More people, less jobs: where is sustainability in master plan?

With residential areas increasing and commercial areas decreasing in the master plan, there is no real plan to make Bengaluru sustainable. Insights from a citizen.

Growing up in this beautiful city of gardens and lakes, one does wonder what happened to it over the past two decades. Any plans for the city’s future should carve a path of opportunities towards preserving what already works well, adding progressive and sustainable changes and allow the continuum of livability.

The past couple of city development plans have been regressive and have lead this city towards a path of decay. This write up is a citizen’s analysis of what is proposed for a neighborhood (Planning District 07) in RMP 2031.

Let’s start with some numbers.

Land Use

Planning District 07 (PD 07)

Planning District 06

Planning District 08

Area (Sq Kms)

39.23

34.83

27.98

Residential change

34.1%

17.4

52.8%

Commercial change

-56.8%

-37.2

-65.1%

Industrial change

-11.5%

1.6

-33.2%

Parks + Public spaces change

– 4.7%

-10.9%

-25.6%

Wards

7, 8, 9, 10, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 33, 34

17, 35, 36, 37, 42, 43, 44, 45, 62, 65, 67, 77

6, 23, 24, 28, 29, 32, 47, 61, 63

Questioning the Master Plan’s livability quotient

A livable and sustainable district would be a place where a balanced mix of work, life and recreational opportunities are present within itself, easily accessible, hence saving time, money, resources and energy to ensure a greater happiness quotient of the residents.

While analysing the Planning District 07 where I reside, it appears that while there will be more people residing in it in the future, owing to the increased residential land-use allocation (up by 34%), the job catalyzing zones – commercial and industrial, have been reduced by a massive 57% and 11.5% respectively. If one can’t find employment over 40 sq kms, how is this a plan for a walkable and cyclable city?

A study of the neighboring planning districts of similar size at the southern edge, to check if the jobs might be there, revealed that the commercial and industrial space allocations have been reduced in them as well. So, across more than 102 sq. km, the commercial and industrial zones are down by an average of 53% and 14.3% respectively. The space allocation for housing over 102 sq. km. of these three planning districts, has been increased by an average of 34.8%.

What does this mean in layman terms? More people living in the area, but lesser jobs and commerce in the area. Everyone will have to make a trek across town to work or buy goods and services, adding to the already chaotic traffic, spending more time on the road. This also adds to the transportation cost for the working class who are large in number.

This master plan is a disaster for sustainability and will kill the city and its transport system. It’s not surprising, the plan is already projecting a two-fold increase in population and a three-fold increase in the traffic by 2031.

Transit-oriented Development (TOD) and Land Use

The spatial plans shown in the planning districts and the Transport Strategy mentioned in Volume 3, Figure 11-3, Page 103 where Light Rail, Metro in Phase 3 and Commuter Rail and a generic reference to ToD zones in Section 4.18 of the Volume 6 have been proposed are not reflecting. Hence even though an attempt is being made to integrate transport with land use plan the same does not reflect in the form of ToD proposals and land uses in the spatial plans of PDs.

The language in the ToD section also seems to indicate that the ToD rules apply only to Planning Zone B which is beyond the ORR area, (PD 07 is PZ-A) and only for the Metro (PD 07 has commuter rail stations and TTMC’s). TOD needs to be mandated in other zones and for all modes of mass transport including suburban rail, light rail and bus terminals. This is critical as TOD is being mandated by Ministry of Urban Development and a land use policy for that needs to be reflected in this master planning document appropriately.

Economic impact of the structure of the plan

Examples of self-sustaining neighborhoods across the world show that they create money and energy to channel it back into themselves. This master plan strikes a blow to the ability of these areas to sustain themselves with revenues, to plan and implement local infrastructure. The idea of restructuring the city into smaller manageable units will become inconsequential because the plan will ensure that some parts of the city will always be reliant on other parts for revenue.

The zoning regulations in Volume 6 talk about various building uses that can be permitted in each defined land-use. For example, in table 5, section 5.2 of volume 6: zoning regulations, if any residential road is 12.5m (40 ft) width or above, even some commercial activities are permitted. Then why paint colourful meaningless maps? Everything can come up everywhere and all you need to do is make the road wide enough for your business. So the corollary is, if you don’t want commercial activities keep your roads narrow and less than 12.5 m (40 ft), which is not a bad option for making cities walkable and cycleable.

Impact on green / open spaces and water

As per the UDPFI Guidelines, 1996 of Ministry of Urban Development, the proportion of recreational areas to the total developed area should be between 12-14% in small towns, 18-20% in medium towns and large cities and 20-25 % in metropolitan (million plus) cities. Section 5.6.6 in volume 6 zoning regulations says, minimum 10% to 15% shall be reserved for parks and open spaces. This is already a dilution of the guidelines but this master plan goes further and is reducing the open spaces from already low single digits to even smaller spaces.

PD 07 has only 2.5% of allocated open space and parks as against the 10% to 15% recommended, and is slated to be reduced even more by 2031. An additional 13.7% of green space across 102 sq kms of these three planning districts would be taken away. With increasing FAR, density will determine both water and green requirements, not just its area. The major revenue for BBMP is from the property taxes. The city and the corporation have no incentive to create either local jobs or open spaces as these don’t earn them revenues. Basic resources for its population (water and open spaces) is an afterthought.

Recommendations

In conclusion, to ensure that the RMP 2031 guarantees liveability in the city, the following recommendations can be considered across all PDs:

1. Mixed use and self-sustaining communities to have a balance of work-live-recreation which helps reduce the need for traveling far distances for opportunities and creates economic value for the region
2. The TOD zones need to be identified clearly in the PLU maps for all modes of mass transport.
3. Each built up unit needs to be incentivised economically, in the master plan, for creating open/ public spaces and harvesting/reusing water. Self sufficiency and contribution to the community must be encouraged.

Note: This article was one of the submissions for the Master The Master Plan contest.

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