Squats, affluence, & rapid growth threaten Chandigarh, India FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 4 Jun 1999 11:07:27 -0700 (PDT)


"Unplanned growth has drawn Chandigarh, willy-nilly, into some of the
predicaments facing other Indian cities. The population of the city and
peripheral areas is 1.2 million, more than twice what was planned. Some 35
percent of area residents live in illegal settlements..

..The emergence of shantytowns has already transformed peripheral areas and
some pockets inside the city. With increased in-migration, homelessness is
on the rise and there is now a permanent "street population" found mainly
in markets." -- from article below

http://www.earthtimes.org/may/economicdevelopmentaffluencemay10_99.htm
FWD  Earth Times News Service - 10 May, 1999

     The Earth Times/ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

     AFFLUENCE AND RAPID GROWTH THREATEN
     NORTHERN INDIA'S UTOPIAN CITY OF CHANDIGARH.

     By Vir Singh

CHANDIGARH, India--For decades, this mid-size city at the foothills of the
Himalayas enjoyed a reputation as the country's most perfectly planned
settlement. Its spartan, hulking gray buildings, broad avenues, large green
spaces and clean, orderly neighborhoods defy popular images of urban India.

Chandigarh's older areas, characterized by large sprawling homes, trimmed
hedges and immaculate lawns have even evoked comparisons with suburbs of
American cities.

All of this is changing quickly, however, as rapid growth and increasing
affluence are stretching the city past its limits. There is general
agreement that it has grown much faster than planned and that decisions
have to be made soon about how to accommodate more people.

But as Chandigarh turns 50, planners and architects cannot seem to agree on
how to respond to the challenge. While some professionals favor loosening
up building laws to allow for more homes in this spacious city, most people
say such a step would destroy the very character of the place.

Unplanned growth has drawn Chandigarh, willy-nilly, into some of the
predicaments facing other Indian cities. The population of the city and
peripheral areas is 1.2 million, more than twice what was planned. Some 35
percent of area residents live in illegal settlements.

Built under the guidance of a French architect known as Le Corbusier,
Chandigarh has rigid building and planning codes--laws that are vital for
preserving the "special charm" of the place, say most architects, planners
and civil servants who saw the city come up before their eyes. Several
younger residents share this view. But an increasingly vocal minority is
calling for change, asking that the laws be loosened up a bit to meet the
demands of a fast- growing population, especially the poor. These
objectors, most of them architects, say there are basic flaws in
Chandigarh's planning that have marginalized the nonsalaried
classes--masons, carpenters, casual laborers and others who literally built
the city and who continue to serve the city's more affluent residents. "The
buildings inspire me, the city does not," said Jaspreet Thakkar, a
Chandigarh architect who misses the "large variety of people" she saw every
day in faraway Bombay during her college days. "I walk through a street
here and I see middle and upper class people. I do not see the
poor...Chandigarh does not reflect society, the world in which we live."

Such criticism is unwarranted, say Chandigarh loyalists who argue that it
was the city's success that attracted jobless laborers and petty tradesmen
from villages. They say Chandigarh has made substantial contributions to
its citizens and to the development of architecture and town planning in
India.

The idea for a new city came out of the bloody separation of Pakistan from
India, after the end of British colonial rule in 1947. The Indian part of
Punjab state no longer had a capital. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first
prime minister, called for "a new town, symbolic of the freedom of India,
unfettered by the traditions of the past...an expression of the nation's
faith in the future."

The inter-communitarian violence that had claimed so many lives was still
fresh on people's minds. So the new city could not reflect the influence of
any one community. A modern style was needed, and internationally-known
Corbusier fit the bill perfectly.

Ask somebody why Chandigarh was built and you get many answers. Older
residents say the city was supposed to provide a sense of identity, not
just to refugees from Pakistan but also to other Indians trying to find
their place in a newly liberated nation. Architects hail the building of
Chandigarh as the first comprehensive exercise in urban planning, which
produced many generations of professionals who built other Indian cities.

Ordinary citizens say they enjoy a "better quality of life" because of wide
open spaces, greenery, and the fact that water and electricity shortages,
although getting worse, are not nearly as bad as elsewhere.

Chandigarh has been planned to the last detail. It comprises a series of
self-contained blocks, known as sectors, each with its own market, parks,
schools, clinics and other services. Numerous regulations governing home
building, such as what materials to use, the position of the gate and the
height of the boundary wall, have been laid down. Ironclad laws ensure that
housing in the older sectors--occupying about one-third of the city--cannot
be increased, even though newer sectors are allowed to have many more
homes.

As a result, just 6.2 percent of the people living in Chandigarh's legally
developed areas occupy more than 30 percent of those lands, says Madhu
Sarin, an architect who has conducted numerous social surveys and is a
member of the city's housing board.

Chandigarh was built on the principle that offices, homes and markets must
be kept separate from each other in designated areas. Petty tradesmen such
as barbers and cobblers were expected to rent stores in markets. But such
an arrangement is impractical, says Sarin, as their incomes are far too
modest for them to pay rent. And as for housing, those who planned the city
did not make allowances for the poor. After Chandigarh was built, for
example, it was thought that the laborers at construction sites would
return to their villages. In subsequent years, requests to city officials
for housing credit schemes fell on deaf ears.

"Somewhere there is a statement that these people are not citizens, they do
not have rights, they are not entitled," said Sarin.

These imbalances are expected to grow as Chandigarh continues to expand.
The emergence of shantytowns has already transformed peripheral areas and
some pockets inside the city. With increased in-migration, homelessness is
on the rise and there is now a permanent "street population" found mainly
in markets.

Inadequate public transport, coupled with rising middle class incomes, has
brought a flood of new cars, scooters and motorbikes onto the streets.
Chandigarh's avenues have a different look, now that several roundabouts
have been replaced with decidedly less elegant traffic lights.

At a recent conference here involving architects and urban planners from
around the world, one message came out loud and clear:

Chandigarh must face up to the fact that rapid growth makes change
inevitable, and that the city should act now to decide how it wants to
change instead of being left with fewer choices later on.

Indian President K.R. Narayanan underscored that message. "The city may
have to see itself less and less as a brand new experiment in urban
planning," he said. "And more and more as an existing city...facing new
problems and pressures it was not designed to cope with."

END FORWARD

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material
is distributed without charge or profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information
for non-profit research and educational purposes only.**

HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn>
5,000+ POSTS by or via homeless & ex-homeless people
Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy