07 Jan 2018 05:47am IST
Before the advent of motor vehicles, Goan villages and towns grew based on the 5 km per hour infrastructure. That’s the speed with which people would access religious places, market areas, etc.
Before the advent of motor vehicles, Goan villages and towns grew based on the 5 km per hour infrastructure. That’s the speed with which people would access religious places, market areas, etc. A 15-minute journey was comfortable and that’s why most village centres in Goa are 30 mins to 45 mins apart. Today Goa’s infrastructure is designed based on 60 km per hour and even 100 km per hour architecture. If you don’t have access to a vehicle, you won’t be able to keep pace with Goa’s development. Our towns are places designed for vehicles, not for humans. Ironically, humans have to pay a heavy price to reside and move around whereas the vehicle can reside and move anywhere for free. Goa’s Model of Urbanisation is a failure; but before we can fix things, we need to take a closer look at what’s wrong with the model.
Planning and Development Authorities are the Planners of Urban Goa. PDAs were envisaged in order to rapidly develop and urbanise an area which may be a subset of a city or village, or a single area covering parts of multiple villages. This concept was modelled on larger States of the 70s which had large urban centres with rapid population growth.
Unfortunately in Goa, PDAs have become an incompetent bureaucratic plague which has infected our ancestral towns and are now spreading their tentacles of illegal high rise construction, traffic congestion, sewage problems, etc, into neighbouring villages. They infringe on the powers of local bodies. “Planning” has been restricted to “arbitrary” change in land use for a hefty bribe. “Development” is limited to issue of pre and post construction approvals. Then there are PDAs like Margao which run fish markets. The PDAs are filled with draftsmen and civil engineers who have no competency of town planning. None of the PDAs in Goa have qualified Town Planners. No wonder after 44 years of the TCP Act, all the towns are in a mess. Can we accept and tolerate this model for the next 50 years?
Some claim Smart Cities are the solution to Goa’s problem. The Government thinks by making Panjim City “smart”, most of its problems will be solved. Smart Cities are expensive cities to live in. Residents pay a huge premium for maintaining this expensive infrastructure. Rs 6200 crores has been allotted for Panjim. That equivalent to 34 Mopa Airports, or 10 NIT Colleges, or 15 Mandovi Bridges and certainly more than 100 Panjim Market Complexes. If the Government builds infrastructure worth Rs 6200 cr for Panjim and we consider 2% as maintenance cost and the population of Panjim as 50,000, every resident of Panjim would be liable to pay annually Rs 24,800 just for maintaining all these projects. In reality, taxes and fees will go up, new fees and taxes will be levied and Panjim will become a very expensive city, both for its residents and visitors. The premise of Panjim Smart City initiative, that technology and infrastructure alone (without a comprehensive development plan) can make Panjim better, is unfounded, even if it is worth Rs 62,00,00,00,000.
We need to change the mindsets and the way we think of cities, right from planners to councillors to students. We need to learn from cities like Copenhagen which are similar to our towns. In the last 50 years, this city has been continuously improving. During that time, 18 public squares which were parking lots have been made into public squares only for people. They have permanently converted many internal roads to walking and cycling only streets. Copenhagen government surveys and documents life in the city. They realised that they need less motor infrastructure and more people infrastructure to improve quality of life of the citizens and therefore improve the city itself. That is how they have a measuring standard employed for improvement by the city planners and politicians. That’s why how the politicians could boldly convert busy 4 and 6 lane roads into 2 lane streets with the rest of the space for 2 sidewalks, 2 exclusive bicycle lanes, and a substantial median, all to facilitate walking, cycling, crossing the street and sitting in a safe, civilised and beautiful environment. Copenhagen’s vision is to be the best city in the world. Panjim City wants to be a world class city. Which city do you think will succeed in making its vision a reality? And in the mean time, what will happen to other towns in Goa?
In order to create an effective urban development model, we need urgent government reforms to implement better procedures and frameworks. We also need ideas and solutions. This won’t come from overpriced consultants or councillors who go on state-sponsored tours or real estate lobbies. The best solutions to make our towns World Class can come only from its local citizens. We also need expert, open-minded and qualified town planners to prepare and implement these solutions. In the mean time, it is important that we demand that the government create a Comprehensive Development Plan for each PDA town before formulating the land use plan (ODP). Like the citizens of Copenhagen, let’s take our cities and towns back from vehicles and develop it for humans.