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Let competent people make city master plans

Like most of our plans and programmes, master plan based city development approach too is a borrowed concept. Before independence, India followed the town planning system practiced in England with the British town planning act 1909. However, after Independence, rapid industrialisation and urbanisation followed by migration, forced the government to rethink on its city development plans. Then the government found merit in Master Plan based development of cities with land use planning with zoning regulations which was followed in USA. Master Plan based development always considers longer time horizons, say 20-25 years, which is pragmatic thing to do.

But the success of the plan always depends upon our ability to foresee things in advance. Unfortunately the fact is that we have always faced difficulties in projecting population, economic growth, social changes etc. for a horizon of 20-25 years which in turn had its impact on the steps taken by us. We have not been able to project even the solid waste being generated in various cities as a consequence of which various projects set up to use the waste have turned into flop shows.

Further, all these years we have been following Five Year Plans method of development where sectoral outlays play a dominant role. Our inability to properly sequence the projects and their execution and define the sectoral outlays often has created problems in execution. Also change in the government at the centre or state level (or even at the urban local body level) often has resulted in change in priorities thus necessitating the tweaking of the master plan which in turn make them less effective.

To make master plan method of city development effective and efficient, there should be effective public participation in the process of planning which is lacking in our country. Active public participation also helps in developing a sense of belongingness among the citizens about their cities. In India, public participation is considered to be just a formality to be completed and no serious attempt being made to know the views and preferences of the public.

All these years, the master plan gave least significance to urban open space, greenery and climate change. However, in future increased emphasis need to be laid on these aspects for which there is a need for change in mindset of our planners. Also, often we have seen the master plans being influenced by interested parties like real estate lobby who give least significance to greenery and climate change. This often leads to lopsided development of the city.

A master plan should be a dynamic document that can be altered based on changing project conditions over time. Such changes may be related to more density and height in some areas, or to restrict and lower the height of the buildings, etc.

Master plans can have an important role in determining the shape of the urban environment. If not well conceived, they can lead to problems in the future. Therefore, its always essential that only highly calibre, talented and experienced people are involved in its making.  The plan should show the integration of contextual features. Local surrounding topography, water, and distinctive landscape and heritage features should be incorporated into the design of the plan where possible. These elements have an immense impact on the character of the urban area.

A properly laid out master plan should be a dynamic long-term planning document that provides a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. It should be remembered that master planning is about making the connection between buildings, social settings, and their surrounding environments. A carefully drafted master plan should include analysis, recommendations, and proposals for a site’s population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities, and land use. It should be based on public input, surveys, planning initiatives, existing development, physical characteristics, and social and economic conditions.

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