Patrick Geddes in India, first published in 1947, is a rather unusual source of inspiration for homes that will not cost more than Rs10 lakh in cities across the country.
Geddes, a Scottish town planner who spent eight years in Indian cities and drew up nearly 50 town plans here in the first quarter of the 20th century, finds new relevance in the latest low-cost housing project being planned in the post-downturn scenario—low-cost houses are typically priced at Rs4-10 lakh.
In the foreword to the 2007 edition of the book (published by Select Books, Bangalore), historian Ramachandra Guha says Geddes’ core theories of town planning or designing an urban set-up can be summed up broadly under three themes: respect for nature, respect for democracy and respect for tradition. This essence will be translated into people-friendly, “green” homes by Value and Budget Housing Corp. (VBHC), founded in 2008 by Citibanker-turned-IT entrepreneur Jaithirth Rao and P.S. Jayakumar, a former Citigroup Inc. employee.
Model town: Value and Budget Housing Corp.’s Jaithirth Rao (front) and team with the Attibele plan. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Patrick Geddes is our muse and we are inspired by his attention to people in town planning and the joy of community living,” says Jayakumar.
Village tradition comes to town
VBHC intends to build a million apartments, priced at Rs5-9 lakh, starting with its maiden project in Attibele, an industrial town about 35km from Bangalore. Attibele is near Electronics City, where companies such as Infosys Ltd are headquartered. The project is scheduled to be launched mid-year.
Each of the around 34 towers on the 17-acre property will have ground plus seven floors. About 33% of the ground area will be maintained as green cover, including manicured lawns and planted cover. The 1,900 apartments planned will be built in three formats, varying in size from 350 sq. ft to 650 sq. ft. Each apartment is likely to have a balcony, and homeowners will have the option of an open or closed kitchen.
Somewhat like Geddes’ concept of a courtyard or a village square in every town planning scheme, there will be a central park running through the township. The Attibele project will have several arlikatt, or courtyards, and interaction points built around a peepul tree, a feature common in smaller towns.
There will also be an English-medium school, a medical centre and a shopping arcade within the township. Unlike most projects in this category, there would be space to park 1,100 vehicles (typically, low-income category housing projects by government agencies such as the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority don’t have organized parking).
Bookings are yet to begin. VBHC hopes to have model homes to show prospective buyers. There is no formal eligibility criteria but VBHC is targeting industrial workers in and around the area. Like government low-income group housing projects, it too is targeting buyers who earn Rs8,000-12,000 a month.
Low cost, full facilities
The project is in line with the emerging trend of full-facility, low-cost housing that began in May with the first low-cost housing project from Tata Housing Development Co. Ltd, some 65km from central Mumbai. Designed by Singapore-based RSP Architects Planners and Engineers Pte Ltd, the 1,300 homes at the Shubh Griha township are priced at Rs3.9-6.74 lakh. In this township, as well as in other such projects in Bangalore and Delhi, Tata Housing aims to offer two-tier security (at the main gate and for individual buildings), dedicated retail space for groceries, free shuttle services to the railway station and nearby industrial areas, rainwater harvesting, vermiculture (to make eco-friendly natural fertilizer), horticulture, post office, medical facilities, and a school on the premises.
Many of these features are echoed in the Attibele project.
Geddes believed the best way to reduce congestion was to create open spaces. Today’s planners agree. “Low-cost projects should not use a high-density formula and go for high-rises. There should be as many common areas, like courtyards, as possible to enhance the feeling of community living,” says V.K. Phatak, a former town planning chief of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority who is also involved in the Dharavi redevelopment project.
Says Jayakumar, “We don’t want to create vertical slums that many low-cost projects often turn out to be.” At Attibele, the “green” measures that fit Geddes’ deeply ecological orientation include a focus on recycling waste and maintaining water bodies for sustainable living.
“We will extensively use measures such as water recycling, rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment plant, recharging ground water and renewable energy to make the project sustainable,” says Bangalore-based architect Kiran Venkatesh of InFORM Architects Pvt. Ltd, who is designing the Attibele project. Water will be metered to detect and cut wastage. Apartment design emphasizes natural light and ventilation. The homes will get sunlight and air through the day, with probably larger openings in the east and north.
There will be a sewage and waste-water treatment plant, based on a decentralized water treatment system (Dewats), a relatively low-energy consuming system. All household waste generated in the township will be used by the biomass-fuelled power plant, which will replace conventional diesel generators for emergency power.
VBHC will handhold residents, at least in the initial days, involving non-governmental organizations in the process of implementing crucial plans such as water and energy conservation and teaching residents how to use the various amenities.
Quality real estate in India usually comes with a price tag. But VBHC’s attempt at retaining the basic language of quality housing and community living for a section of people typically sidelined derives its core essence from Geddes’ philosophy: “Town planning is not merely place-planning, nor even work-planning. If it is must be successful, it must be folk-planning.”