Well-designed streets and neighbourhoods are vital to securing women’s safety in public places. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Capital’s biggest landlord, displayed unusually propitious timing last week when it notified a series of pilot projects and studies under a proposed new urban development programme.
The so-called transit-oriented development (TOD) programme was notified quietly as protests raged in the city over the brutal torture and gang-rape of a 23-year-old student inside a moving private bus on 16 December.
The plan’s objective is to increase individual access to Delhi’s expanding Metro rail and public bus network. With more than a year of preparation, it represents one of the most serious attempts at redefining both the social fabric and the physical contours of an Indian city, by placing the ordinary pedestrian, not automobiles or buildings, at the heart of its planning approach.
Its radical approach lies in its exclusions—the types of building construction and urban design that it does not favour. Two of the most common urban design features in metropolitan India today—gated residential communities and flyovers for cars and two-wheelers—would not meet TOD guidelines, since both implicitly discourage the use of public transport.
“Transit-oriented development addresses all aspects of pedestrian safety on roads, such as better street-crossings and lighting at bus-stops. Moreover, it ensures that the entire land area around Metro stations is utilized in an optimum, multi-purpose manner, which will result in public spaces becoming more active, less secluded and more accessible to all citizens, including women, the elderly and children,” said Ashok Bhattacharjee, director of planning at the Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Centre, or Uttipec.
Uttipec is an agency within DDA responsible for planning all transport and traffic infrastructure-related projects in the Capital. DDA’s notification last week stated that Uttipec is “undertaking studies and pilot projects related to transit-oriented development” along specific corridors of Delhi’s Metro network.
The draft TOD policy and guidelines were made available for the first time last week on Uttipec’s website for public feedback, and the policy is currently being shared with a variety of land-use stakeholders for consultation, testing and approval. Once the projects and the policy are approved and notified by DDA and the ministry of urban development, the TOD policy will be included as an additional chapter in Delhi’s 2021 Master Plan, and will come into effect.
“A transit-oriented development is essentially any (real estate) development, however large or small, that is focused around a transit node, and facilitates complete ease of access to that transit facility, thereby inducing people to walk and use public transportation over personal modes of transport,” said Bhattacharjee.
TOD developments will consist of a variety of high-density, mixed-use, mixed-income buildings, within a short distance of a rapid public transport network. Higher density, or taller buildings, within pre-specified zones near transit stations, encourages more people to use public transport, and limits urban sprawl.
“Transit-oriented developments can decrease commuting distances, improve usage of traffic system and lead to better land-use by making a nicer environment in a smaller area,” said Ton Venhoeven, a Dutch architect and urban planner who is part of Delhi 2050, an ongoing urban design collaboration between the Dutch and Indian governments, in a November interview.
Emphasis on aligning land-use with transport networks is only one aspect that distinguishes the proposed TOD planning policy from its predecessors. Its rules of engagement with the market, and the private sector, are also very different.
The TOD policy does not segregate areas around each station into functional zones such as commercial or residential areas. Instead, it sets maximum and minimum benchmarks for development and construction in pre-defined influence zones around transit stations, and allows the market to decide what should be built in each influence zone, within the framework of an overall influence zone plan prepared by the relevant authority.
All TOD developments must necessarily be high-density, mixed-income developments, with high levels of connectivity to mass rapid transport modes, and pedestrian and cycle-friendly environments that promote individual safety. These are not usually features of most private sector real estate development, particularly in a city accustomed to a car-centric lifestyle.
Thus, while developers have much more flexibility about what they can build, the way they plan their real estate will need to change drastically, to make their schemes much more community-oriented. The policy has built-in incentives for developers such as significantly higher floor to area ratio, depending on the type of influence zone, and is being tested for economic feasibility.
Bhattacharjee is clear that “it needs to work with the market, otherwise it will not work at all”.
“TOD could work in Delhi if you are not afraid to think ahead,” said Venhoeven. “It is a very wise choice to aim for development of multi-modal nodes. If people move around in the street, it is very egalitarian. If they lock themselves up in gated communities, then it is no good. The traffic system is really key to achieving a certain social fabric.”