Returning Bangalore to its reign as India's "Green City"

Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 20 November 2014

The southern Indian city of Bangalore is often described as the "Green City" for all its urban parks and cooler temperatures. This reputation is being threatened by massive urban development, explosive car growth, and sprawling housing colonies. The hi-tech hub is being overrun by traffic jams, pollution, and paving. The problem has reached such heights that last year the city was said to have the sixth-worst commute in the world. Not all hope is lost, however. The city's Master Plan, which sets out the development of Bangalore up to 2031, is about to be renewed. There is an opportunity to better orient growth around sustainable transport by integrating land use and transport policy to make a more livable city. The innovative path is one that other cities in India have already begun to turn toward.

Developing denser, more walkable cities around transit lines — what experts today call Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) — is not a new concept. "In the pre-automobile age, that's how cities developed," says Robert Cervero, a UC Berkeley professor of city and regional planning. "They were compact and had a mix of land uses that were physically oriented to transit because there was no other way to get around." This is a concept Bangalore could adopt as the focus for the next Master Plan. It's an idea that could benefit both residents and administrative coffers.

While density invites sustainable transport choices, the opposite is also true. The more cities grow outwards, the greater the likelihood that people will use cars rather than public transport. Sending people out might sound like a good idea, especially in India's congested cities, but sprawl makes the situation worse. Bangalore knows this firsthand. The city has been building townships on the outskirts to deal with urban overcrowding but the plan is backfiring. Public transport to these areas is almost non-existent, and building them to reach such far-flung areas is complicated and costly. Good land-use planning can reverse this trend.

As Bangalore embarks on an important planning exercise, it could learn from a neighbor to its north. Ahmedabad, India, known for its low density, has launched the city's 2021 plan, which takes a turn from previous land use patterns. The 2021 plan for the city invites developers to build up instead of out by increasing floor-space-index allowances. Twenty-five-story buildings, unheard of in the city now, could be the norm. "Urban sprawl leads to higher financial burden on infrastructure development and transportation besides reducing agricultural land and increasing stress level," said Neela Munshi, Ahmedabad's senior town planner in an interview this year.

Ahmedabad's new direction shows that calculated decisions to better integrate land use and transportation development are key to reining in Bangalore's car-manic, sprawl-happy culture. Transportation networks are the lifeline to livable cities, and if the city can carefully plan these networks and then incentivize growth along them, perhaps Bangalore can finally return to its reign as the country's Green City.

Photo credit: Kiran Jonnalagadda

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