Mixed land use: Chaos or harmony?

Notwithstanding a strong tradition of mixed land use patterns, Master Plans for Indian cities have largely adopted systems of zoning, rather than mixing, of land uses. They have tended to neatly separate city functions (while trying to maintain essential relationships) in view of the changed nature of land uses in post-industrial and automobile-driven societies that work very differently from the way in which traditional mixed-use settlements functioned. But mixing of land uses has continued, as has the debate over its virtues and vices. Those in favour tend to overplay, besides the romance of the ‘traditional’ city, the ‘performance dimension’ of mixed use patterns – the convenience, vibrancy and responsiveness of the shop around the corner, the expedience – and for women, elderly, disabled often the exigency – of workplace at home, the affordability advantage arising from transport savings as well as typically high cost of options in areas planned for establishments, etc. Those against it tend to underscore the ‘nuisance dimension’ – annoyance (visual clutter, congestion, noise), hindrance (circulation impediments due to encroachments and parked vehicles), stress (on water, electricity, parking, etc, besides market distortions), risks (safety implications of increased ‘outsider’ use, traffic risks especially for pedestrians and cyclists, hazards of polluting or fire prone or structurally damaging uses), etc. The former argue for ‘pro-poor’, ‘pro-people’ and ‘humane’ blanket regularisation and the latter seek, in the name of ‘quality of life’ and ‘no-profiteering’, blanket removal. However, it is clear that mixed use patterns do serve felt needs and so have a performance worth that blanket removal misses, while haphazard mixing makes for unacceptable nuisance that blanket regularisation only legitimises. What is needed is obviously a middle ground where performance and nuisance are optimised.

2001-12-09: Commercial homes? The Sunday Pioneer – Debate

The statutory Master Plan for Delhi arguably provides a framework for working towards establishing precisely such a middle ground. The combination of its premises of permissive zoning and hierarchical planning offer a basis for integrating land uses in ways that ameliorate nuisance while ensuring performance at least to the extent of, say, optimal distances from residence. Work areas, shopping, etc, are envisaged in a hierarchical manner to cater to residential communities planned in terms of a population-size hierarchy. Thus convenient shopping, primary schools, etc, are envisaged in small residential areas, intermediate facilities at larger neighborhood levels, zonal and city-serving functions at higher levels. In addition there are explicit provisions for certain types of industries in housing and commercial areas and for integrating informal trade in planned areas of all types. The extent, nature and manner of mixing of non-residential uses in residential areas is spelled out in considerable detail. These provisions, clearly aimed at striking a balance between performance and nuisance, restrict mixing in terms of scale and type to limit nuisance and require spatial assessments and detail designing to enhance performance, etc. The Plan also distinguishes between imperatives for new and existing areas and, among the latter, moderately and heavily mixed situations, proposing special area renewal and redevelopment schemes for the latter.

Statutory provisions for mixed use: Master Plan for Delhi Perspective 2001 Master Plan provisions for mixed use are clearly more robust than the ‘alternatives’ of blanket regularisation or removal. Being statutory they represent, moreover, citizens’ entitlements and inferior ‘alternatives’ are tantamount to shortchanging. Nevertheless, it is the ‘alternatives’ that dominate our public representatives’ routine and recurrent land use discussions and demands. Unfortunately, mainstream urban professionals, especially those in Delhi Development Authority and ‘professional trustee’ institutions have also not done anything or enough to change the drift of this ill-informed discourse. Why, Delhi Development Authority’s presentation titled Vision for the Millenium (made off and on in the context of the on-going Master Plan revision) suggests that mixed land use is only now being considered by planners for the first time!

Posted by Gita Dewan Verma: 2002-09-01, last modified July 20, 2006