While our discussions in transational planning hover around several themes relevant to international development, and emerge from development literature and related pop culture-like references, as planners we focus on planning.
This post explores the specific importance of the planning focus. This is done in context to the National Capital Territory (NCT) (New Delhi and surrounding cities) in India just as a case in point.
Some Stats for the NCT
The National Capital Territory (NCT) in India is a city of nearly 16.8 million in an area of 1483 square kilometres. That’s a density nearly thrice that of Columbia, the most populated district in the United States.
Hefty rural-urban migration in the NCT is evident in the 55.6% loss of rural population and simultaneous 26.8% rise in urban population in the 2001-2011 decade alone. It isn’t a stretch then that 45.6% of the city is living in informal settlements and only 31.6% of workers is fully employed. And yet, the (miniscule) recycling arm of the solid waste management sector rests on the shoulders of the informal sector and not a municipal agency.
The city is shrouded in smog and dust, although the interiors of the world’s eighth largest airport terminal belie this fact. That half the city lives in the shadow of modern apartment buildings is but one differentiating factor between residents. Casteism still prevails in pockets, and with the country housing the world’s largest cultural minority of 171 million Muslims, religious differences become evident in the spatial distribution of the populace. Hindi and its associated dialects is the closest to a unifying language, spoken only by 66% of the population, followed by English which is spoken by 19% .
The “centripetal forces” keeping India unified in the face of these differences include its democratic institutions, flexibility in accommodating local and regional changes, education, and leadership. And yet, corruption scandals besiege the city’s foremost planning agency, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), also accused of elitism as discussed by John Friedmann in this 2005 publication on the various cultures of planning.
Simply put, the National Capital Territory of the world’s largest democracy is in chaos. Too many people compete for limited resources that are quickly degrading. The landscape and populace is in constant flux in terms of labour and habitation. For this “cultural mosaic of immense ethnic, religious, linguistic, and economic diversity and contrast” to survive, planning is an absolute must.
Significance of the Scale of Operation in Planning
The role of planning, like any other bureaucratic process or agent, can be legitimized in light of a straightforward Hobbesian argument- of individuals in a society giving up certain ‘freedoms’ for the security that others will not impinge upon their ‘rights’, and that in case that happens there is a machinery in place to return what is rightfully theirs. The role of planners goes a step beyond that with the objective to ensure overall welfare, or “net social welfare” as explained by Terry Moore in this 1978 publication on the economic justification for planning.
The profession operates at a scale that makes it uniquely positioned to be exposed to competing socio-political and economic interests, as well as ecological limits. As just mentioned, the idea is to achieve the goal of collective interest, or distributional equity.
Physically, planning goes beyond the fields of architecture, engineering, and design. It is critical for (1) distinguishing and showing the interrelationship between public and private, and (2) revealing the concepts of space and flows at different scales.
Economically, this equity refers to both public goods and private goods; the latter involves preventing stark disparities in income distribution that can trickle down to living conditions, as discussed in Moore’s 1978 publication and by Richard Foglesong’s 1986 paper on “Planning the Capitalist City”. Planners have a birds-eye view that can help them (1) incorporate market externalities, (2) make the information base uniform across all individuals and groups, and (3) manage transaction costs.
Socially, politically, planners represent the interests of the larger group of people that is comprised of multiple narrow interest groups, and they are thus positioned to (1) view the external effects of the political bargaining of these multiple factions, and (2) give voice to the interests of the weaker factions as discussed by Richard Klosterman in this 1985 publication.
Theoretically then, planning is necessary to maintain distributional equity in terms of goods, services, and opportunities.
And this is particularly relevant to the resource-limited mosaic that is the NCT in India. It is in flux in terms of its landscape, populace, and environment. Satellite cities- like Gurgaon which has grown by 70% in 2001-2011– have been amalgamated into the region, making it the largest urban agglomeration in the country. This rapidly urbanizing region is under increasing pressure due to ecological limitations of growth, and the socio-political implications of severe economic disparities. Planning operates at the right scale to address these equity issues.