Planning in India

The Planning Issue has been a bit quiet lately, but thought we would put this up, as it is interesting to consider the challenges for urban planning in countries such as India.

According to the Census projections, between 2015 and 2030, India’s urban population is going to jump from 428 million to 606 million. That means over the next 15 years, India needs to build 22 more cities of the size of Bangalore to accommodate the new urban residents.  The question before us is whether India wants to urbanise in a planned or unplanned way. Does it want rapid urbanisation to turn its cities into growth engines and lift millions out of poverty as was done in China? Or does India want the drift to continue and let the teeming millions turn its habitats into ghettos of deprivation?

The number  of urban planners in India is microscopic. Britain has 38 planners per 100,000 people. In India, the figure is just 0.23. There are several urban local bodies without a single qualified urban planner. There are hardly twenty planning schools. Barring the top two or three, the rest are highly understaffed and the syllabus archaic. The institutional structures of planning are weak and are dominated by an engineering bureaucracy, whose world view frequently hovers within the ambit of ‘tender-contract- project cycle’, with hardly any scope for long-term strategic thinking.

It wouldn’t be surprising if India is not the only place caught with an engineering dominated bureaucracy, that operates on a project-by-project basis, rather than facilitating and resourcing long-term strategic thinking. Hopefully we can see better training for new planners and recognition that planning is critical for rapidly expanding urban areas together with the renewal of existing cities.


The light rail genie is out of the bottle, but how many cities will get their wish?

On track for the future… if enough cities can find the money. 

AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Article by Peter Newman, Curtin University

The federal government’s rekindled enthusiasm for public transport has sent state and local governments across the country scurrying back to their light rail plans – even those that many of us thought would never see the light of day.

It now looks as if the two-year effective moratorium on rail spending under Tony Abbott will be just a relatively brief hiatus. Besides the Gold Coast and Perth, the light rail revival could also involve Newcastle, Parramatta, Bendigo, Canberra, Cairns, Darwin and Hobart.

All have drawn up plans that they hope could emulate the success of light rail in European and American cities (not to mention Melbourne, home of the world’s largest tram system) as a focal point for urban development.

The main reason that so many Australian cities have been trying to copy this model is that it works. Europe has been using light rail as a major tool of urban regeneration, especially in France where many smaller towns have been very successful. In the United States between 1993 and 2011, public transport use grew by 23% (and light rail by 190%), while car use growth peaked.

The key reason for this seems to be the extra speed and capacity created when light (or heavy) rail goes around, under or over traffic that has been getting slower and slower in every major city (see the table below). Meanwhile, urban regeneration around light rail corridors allows people to end their automobile dependence, helping cities grow inwards faster than outwards.

Tony Abbott forced the genie back into the bottle by following through on his 2013 pre-election decision to drop all federal rail funding. The move showed scant regard for how modern cities attract talented people to live and work in the knowledge economy jobs that are so necessary for innovation.

Around the world, cities compete on walkability and public transport, because these things make it less likely that young, creative workers will leave for London, Paris or New York. A recent report from Smart Growth America found that in Boston, 70% of young people working in the knowledge economy live in highly walkable areas. Their jobs typically require them to come together with lots of different people in an urban situation, and they don’t have time for long commutes.

So the knowledge economy needs spatial efficiency. Public transport, cycling and walking are spatially efficient; freeways, traffic jams and urban sprawl are not.

Enough to go around?

This is precisely the phenomenon on which Turnbull has picked up, by stressing innovation and freeing up infrastructure funding for light rail projects. The genie is out again, but obviously there will not be enough money to make every city’s transport wishes come true. So how can we proceed?

Cities now need to make a strong case for their light rail projects, based on the benefits of urban regeneration as well saving commuters time. The best way to do this is to attract private funding as well as taxpayers’ money, by bringing private investors on board with the financing, who then earn a return on the increased land values generated by rail development. This is called “land value capture” and still has not been done in Australia, although it’s common in the United States and Asia.

In fact, one could argue that the federal government should only release Commonwealth funding if these funds are multiplied many times over by the private sector. So cities could begin by calling for expressions of interest from private companies to design, build, finance, own and operate the light rail link and, crucially, make sure this includes land-development options (rather than letting in outside developers to gain windfall profits instead of directing the money into paying for the light rail).

Government would need to contribute a base grant and an operational fund that could be more specifically focused along the areas where the biggest benefits are felt in the corridor itself, where land values will go up most. Private expertise will ensure that the best sites are chosen for the light rail route.

These land-value increases will flow through taxes into treasury and can be set aside in a dedicated light rail fund for ongoing operations or for raising further finance. This way, with a bit of economic magic, the light rail genie could grant more cities their wishes.

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

People oriented city planning

Kingston foreshore buildings Canberra

Jan Gehl’s recent visit to Canberra brought with it a reminder and a clear message that cities are for people.

The history of many cities, particularly those designed and constructed in large part through the 1960s and 70s, has been to design for the car.

Canberra like many other Australian cities has made half-hearted and piecemeal attempts to tame the car, this has come in the form of pedestrian malls in the city centre, and the occasional lacklustre public square.

The public life of Canberra certainly suffers from the spread out nature of its suburbs and multiple centres and has been designed in plan view, with little thought for the human experience, particularly for those attempting to walk through its spaces.

Gehl’s concept of a human scale city is one which is designed for a person walking through the space at 5km/h. At this speed we see detail and can identify people, and at this pace there is the need for small scale visual interest and interaction. Cities designed for car use, tend towards big block development, open expanses and limited pedestrian scale detail.

Useful measures of success, when considering whether a city is designed for people include:

  • Is it accessible for a 7-8 year old (does it allow them to move around independently and safely)
  • Number of cultural events
  • Weekend visitors to the city centre (not just a place for office workers)
  • Number of evening activities such as restaurants, concerts etc.

While it was disappointing that Gehl didn’t provide much commentary on Canberra (hard to do within a brief visit), his advice to remove 50% of the asphalt certainly wouldn’t go astray.

From this perspective that would mean less surface car parks, more buildings with ground floor activity and smaller scale elements between existing big box developments and the street or surrounds. Sections of Canberra that have begun to experience some of this human scale development include Braddon, New Acton/East Acton and Kingston Foreshore.

cone sculpture at New Acton

Let’s hope that next time a Gehl Architects representative comes to Canberra the same can be said for other activity centres such as Woden Town Centre, Mawson and Weston Group Centres (to name a few). As these spaces, while delivering retail floorspace and convenient car parking, are underwhelming as places for people.

Canberrans love Canberra for many valid reasons including it’s clean, unpolluted air and water, it’s extensive outdoor recreation system, the ease of travel (by car mainly, or bike if you are fit) and the employment and education options available.

However for Canberra to continue as one of the worlds most liveable cities and become a vibrant city loved by visitors as well as residents, there will need to be a greater focus on human scale development, transport choice (not just cars), public meeting places, connected pedestrian and cycle networks and greater housing choice (not only detached houses on individual blocks or apartments, but more townhouses, terrace houses, cohousing, supportive housing etc).

Focusing on places for people, and ensuring that the overriding objective of putting people first in the design and planning of any new place or development, would support a more vibrant and active Australian capital.

Festival of Urbanism: Health and high rise, is density bad for you?

Just in case there is not enough on your calendar, the Festival of Urbanism has just launched in Sydney! Running from the 15 October to the 6 November 2014, the festival is packed full with interesting of events. Tonight’s discussion is ‘Health and High-rise – Is density bad for you?

Expert panellists (see below) will address health issues related to increased density.

  • Associate Professor Stephen Corbett, Director of the Centre for Population Health in Western Sydney Local Health District
  • Dr Jennifer Kent, Urban Planner, Macquarie University
  • Dr Peter Sainsbury, Director of Population South Western Sydney Local Health District

To attend register here.

The theme of this year’s Festival of Urbanism is ‘Megaprojects’ for more information see the Festival of Urbanism.Tr


Happy PARK(ing) Day 19 September 2014

Parking Day logo upside down car with park growing out of it

Temporary pop-up parks and artistic installations are occurring worldwide today in celebration of PARK(ing) Day, these will transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

PARK(ing) Day started in 2005 when the San Francisco arts collective ‘Rebar’ came up with the idea that paying a parking meter is a bit like renting a public space, so instead of parking a car, why not park something better?

On the third Friday of every September, designers, creatives, planners, architects, landscape architects and anyone passionate about new ideas for their city, temporarily transforms on-street car spaces into creative places that make the street more enjoyable, attractive and sociable.

park in a parking spot, lady on sun chairSource: Romania PARK(ing) Day website 

Here are some links to PARK(ing) Day events:

For more information see the PARK(ing) day website.



ady standing next to man with high vis jacket with arms out - Utopia mini-series

Utopia is a new mini-series on the ABC following the dramas and office politics of the fictitious National Building Authority.

Story lines vary from investigating the feasibility of a very fast train (no surprises there!), an endangered grass threatening plans for a new container terminal and accidentally announcing that a community garden will be included within a waterfront development.

The plot borders on reality and will cover some familiar territory for Australian-based urban planners. Discussions are peppered with phrases such as “compact urban form is the buzz word at the moment” and the satire is further lightened with sub-plots of office dramas, including a communications manager with more energy than sense, performance reviews gone bad and numerous jabs at Gen Y employees.

For anyone who has worked in a government office, on major developments or just enjoys a good laugh this is a great satirical mini-series.

Episode 5 ‘Arts and Minds” is screening tonight (Wednesday) at 8.30pm, or you can catch up on missed episodes on ABC’s iview.

two men with poster boards behind of the very fast train



I want to ride my bicycle – San Francisco brings ideas to Canberra

A great talk from Tim Papendreou who was visiting Canberra this week to promote all things San Francisco, cycling and active transport. An inspiring and encouraging talk about how to make change within bureaucracy despite the inherent challenges.

Papendrou provided a great reminder that cities are for people and that this should be the focus of transport planning. Seems obvious, but it is something that can get lost in engineering and design solutions.

Two interesting publications that he drew our attention to were the Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Urban Street Design Guide.

Urban Bikeway Design Guide coverUrban Street Design Guide

We look forward to see what emerges next from his team of “plangineers” (what you get when you cross a planner with an engineer!) A theme that is catching, judging by the front cover of the most recent edition of the Institute of Transportation Engineers journal.

Engineers + Planners = Success coverpage