution comes as a by-product.

Rampant construction practices without inclusive and open urban spaces act as a device of separation and marginalization. Stratospheric housing costs, over-priced high-rise structures, over-crowded residential pockets, unauthorized colonies, and unaccounted slum-dwellings are few of the noteworthy mentions of geographical segregation, creating serious social stresses. Dark, neglected and secluded areas foster crime and also act as a magnet for unhygienic micro-environments. Adequate provisions for parking are another major area neglected by developers. Large amounts of waste generated from these highly congested areas being disposed in disorganized ways leading to over-mounted landfills choked sewage systems and polluted air, water & soil resources. Shortage of electric supply, clean water and other amenities (like sanitation, healthcare, education, and security) create chaos and provoke unlawful activities. Increased carbon footprints of concrete jungles resulted in climatic extremities becoming more and more prominent. Depleting water-table, acute dry-spells during summers, heavy flooding during monsoons, smog covers during the winters. One of the 20 Indian cities to run out of groundwater by 2020, as per NITI-Aayog, Delhi needs some serious and drastic reformative solutions. The negligence towards seismic susceptibility is another key area that needs to be addressed and incorporated.

Challenges are many and yet, they offer valuables insights and lessons that can help cities like Delhi thrive exuberantly in the future.

Retro-fitting of older neighborhoods with state of art infrastructure, adaptation of existing habitats into efficient urban management systems, creating urban environments as devices for social, economic and cultural integration, renewal and re-use of available resources, power-shift towards sustainable practices in buildings (on individual as well as zonal levels), use of green-technologies – these are few of the many tools that if utilized efficiently and strategically, can help solve many of Delhi step swiftly into its glorious future.

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