By Abhishek Das
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has taken up Transit Oriented Development (TOD) initiatives. They intend to redistribute the population density in the areas that are catered by mass transit projects in the city. This project has the potential to change the entire landscape of the capital. Also, it can achieve high densities without compromising the living standards of people. According to a study by the World Bank, cities in developing countries are showing strong economic growth however, with problems like low-density sprawl, traffic congestion, air pollution and so on. The present scenario of urban development in India usually results in poor living conditions for a large population.
Assessing Population Density
The population density of a city is often used as a parameter to assess its living standards. Hence, any provision for increasing the Floor Space Index (FSI) is not welcomed. Common belief is that increasing FSI will only result in higher congestion levels in the city.
In this context, let us compare the city of Delhi to the city of New York. The city of New York, as per 2010 census, has a population of 8.5 million with a population density of 10,500 persons per square kilometer. The Indian mega-city of Delhi, as per 2011 census, has a population density of 19,659 persons per square kilometer. Even though New York has a much lesser population density than that of Delhi, the former is far ahead of the latter in terms of permissible FSI. The FSI cap in New York is 15, whereas for Delhi, it is around two to three.
Low Rise Development Vs. High Rise Development
High population density in Indian mega-cities is a result of the dense, low-rise development with low per capita floor area. Low-rise development makes it difficult to attain service standards for utility services because of the complicated layouts and lack of space available. High-rise development achieves higher floor space densities. Eventually it results in better utilization of land and improvement in living conditions.
When it comes to transportation in high-density low-rise areas, we generally observe narrow and choked lanes in the interior portion of layouts. Whereas, wider but congested roads in the exterior. The percentage share of land under transportation is very less in this case. It is difficult to acquire land for widening of roads. High-rise development that requires less space for transportation within the layout enables local governments to develop wider roads. This facilitates non-motorized transit modes. It also improves the overall connectivity of the layout to other parts of the city.
TOD – A Way Out?
TOD is an idea which is facilitating maximum living and working spaces near mass transit centres. This will considerably reduce the dependence on private vehicles, which will lead to decongesting the roads. TOD is not about increasing the overall density of a city. It determines how the density should be distributed. Provision of additional FSI for TOD will also result in increasing unit price of land. However, the cost of accommodation near transit centres will come down as the floor space increases.
TOD is not about increasing the overall density of a city. It determines the distribution of density.
It is the duty of the governing body to ensure that development will result in the creation of more public spaces and will increase diversity in land use. Reservation of a fixed proportion of the total area for public use in agglomerated plots is a beneficial strategy. It will create more public spaces. Introduction of exclusive pedestrian zones is another positive move towards encouraging mass transit. This will also help in bringing down the pollution levels of a city. The next step is to keep up with the growing demand of infrastructure in TOD zones. As density increases, there will be higher demand for utilities and infrastructure.
In the case of Delhi, to a certain extent, TOD can offer solutions to some of the major problems that the capital city is facing now. As of now, not many Indian cities have taken up such large-scale initiatives to capture the increase in land value. Hence, if implemented successfully, Delhi can set an example for other cities. The TOD model can also increase ridership in mass rapid transit systems, as there is no issue of last mile connectivity.
Challenges to TOD
In the India scenario for TOD, funding is a huge barrier. Even if a city manages to find investors, several approvals are required before the final sanction of the project. In Delhi itself, the approval of more than 13 departments is necessary for a layout plan of a project under Integrated TOD scheme. Ideally, Indian cities should have the financial power to develop infrastructures such as intra-city mass transit systems on their own. Since that is not possible under the current framework within which our cities work, at least the local governments should be able to work together with the transit development authority to get maximum benefit out of these projects and use these projects as a solution for the prominent issues they face.
Abhishek Das is a research assistant at Centre for Public Policy Research Center (CPPR Centre) for Urban Studies.
Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt