Envisioning a Slum’s Future

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

State of Srirangapatna & Slum Development

We have been working with the town of Srirangapatna, a town with a population of about 25,000 people, to create a long term plan for infrastructure development. This work is predicated on the realisation that small and medium cities should be able to plan for and sustainably finance their future in a manner that makes urban development evenly spread out and not concentrated to large urban hubs – which are witnessing tremendous strain on their already crumbling infrastructure.

Towards this end we had prepared a State of Srirangapatna Report, which captures the current state of public infrastructure and service delivery in the city. The report provides a ward-by-ward analysis of infrastructure and also attempts to rank wards based on the state of their public infrastructure. The Ward ranking exercise made it apparent that wards with slums in them ranked much poorly compared to the wards without. Additionally it became clear that the conditions and challenges that prevailed in a slum are different from the non-slum parts of the ward around it, and therefore the development of any sustainable plan for the city had to be nuanced enough to cater to the uniqueness that slums represented.

In order to achieve this understanding we embarked on creating a sustainable slum development framework that we believe will be capable in catering to the needs and aspirations of slum-dwellers and allows them a stake in designing the city’s future. In this regard we worked with the local municipal office and identified the least developed slum in the city to work with. The slum, Ranganatha Nagara 2, is the poorest of all the slums in the city. The slum has 75 households with a population of 283 people.

Slum map

As a first step to working with the slum we decided to conduct a thorough household survey of the slum residents, spanning details like demographics, occupation, income, infrastructure quality and access – housing, sanitation, garbage, water supply, and household daily routines and activity mapping.

Unlike our previous household survey of the city that involved usage of good old pen and paper, this time we used technology for data collection. Our tools of choice happened to be Android powered tablets equipped with the ODK (Open Data Kit) app. The intent was to make the whole process seamless and save on the lead-time that it takes to convert physical surveys into digital format for analysis.

On the first day we set-up a local team of students and undertook a training exercise that covered:

  • Briefing them about the slum engagement process that we had planned and how the data collection exercise they would be embarking on is a first and vital step towards that.
  • Handing each of them a physical copy of the questionnaire and a slum map that they could familiarize themselves with and carry along.
  • As the survey questions were in English, it was essential that we ensured that surveyors understood them well. We had a local resident, who is well versed in both English & Kannada, accompany us through the training session. She translated the questions and the options and acted as a valuable interface in clearing any queries that the surveyors had.
  • This was followed-up by conducting a group mock survey on the ODK app with selection of various yes/no scenarios.
  • We then handed each of the surveyors their designated Android tablets with their name labelled at the back of the device and let them conduct a mock survey as if they were doing their own household survey. While we handed over the tablets with the ODK app pre-loaded, we also trained them in basic navigation of the tablet in case they accidentally came out of the app.
  • We later accompanied the surveyors on a physical walk-through of the slum so that they could orient the landscape to the slum map. Also the intent was to allocate them the designated sections that they would be covering.
  • Later we let the surveyors conduct a few household surveys that we closely monitored and later reviewed to give specific feedback.

Field Surveys

In the next couple of days a team of total 5 surveyors covered the entire slum ensuring no household was left out of the survey.




While undertaking the surveys we realized that a lot of houses in the slum were locked in the morning and the residents usually got back in the night. This was usually because most of these were daily wage labourers and left their houses early. To capture these households we revisited the slum in the night to capture them.

(Streetlights didn’t turn on until around 7:30 in the night, hence some surveys had to be done without them on.)

(And then the lights showed up)


During the span of the surveys, our initial sense about the challenges of a slum being different from that of the ward in general, were reinforced through some of the stories that emerged. Like that of Mr. Suresh, whose life’s aim is to get a patram (title deed) of his about 100 sq.ft house that he lives on along with his wife and two daughters aged 2 & 4. For this he has been scrambling for the past 3 years from pillar to post but with little progress. Or the story of Ms. Shobha, a labourer, whose husband, a leprosy patient, is a beggar outside a church in Bangalore. Earning about Rs. 3000 a month doing odd jobs, she struggles to make ends meet but still somehow manages to send her two daughters and a son to school.

Beyond the data collection, these were stories of hope and helplessness that cropped up time and again. This data collection process is the first step in the slum engagement process and will be followed up in the coming months with workshops with the slum residents to collectively envision and plan the slum’s future. We will share the progress on these workshops and the visioning tools deployed in subsequent posts.


Urban Diary – Interesting reads

This post is a continuation of our Urban Diary blog series where we compile interesting reads and discussions from around the world on urban issues.


In China, ‘Once the Villages Are Gone, the Culture Is Gone’

Rapid urbanisation means village life, the bedrock of Chinese culture, is rapidly disappearing, and with it, traditions and history. In 2000, China had 3.7 million villages, according to research by Tianjin University. By 2010, that figure had dropped to 2.6 million, a loss of about 300 villages a day. Citing instance of Mr Lei whose village was torn down to make way for a Golf course, the article portrays how rapid urbanisation is taking its toll on Chinese culture.

Could Google Maps Help End Poverty?

This Forbes article profiles the work of Transparent Chennai and showcases how it uses maps to bring attention to the state of infrastructure prevailing in the slums of the city.

Down and out

Do slums keep people in poverty or help them get out of it? A article in The Economist cites and elaborates on a recent paper from economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which suggests that slums are often traps rather than springboards.

Big Data, Big Questions

In this article Alex Marshall raises questions about the smart-city movement spreading around the globe, especially in regard to who controls the information and for what purpose. He also raises concern about whether cities, in their bid to improve services at an affordable cost, are locking themselves into proprietary systems controlled by tech majors.

Transforming Our Cities: Postcards of Change

Recently Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia published a book titled “Transforming Our Cities: Postcards of Change” which showcases instances of transformation in Urban India. The book is a compilation of her columns published in The Indian Express and The Financial Express and is a rich resource for urban planners and city officials.

How India lives

The improvement in key indicators of living conditions such as housing, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene has not encompassed the entire population, says the latest NSSO survey.

Will monorail help Mumbai to move forward?

Mumbai monorail represents arrival, decades overdue, of a modern mode of urban transport, which along with the new metro, will belatedly drag Mumbai into the 21st century, opines Chandrahas Choudhury in this article.

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The Practice of PPP in Urban Infrastructure

By Anand Sahasranaman, IFMR Finance Foundation

The recently released volume on urbanisation titled “Urbanisation in India” edited by Dr. Isher Ahluwalia, Dr. Ravi Kanbur and Dr. P. K. Mohanty, contains a chapter authored by Vikram Kapur, Commissioner of Chennai, and me, dealing with the practice of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in urban infrastructure in India. In this paper, we undertake an assessment of private participation in the provision of public infrastructure and services – participation in the form of financing as well as in developing, managing and operating public services. This post provides a synopsis of the chapter.

The environment for urban infrastructure provision has undergone a sea change in the last two decades. Prior to 1991, the government (along with government-linked institutions such as para-statals and public sector institutions under direction from the government) was the financier, developer and operator of all urban infrastructure and services. While this created some much needed infrastructure in cities, the absence of accountability in this top-down, centralised approach led to the development of infrastructure of poor quality, without concern for the needs of citizens.

However, since 1991 there has been a substantial re-think on the mechanisms for the development and financing of urban infrastructure. The passage of the 74th constitutional amendment gave statutory basis for ULBs and placed the third tier of government in India on a firm pedestal. All states created enabling legislation to transfer responsibilities of local infrastructure and service delivery to this tier of government. This development was followed by the emergence of new models of financing, developing and operating public services in India.

In view of the high deficits of central and state governments, new mechanisms to leverage private capital were required. The emergence of municipal and pooled bond markets have provided municipalities, large and small, with avenues to access private commercial funding to finance public infrastructure. While these markets have seen some hiccups, they have the potential to provide access to substantial financing for urban infrastructure. However, the policy environment must actively support the deployment of debt capital for public infrastructure creation. In this context, the flagship JNNURM program must incentivise the leverage of government grants with funds raised from the capital markets, as well as other reforms that deepen private sector participation in urban infrastructure and services. Additionally, the role of HUDCO must be revamped and it must refocus on its core mission of enabling financial resources generation for urban development. Instead of acting as a subsidised lender, HUDCO could become a market maker through the provision of guarantees and investing in subordinate tranches of municipal bonds or directly providing subordinate debt to projects to supplement private capital.

There has also been a sea change in the philosophy of models of public service delivery and consequently the role of the private sector in the development, management and operation of public assets. While the private sector has been recognised as being able to bring in management and technical capabilities as well as increased efficiencies, the historical experience of PPPs in India has been decidedly mixed. India has seen success in projects that are technically simple with small gestation periods; and with lesser uncertainties in demand estimation. Projects with greater management and technical complexity, long gestation periods and difficulties in estimating demand have faced problems. However, there is some evidence that newer projects are absorbing the learning’s from earlier failures and structuring risks in a way that reduce the probability of disruptions due to unexpected events in the course of a project’s life. Over the past decade there has also been increasing policy focus on PPPs with the Ministry of Finance’s model laws and guidelines, setting up of state PPP cells and legislation by some states to enable PPPs. While these are important measures, they will need to be supported by fundamental reforms in governance, institutional structures, laws and regulation to create an environment that is conducive for the creation of critical public infrastructure through the design and implementation of complex PPPs in India.

To read the full paper please click here.


The Pruitt-Igoe Myth of Public Housing

By Rachit Khaitan, IFMR Finance Foundation

The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis, USA has long served as an archetype for the failure of public housing and oftentimes for well-intentioned government policies in general. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011), a documentary feature by Chad Freidrichs, attempts to systematically dispel this notion by bringing to light the often omitted explanatory factors at play in the decline of Pruitt-Igoe.

The Pruitt-Igoe housing project was a complex of 33 high rise buildings built by the St. Louis Housing Authority in the North side of the St. Louis, Missouri, USA. In the mid-1950s, it represented a dramatic shift from the squalid tenements that low-income residents in urban areas were used to. It was advertised as a place where people could live with indoor plumbing, electric lights, plastered walls, and other conveniences that were expected in the 20th century. Moreover, it was touted as a solution to bring the city’s slum-dwelling urban residents out of poverty and ultimately to put St. Louis on the path of prosperity. On one hand, the intent of Pruitt-Igoe was sound in addressing the post-war migration of Southern farmers who were forced to move into unsafe and unsanitary slums of the inner city to remain close to their places of work. On the other hand, it was the result of politicians and the elite bent on a post-war revival of St. Louis by eradicating slums from the centre of the city.

The 33 rectangular buildings that made up Pruitt-Igoe; Image Source: US Geological Survey

Pruitt-Igoe saw initial success and seemed to fulfil its original intent. Many residents who first moved into Pruitt-Igoe thought of it as a resort with all its facilities – people who had hardly seen the sun before could now have better views than the richest people in St. Louis in their high rise apartments and “poor man’s penthouses”. Residents were pleased to have beds and rooms to themselves while living in a lively and social environment. The complex was well maintained with handymen regularly sweeping the hallways and the elevator kept clean and functioning.

However, the city of St. Louis soon realised that where it had thought it had solved its problem of low-income housing, a monster was created. The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex over time became poor, increasingly segregated, heavily vandalised, and began to resemble the slums it had once replaced. It gained the notoriety of a battleground with crime and neglect seating fear in its occupants. It became a textbook example of a federal housing project as a centre of crime and violence, doomed to failure since its inception.

One of the most common criticisms of Pruitt-Igoe was its architect Minoru Yamasaki, who went on to design the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, New York. To many, the implosion of Pruitt-Igoe symbolised the death of Modernist architecture which they argued would inevitably become the breeding ground of isolation, vandalism, and crime. Others criticised the welfare state and argued against “big government” as the problem and Pruitt-Igoe as its result. Bankers and realtors labelled it un-American, Communist, and as an erosion of the free market. Some even pointed fingers at the residents as too poor, too uneducated or rural such that they brought down Pruitt-Igoe with their own problems.

However, not much was said about the laws that failed to maintain Pruitt Igoe, the economy that deserted it, the segregation that stripped away opportunity, and the radically changing city in which it stood.

Changing demographics

The post-war era saw rapidly changing demographic patterns in American cities all over as a result of two opposing forces. On one hand, rural migration caused an upward growth in the population of the city, while on the other hand, a large number of people who had the means of leaving it, fled to the suburbs, a phenomenon often dubbed “white flight”. The landmark Housing Act of 1949 that sanctioned federal money for housing projects such as Pruitt-Igoe at the same time fuelled suburbanisation and home ownership through affordable credit and easy mortgage facilities.

By 1980, St. Louis lost about half of its mid-century population; other rust-belt cities like Cleveland and Detroit met with the same fate. The loss of the middle-class, the loss of an industrial base, and the loss of tax base led to the deterioration of basic services in cities. The film argues that planners mistook recognising the dominant trend of post-war suburbanisation, when the new American dream was being built on cheap lots on the peripheries of cities with well-planned homes, gardens, and drive-ways. Dozens of tiny suburban townships were formed, determined to maintain their independence. But public housing in St. Louis was set up as a system that depended on an overcrowding crisis. Once people started moving out, the project couldn’t raise enough money from the dwindling tenants even after additional grants were given and studies commissioned to inquire about the causes of decline.

Ill-planned finances

While the federal government paid for building a complex structure, it failed to effectively take into account the ongoing costs of maintenance. The revenue model was based on rent, which the dwindling residents could not afford in order to hire skilled handymen to maintain their buildings. By the end of the 1960s, rents were increased three times in one year stretching low-income residents thin. Some residents paid up to three-quarters of their income to live in Pruitt-Igoe. This resulted in rent strikes and nine months of negotiation after which the Housing Authority finally gave in and restricted rents to a quarter of the residents’ income. This victory, however, was short lived as years of neglect placed buildings on the verge of physical collapse. In the winter of 1970, water lines and sewage lines broke, flooding the complex with ice while residents’ heating facilities lay broken – this dealt a final blow to Pruitt-Igoe.

Draconian rule enforcement

The Welfare Department imposed and enforced stringent restrictions. Most notably, residents were not allowed to have able-bodied men in their house if a woman was receiving help for her dependent children, leaving many women and children without husbands and fathers. Furthermore, residents were not allowed to keep telephones or televisions in their apartments. Such stipulations made residents feel that were being strategically isolated and restricted almost to an inhumane extent, as if the price of receiving welfare was to live by punitive rules.

Racial segregation and stigmatisation

Urban historian Joseph Heathcott claims that public housing in St. Louis was always used as a tool for segregation and that St. Louis did everything in its power to prevent “negro deconcentration” i.e. African Americans moving out of particular neighbourhoods. Every project was imagined as a white or black project and was placed on the map in ways that deepened the pockets of segregation in one place or the other, radically creating racial distinctions in a way that no other form of legislation was able to do.

Moreover, ill-enforced rules and poor maintenance stigmatised Pruitt-Igoe’s residents to be associated with drug abuse, crime, and black poverty. In a resultant backlash, residents saw law enforcement and medical assistance as the enemy, oftentimes raining down bricks and fire bombs on them, so much that police officers and firemen refused to serve the complex.


By the mid-60s, Pruitt-Igoe was falling apart with rampant vandalism, crime, and a growing number of vacancies in an increasingly poor and emptying city. Lack of enforcement resulted in vacant apartments to become havens of guns and drugs forcing the last few residents to move out. In 1972, three of the buildings of the complex were imploded with dynamite, the first of which was nationally televised. Two years later, the St. Louis Housing Authority received federal orders to completely demolish the rest of the complex. By 1976, the site was clear with the complex razed to the ground and residents scattered across the emptying city.

Footage of the towers being razed to the ground in 1972 became symbolic of the failure of federally funded housing as a concept; Image Source: Pruitt-Igoe Myth press material

The demise of Pruitt-Igoe is attributable to many confounding factors rather than to the failure of public housing per se. However, there is not much compelling evidence of success even in other parts of the world. Singapore remains an outlier with about 85% of its population living in public housing, arguably because of its unique economic, demographic, and political characteristics. The Indian context is particularly problematic for public housing and other supply-side solutions for affordable housing given the diversity of its population and the requisite scale. Governments across the world are moving towards more market-based approaches to house their middle and low-income populations in the form of demand-side interventions and PPP solutions. India, however, continues to pose a challenge with its regulatory bottlenecks and distorted markets, as will be explored in a following post.


Urban Planners, Private Property and Mango Trees – In conversation with Dr. Shlomo Angel – Part 3

In the concluding post of this three-part interview, Vishnu Prasad of IFMR Finance Foundation speaks to Dr. Shlomo (Solly) Angel, adjunct professor at NYU and senior research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project about his personal experiences with participatory planning and a mango tree in Bangkok, and the enduring legacy of the Oregon experiment. Previous posts covered Prof. Angel’s views on urban governance challenges in India, how to create affordable housing in Indian cities, the Making Room paradigm, and its relevance to Indian cities.

Q: Going back to one of your earliest works- ‘The Oregon Experiment’, what do you think is the enduring legacy of the experiment? In countries like India, city planning is still a product of centralised master plans and citizens have very limited say in the design of cities. In this context, how relevant is the idea that people who inhabit built environments have a right to design the spaces they occupy? How can this idea be incorporated into city planning in countries like India to design more liveable, ‘organic’ cities?

A: If I were to go back to our discussion on the efficacy of Mayors in governance, I think that there is greater participation from people in cities that elect their own officials. The whole decentralisation movement is motivated by the need for feedback from people and the need for participation. There is participatory budgeting that is slowly becoming a global movement. The right to the city movement that you mentioned before also asks for more participation. But I think that the discussion will remain theoretical unless you specify the realm of participation in advance. What do we need participation for? Participation is costly in terms of both money and time. You could end up with the wrong set of people during these exercises- people who have a lot of time on their hands, people who have axes to grind and therefore, make a lot of noise. People who need to participate and the people whose voices need to be heard are often left out. It reminds me of a famous George Orwell quote, “I gave up socialism when I decided I had better things to do with my evenings.”

The whole notion of user engagement needs to be more refined and planned in advance. Feedback must be sought on very specific aspects of planning and should be very simple. Calling for more participation on very general themes could lead to appropriation of the process by wrong people to do the wrong things.

Q: One reaction that you often hear as a reaction to the central idea of the Oregon experiment is that urban planners and not people inhabiting built environments are best suited to design these spaces. Do you hear these reactions often and if yes, how do you respond to them?

A: I am in complete agreement with you and I don’t think that planners know best. I think this happens because planners perceive without evidence. Often, they don’t even listen let alone collect data on what is happening on the ground. They can be very ideological, bureaucratic and ignorant in their approaches. Indian planners are no exception as you can imagine. I think that much of the decisions that planners take are contextual and needs a deep understanding of the specific context and the people.

To give you an example when I was working in Bangkok on a slum-up gradation project in the slum of Jerusalem Village, a slum of about 200 families. The families said that their top concern was the lack of a road in the slum. We tried hard to get them a road by talking to the land owners of the surrounding areas and the city officials but we couldn’t. So, we went back and asked what their other concerns were. They said that they were very worried about fire breaking out in the slum because most houses were made out of wood and people predominantly cooked on open stoves. We decided to build a fire protection system using water from a canal that ran nearby. During a discussion on the fire protection system with the residents, an old man kept asking in Thai “What about the mango? What about the mango?” I wondered what the fire protection system had to do with mangoes. Finally, I realised that he was referring to the fact that the location of the main pipe that brought water from the canal cut through a big mango tree. If you wanted to preserve the tree, you had to change the location of the pipeline. This old man was the only one that was aware of this. How will urban planners know about the mango tree if they don’t engage with the community?

Urban planners often bring all the technical expertise but they lack a sense of the context. There has to be a meeting of minds between the experts and the people actually living in the ground. But I stress that this cannot be open ended participation because it could easily involve the wrong people. The real challenge is to involve the right voices in the community that really have the interest of the community at heart. We need to identify the people who can rise above their parochial concerns and articulate the real concerns and thoughts of the community. This makes participatory planning a tall agenda since the requirements from the people of the community are very substantial.

Q: You are aware of our initiative in the small city of Srirangapatna, where we are trying to work with the citizens to build a 25 year vision for the city. We are exploring the idea of actively engaging the citizens in long-term city planning using visual models that enable citizens to envisage the city they live in and decentralised planning tools like mobile applications for city planning. What strategies and broad principles do you think will be effective in a participatory planning model like this? Can you speak about participatory planning models that seek to actively engage citizens that have been successful elsewhere? Or are cities very large units to work with, should we look at sub-units like wards in cities to work with?

A: Let me speak about the institution of private property. The institution of private property is precisely this- you have a plot of land and within this plot of land, you are responsible for planning and designing and doing whatever it is that you need to do. We create this regime and we create a lot of these plots so that a lot of individuals, families, firms, cooperatives and societies can plan and engage in making these decisions. The idea of dividing the entire city in smaller portions is precisely in tune with the idea of participatory planning. The first element of such regimes is removing unnecessary constraints on what people can do with their land and how they can develop it- giving people more freedom to decide what they want to do with their land. It is not a top-down approach but instead, allows people to use their creativity, and their information about the market to create an environment that they desire.

This is happening in the US on a very large scale with housing communities that can draw their own rules, and make their own zoning and planning rules. Even though individuals have the right to public property in these places, they decide on a common set of planning rules for their area. This shows that you need to start building from the bottom-up by working with larger neighbourhood housing associations or cooperatives that have been empowered to make decisions. Another example is that of certain business districts, where all the business in that area have agreed to pay certain monthly charges for doing certain things related to the environment, cleaning of the area, development of street furniture, taking care of homeless people in the area etc.

Q: In recent years, there have been several technological developments in the field of urban planning- the advent of ‘big data’ and decentralised modes of planning through mobile applications and other such technology being most noteworthy. How do you think these technological developments will shape the future of urban planning? Will this increase the need to make planning more participatory?

A: It is hard for me to judge where these developments lead to. But I do think that there are many interesting uses that these technological developments can be put to. We are now able to do certain things better than before thanks to these developments. For example, the municipality is responsible for fixing potholes in the city but they don’t necessarily know where these potholes are. If you had a movement where everybody that sees a pothole could take a picture of it along with its coordinates, and this information appeared on a public map, it becomes harder for the municipality to ignore the problem. You could imagine the same with broken streetlights and other types of infrastructure. This enables the people to provide constant feedback to the government about its performance and services and this will definitely have an impact. These developments are therefore a good way to improve the accountability of governments.

These developments will also make planning more evidence-based. Currently, a lot of planners collect data but never really use it in the planning process. For example, in the case of affordable housing that we talked about earlier, we could easily track how affordable housing has really become- how much people are paying as rent, how much houses cost in the slums or squatter homes. This idea of having more information will force planning to become more evidence-based, which it currently is not.

Listen to the entire interview in the podcast below (wait for a few seconds for the audio to buffer):


India has made its land market dysfunctional – In conversation with Dr. Shlomo Angel – Part 2

In the second part of this interview, Vishnu Prasad of IFMR Finance Foundation speaks to Dr. Shlomo (Solly) Angel, adjunct professor at NYU and senior research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project about urban governance challenges in India, and how to create affordable housing in Indian cities. In the previous post, Prof. Angel spoke about the Making Room paradigm and its relevance to Indian cities. In the concluding post, Prof. Angel will share his personal experiences with participatory planning in Bangkok and the enduring legacy of the Oregon experiment.

Q: Staying on the subject of urban governance, there is a growing concern in India- where cities are governed by the state or provincial government- that cities need strong, autonomous and financially independent governments to meet the challenges of urbanization. How important is this reform for countries like India, especially since the efficient governance is an essential counterpart of urban planning? Does research show that stronger Mayors, for instance, are more efficient governors?

A: I think the record on this is mixed. Mayors need to be re-elected and they have a very short planning horizon. The first and easiest thing for a new Mayor to do is to collect garbage efficiently in the city. You can hire a lot of people who come in their lorries to pick-up the trash and in a month, the city is clean. Everybody now praises the Mayor for cleaning-up the city. Mayors often look for such easy-to-do things that can deliver results. But, when we talk about urban expansion, it is a 20-30 year process that involves getting land in advance of the city’s expansion. This kind of a vision requires a Mayor who is obsessed with his legacy or you need bureaucrats who are in the system for a long time. Research from Colombia suggests that when Mayors where given additional powers, such long-term issues suffer. In terms of long-term planning, I believe that the idea of giving mayors more power is a mixed blessing. I’m not suggesting that this is not a good idea- Mayors are more answerable to the people than state governments since they are closer to the people and you are more likely to get policies that are sensitive to the electorate in the cities. But in the case of urban expansion, you are talking about people who are not born yet and therefore, cannot vote for that Mayor. As a result, I’m not sure that the voters who have a lot of immediate problems are the best group of people that can have a realistic vision of what can be done in the future. This is not to say that this is a bad idea but to my mind, it will be a mixed blessing.

Q: One of the critical components of meeting the urbanization challenge will be providing affordable housing to households. Rapidly urbanizing countries like India face a serious housing issue in their cities. You have argued previously for governments to abandon their roles as producers of housing and to enable a market based approach. How should urbanizing countries like India think of solving the housing issue? What should the critical components of housing policy in such countries be?

A: Governments are particularly weak on the supply side of affordable housing. They can help on the demand side by creating more viable mortgage markets, by offering subsidies, loans, and taxation systems that help people improve their position in the housing market. On the supply side, governments are weak in terms of efficient constructions, collecting loan payments, buying and acquiring land for houses, designing them, and in reading the market (in general). Governments have a poor history on public housing and almost all governments have moved out of the public housing business. They have come to rely increasingly on market based mechanisms to provide housing like China and Russia, for example. The only exception to this is Singapore, where 85% of the population lives on public housing but Singapore is an outlier as the structure of the economy is different, and there is no rural-urban migration. Governments can build a few thousand units but this is so little compared to the actual demand for housing in a place like India- such solutions are not scalable. There was a time when governments provided ‘sites and services’, which is to say, providing people serviced sites and letting people build their own houses. This to me is another form of public housing. Governments engage in providing individual sites to individual families and they still do it so slowly. This is also not a scalable solution and has, therefore, failed.

Most houses in the world are created by the markets, both formal and informal, and I don’t see an alternative to this. All that governments can do is to enable markets to provide housing in a more efficient and equitable way. The most important component for creating affordable housing in a country like India is to keep land affordable. What this means is that you need to create enough serviced land that enables access to jobs, allow jobs to decentralise, and create modern, poly-centric cities. Indian cities, particularly Mumbai are slow at creating poly-centric cities. Cities of the same size of Mumbai usually have up to 20 employment centres. Urban decentralisation, which is what I advocate for in the Making Room paradigm, is therefore at the heart of affordable housing. Land markets need to be opened up so that people don’t speculate on land. We need to ensure greater availability of land and build services that make this land accessible to employment centres. Unless urban planners understand that their role is to enlarge the city and make it possible for people to afford land, you will never have affordable housing in India.

Q: There is a lot of scepticism of the market in India and there is concern that market-led models do not lead to a drop in housing prices and leave a lot of people outside the housing market as a result. In countries that have shifted to market mechanisms (like China and Russia), has the experience been that housing markets have become more affordable and equitable?

A: China is an interesting example because the affordable housing is not being created by the government or the developers. Affordable houses in China are built in the urban villages that surround the cities. These areas are not part of the planning regime and yet, they provide market-based affordable housing to millions of people. Villagers are building apartments on their residential plots and renting them out at very affordable rates to the workforce in Chinese cities. These are not slums; these are apartments built out of good material and they provide water and electricity to the residents. This creates an additional source of income for the farmers. It is also interesting that this is done with very little bank finance. Therefore, China has solved the affordable housing problem by turning a blind eye to what villagers surrounding Chinese cities do.

I agree with you that India still mistrusts the market. India has distorted the market for so long that it has become dysfunctional. When you don’t allow land to expand and provide it with good quality infrastructure that enables this expansion, you will have land supply bottlenecks. You cannot ruin something and then complain that it is not functioning. To make the market function and make land affordable, it will take many years because the land market is so distorted. There is no other solution to the problem.

Q: One of the most visible manifestations of this distortion is the preponderance of slums in Indian cities. It is estimated that 20% of all households in urban India and a larger share in the mega-cities (42% in Mumbai) live in slums. Slum evictions and resettlement are favoured responses to this problem. However, there is growing concern that such policies systematically deny the poor of their ‘right to the city’ and policy is slowly changing in India towards in-situ development. You’ve proposed several innovative solutions to this problem including land sharing that was successful in Bangkok. Based on your experience and research, how should countries like India formulate policy responses to this question? Are there similar (to the Bangkok experience) innovative models that we should be emulating?

A: I think that the solution to the problem of slums in India is very simple but that doesn’t mean that it will happen. The problem is really one of paternalism. Namely, if you were to solve the Dharavi problem tomorrow, I would simply say that the land on which this slum is located now belongs to the slum-dwellers. The government gives up the authority on this land and the slum-dwellers are now shareholders in a great economic asset in the middle of one of the most important cities in the world. The issue would then be one of how to derive the maximum benefit for the land-owners by developing this land appropriately. The land shouldn’t be given to developers who take advantage of the slum dwellers or to corrupt politicians who do land deals. The land must belong to the people and in my mind, there is no doubt that if and when this happens, housing conditions in Dharavi will improve rapidly.

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India

What the government has been doing for decades is to sustain the uncertainty about the future of the land and this dissuades people from investing in that land. The government should get rid of this uncertainty by allowing people to stay where they are and give them ownership and control over their territory. In neighbouring Pakistan there are examples of this being done, either marginally or totally. If you compare Orangi (in Karachi) to Dharavi, there is a lot more development in the former since the government has given the right of the land to the people and eliminated uncertainty. Indian bureaucrats have always insisted that these slums are temporary, or that they don’t exist, or that according to the law (in say Maharashtra) the land is shown as vacant land and is therefore, not inhabited. India is behind other countries in terms of these policies and bureaucrats have kept these slums in a state of limbo.


India needs to wake up to its urban infrastructure crisis – In conversation with Dr. Shlomo Angel – Part 1

In the first of a three part series, Vishnu Prasad of IFMR Finance Foundation speaks to Dr. Shlomo (Solly) Angel, adjunct professor at NYU and senior research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project, about India’s urban infrastructure crisis, the Making Room Paradigm, and its relevance to Indian cities. In subsequent posts Prof. Angel shares his views on urban governance challenges in India, how to create affordable housing in Indian cities, the enduring legacy of the Oregon experiment and his personal experiences with participatory planning in Bangkok.

Q: As you mention in the report ‘Making Room for a Planet of Cities’, close to 70% of the growth in urban population in the next 20 years will occur in countries that are predominantly rural at present- countries like India and China (the minority-urban category). Creating efficient cities that can absorb growth of such magnitude in these countries will be one of the vital challenges of this century.

The urban planning world seems divided on approaching this question at present- on the one hand, we have advocates of what you have called the ‘containment paradigm’ and on the other, advocates of what the densification school calls ‘sprawl’. Where would you place the Making Room paradigm in this debate? What are the strengths of this paradigm vis-à-vis the other two approaches?

A: The containment paradigm is largely an import from Europe and the United States into rapidly urbanising, developing countries. This import is largely misplaced because it takes conditions that exist in developed countries and assume that cities in developing countries share the same predicament. We need to make a division between the two. This is not to argue that the containment paradigm is bad but to say that it needs to be appropriate to the context. The context is that cities in countries like India are going to grow in population, expand and people inhabiting them are going to have more income. When cities have more population and higher incomes, they tend to occupy more space. And when I say more space, I mean a lot more space- not just 50 per cent but 300 to 600 per cent more space. Therefore, to me, this debate is meaningless unless it is focused on a particular context or a particular place.

The other part of the containment paradigm has to do with densification. I’m all in favour of densification and removing restrictions on density in cities because these are mostly planning restrictions and not restrictions imposed by the market. For instance, if you eased the building restrictions in the city of Bangalore, people would build even higher. However, I don’t believe that densification is an answer for the problems created by urban population and income growth simply because it takes a long time. Imagine how long it would take to transform an area that is built up predominantly of two to three storeyed buildings into ten-storeyed buildings. This transformation could take 20 to 30 years. Expansion of cities cannot be replaced by such a long drawn process. While we need densification, we cannot avoid expansion of cities. The idea of the Making Room paradigm is that there is (inevitably) going to be expansion and your only choice is whether you want it to be disorderly and therefore, inefficient and inequitable, or guide it in a way that is more efficient, equitable, resilient and sustainable.

Q: Advocates of the containment/densification school often argue that density is strongly correlated with the ‘greenness’ of a city- for example, studies have found that the denser cities in the US have lower carbon dioxide emissions. There are also interesting intra-city variations in carbon dioxide emissions- suburbs emit more carbon dioxide than the denser areas of the city. How cities in India and China are planned and managed will have a significant bearing on global emissions in the years to come. Against this backdrop, can you shed more light on the environmental aspects of the Making Room paradigm?

A: Firstly, I don’t think connecting emissions to cities is correct. Emissions have a lot to do with people- when you have a lot of people and economic growth is making them richer, emissions are bound to be high. In my view, this has nothing to do with cities. The idea of an urban ecological footprint is misplaced because it is a peoples issue and not a cities issue; it has nothing to do with where people are. I don’t think you can talk about Indian cities being green or not but you can talk about India (as a whole) being green or not. As India grows and its people get richer, they will consume more energy and resources. This is inevitable. Cities, as Ed Glaeser argues, are greener than rural areas- they occupy less land and have less of an (environmental) impact on its territory. For instance, cities only occupy 0.5 per cent of the space of the countries they are located in.

However, there are many aspects of the green argument that have to do with cities. For example, when cities expand, they take up agricultural land. This has been a historic characteristic of expanding cities. The land around them is cultivated based on the incentives of where people are located. The area around a city is the area that feeds it because transportation cost to cities are minimised. It is true that in India, in particular, there will be a loss of agricultural land as cities expand. This is something that needs to be understood and alternatives to ensure food security like improving the efficiency of agriculture or importing food need to be considered. But, this cannot be the reason for limiting the expansion of cities. The efficiency and productivity of the cities will more than compensate for the loss of green land due to the expansion. What these challenges tell us is that the rural and the urban economy now have to work hand-in-hand and that development of the rural economy and food supply cannot be neglected.

In terms of pollution, it is not clear to me that over crowded cities with a lot of congestion and high densities are more polluting than less crowded cities. In India, there are many cities like Mumbai, for instance, that are over-crowded and densities are too high. In these cities, there is a need to open up the peripheries in order to allow the city to breathe and to create living conditions that are better than today. For example, Manhattan successfully did this by opening up its periphery. Mumbai has not been able to do this because the periphery lacks the infrastructure that can allow the city to de-congest. The ‘greens’ celebrate Indian slums- Stuart Brand writes about Dharavi and uses it as a great example of a green place. I feel that it is a horrible example of a green place- he completely neglects the over-crowding and the suffering in Dharavi and how better off people are if they could have more space and if they could have better access to green areas. This opinion is a little hypocritical in my view. In my thinking (and I call this ‘sustainable densities’), densities in many Indian cities can be reduced to make them more liveable but they don’t need to be reduced to American standards. In this sense, I am all for opening up over-crowded cities.

Q: In the report, you speak about how countries in the urbanising world (like India) might not be able to successfully implement policies based on containment due to their weak enforcement, and governance mechanisms. However, several tenets of the Making Room paradigm like expansion of metropolitan limits, creation of a grid of arterial roads and connecting these areas by public transport require strong governance mechanisms to be implemented. Given this, what challenges can you foresee in cities implementing this planning paradigm?

A: I think there is a very interesting comparison here- if you compare cities in India to their counterparts in China, they don’t have political constraints like they do in India. As a result, cities in China are moving ahead rapidly in creating urban infrastructure compared to India. India is more creative, more developed technologically and entrepreneur-ily than China but it’s falling behind and will continue to fall behind unless politicians in India wake up to the idea that they have to do something about urban infrastructure. They can sleep and continue to do so but the more they sleep, the more they fall behind. I think that there is an infrastructure crisis in India that requires rules that simplify the creation of urban infrastructure and prepare cities for expansion. Instead, India is going in the opposite direction by making it more difficult for the government to create eminent domain and find land for infrastructure.

Additionally, rules are too cumbersome and there is the problem of corruption. This is untenable and nothing short of a political crisis. Mumbai cannot survive for long with this kind of a chokehold on its expansion. What it needs is to connect to its periphery and build more bridges that enable this connection. There is one bridge that connects to the developed areas to the East of Mumbai and another bridge has been talked about forever. You need more than more than two bridges, perhaps six or seven bridges, to develop these areas and there is a need to do it quickly. But the people in charge are still dreaming and quarrelling about the second bridge. I really don’t know what they do when they get up in the morning but they are clearly not doing the right thing. There are cities in India like Ahmedabad with a strong Chief Minister that is planning for the expansion of the city’s peripheries and the creation of an arterial grid of roads. This proves that such things are not impossible in India; you just need the kind of political atmosphere that can make it happen.


Memories of Srirangapatna

By Dinesh Lodha, IFMR Finance Foundation

As part of our field initiative in Srirangapatna, this post marks the beginning of a new blog series titled “Memories of Srirangapatna“. The series is an effort to capture some of the thoughts and memories that prominent citizens of the town have about the city and their vision for it going forward. As Srirangapatna tries to balance its rich heritage on one hand and modernization on the other, we believe these insights, which we hope to accumulate from across sections of the society, would aid in our participatory planning efforts and will be a useful guide in developing a long-term vision for basic infrastructure development of the town.

In this video we feature Dr. Sujay Kumar, a medical professional who has lived all his life in the town and is widely regarded for his knowledge about the history of the town. In this video he shares the historical importance of the town, the legacy of Hyder Ali & Tipu Sultan, challenges that the town faces and his vision for it.


Urban Diary – Interesting reads

This post is a continuation of our Urban Diary blog series where we compile interesting reads and discussions from around the world on urban issues.

Urban Pain

In a decade or so, half of India’s population will be living in urban centres, straining urban infrastructure that cannot be commensurately expanded or improved to support such huge population concentrations. In this context cities run the risk of being mega slums if they are not managed well. Citing the work of Isher Ahluwalia committee report and other initiatives, the article provides an important perspective on the urbanisation challenge; and how as Dr. Ahluwalia says, this must be addressed with a combination of increased investment and strengthening of governance.

Urbanization in India: Stronger Cities through Better Institutions

In this blog post the author cites a recent World Bank study, which explores how a weak public sector can amplify urban challenges. Stressing the importance of better institutional framework, the post argues that the interconnected challenges of land policy, infrastructure and service delivery cannot be addressed individually. The right policy mix is essential to keep cities growing as hubs of learning, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Cities must lead the way into a sustainable future

Jeffery Sachs, Professor at Colombia University, argues that sustainable development offers a new concept for the world economy in the twenty-first century; encouraging cities, countries, and the world to focus simultaneously on three goals: economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.

The 10 Smartest Asia/Pacific Cities

Using Smart Cities Wheel, a framework created to help quantify smart cities using six components – Government, Mobility, Living, Environment, Economy & People – Boyd Cohen, writing for Fast Company, compiles the top 10 Asia Pacific smart cities for 2013.

The Unbuilt City

An 800-ft tower with a revolving restaurant on the Marina, tube trains, urban forest and more. In this article A. Srivathsan writes about the many ambitious projects that never took off which have given Chennai its shape as much as the projects that did.

New Visualization Tools Simulates Street Designs in 3D

Leveraging his experience in video game design, a Portland-based video designer has developed a three-dimensional animated tool that allows urban planners to simulate how a street would look and feel if it were laid out differently.

In case you are interested in reading our daily round up of news on Urbanisation from across the globe, please subscribe to our Flipboard magazine on your smart phone – http://bit.ly/urbandiary


India’s Suburban Transformation

By Vishnu Prasad, IFMR Finance Foundation

According to the 2011 Population Census data, urban India grew by 90 million people in the previous decade. During this period, 2774 new towns were born with over 90% of the new towns belonging to the category of census towns. Census towns are defined1 as places that satisfy the following three criteria:

  1. a minimum population of 5,000
  2. at least 75% of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits, and
  3. a density of population of at least 400 per sq. km.

An estimated one-third of these new towns are located in close proximity to India’s large cities (in a 50 km neighbourhood of million-plus cities). These suburbs occupying just 1% of India’s land area provide about 18% of the country’s employment. These statistics provide staggering evidence of India’s rapid suburbanization in the previous decade. Places situated on the edge of India’s cities like Sriperambudur near Chennai, Noida and Gurgaon near Delhi, and Raigarh near Mumbai have witnessed rapid growth.

A World Bank report titled ‘Urbanization beyond Municipal Boundaries’ investigates the cause of this phenomenon characterising India’s urbanisation. The report presents evidence of the stagnation of India’s metropolitan cores. As the figure below shows, the metropolitan cores2 of India’s seven largest cities3 saw a decline in employment over 1998-2005 while the peripheral towns and villages witnessed rapid growth in high-technology manufacturing, real estate and other manufacturing sectors. While suburbanisation is a common phenomenon in most urbanising countries, what makes India’s predicament particularly worrying is that it is occurring at a relatively early stage of India’s urban development.

The report outlines two fundamental causes for this development:

1. Weak institutional foundations for land valuation and transactions

The report argues that “India lacks many of the necessary institutions, such as a transparent system to convert land use, a clear definition of property rights, a robust system of land and property valuation, and a strong judicial system for addressing public concerns to facilitate land markets, land transactions, and land use changes.” For example, India does not have a robust system to independently and reliably arrive at land valuations. Historically high stamp duties have created incentives to under-report the value of land and property.

Rapid urbanisation in recent years has created increased pressure on land in urban cores and combined with a weak institutional framework governing the valuation, transaction and acquisition of land, this has resulted in a distortion of the pace and shape of urban expansion.

2. Stringent regulation on land use

Indian cities have placed stringent caps on the density of cities through low FSI (Floor Space Index) regulations. The report argues that such regulations drive urban expansion towards the periphery of existing urban areas and encourages sprawl. For example, it is estimated that “FSI-induced sprawl” in Bangalore creates welfare losses of 2-4 per cent through increased commuting costs. Further, Indian cities impose blanket FSI norms across the city as opposed to international practices in cities like New York, Singapore that favour granularity or local variation in FSI norms.

The suburbanisation of Indian cities is creating new challenges for Indian cities. The report notes two challenges in particular:

1. Wide spatial disparity in access to basic services

The report reveals that there are wide core-periphery differentials in accessing services. For example, in India’s seven largest cities, 93% of households living in core metropolitan areas have access to drainage. This proportion falls to 70% at a distance of 5km from the core. In cities like Bangalore, other utilities like access to piped water are largely concentrated in the urban core.

2. Transportation and movement of freight

Rapid growth of individual modes of transport, low ridership of public transport services, high costs of public transport (refer figure below) and slow commuting speeds have combined to create an exigent transportation challenge in Indian cities. Further, there is evidence that businesses located in peripheries are finding it increasingly difficult to access local and regional markets. Freight rates between metropolitan cores and peripheries in India are Rs. 5.2 per ton-km, twice the national average and five times the cost in United States.

Urban Reform

The report outlines three priority areas that warrant immediate attention. First, there is an urgent need to reform the land valuation process in India. As the report argues, “land valuation is an integral part of land transactions and local revenue generation, because land values form the basis of property taxes, land sales, and leases.” We have written previously on the importance of land as a tool for urban infrastructure financing. India requires robust institutional mechanism to govern land use conversion and land valuation. Second, the efforts to leverage the potential of land markets as a financing tool needs to be complemented by an integrated urban planning process. The report notes how cities like Sao Paulo have used FSI limits as an effective urban planning/density management and infrastructure financing mechanism (For a detailed look at how Latin American cities have effectively used land as a tool for financing and urban planning, see our post here). Indian cities also need to improve connectivity between metropolitan cores and peripheries to ensure ease of mobility for individuals and business. Third and perhaps most importantly, India needs to resolve the question of who is responsible for urban planning and reforms in a federal system where the multiple jurisdictions of national, state and urban local bodies overlap. As noted previously in this blog, the lack of financial autonomy of India’s ULBs, and their over-reliance on upper tiers of governments are stifling our cities from unlocking their true potential.

  1. http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov-results/paper2/data_files/kerala/13-concept-34.pdf
  2. Metropolitan core includes an area with a radius of 10 km centered on the main metropolis. Suburban towns include urban areas 10 to 50 km from the metropolitan core, and suburban villages include rural areas in the same vicinity
  3. Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad