The spread of unauthorized construction in our cities has assumed significant proportions. It is estimated that in Delhi, the population resident in unauthorized colonies is over 4 million.

Five years ago the governments, of the National Capital Territory of Delhi issued ‘provisional regularization’ certificates to 1,639 unauthorized colonies to start the process of redevelopment/renewal to bring them into the urban mainstream. However, the morphology and urban structure of these colonies is different from the ‘greenfield’ planned development guided by the Delhi Master Plan.

A new paradigm is required to address and resolve the complex set of environmental, cultural, and legal issues arising from this ‘spontaneous’ development.

A representative ‘provisionally regularized’ unauthorized colony is Aya Nagar, situated on the southwestern edge of Delhi. The original Aya Nagar settlement was a village populated largely by the indigenous Gujjar community. Over the last three decades the village has grown to become home for migrants from all parts of the country. The population is now over a lakh and a half of people mostly from a low-income background. The settlement is now a microcosm of urbanizing India, and it can serve as a model for understanding the morphology of such ‘spontaneous’ urban developments taking place in most cities of the country.

Our research has revealed that the development methodology should have four main drivers: community action, habitat design, recording the process of work, and raising of resources, both human and financial.

The present study has identified three main components for effective planning and development action. These are: improving physical infrastructure by making a decentralized, in situ, self-sustaining sewerage and drainage provision; by ensuring safety in mobility; evaluating the community’s requirement of social infrastructure and making provision for additional community facilities; making an assessment of the energy requirements and identifying sustainability criteria for the settlement.