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The challenge of getting the redevelopment story right

The challenge of getting the redevelopment story right

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Dr. Niranjan Hiranandani,
Founder & MD Hiranandani Group,
National President NAREDCO.

Regeneration, Revitalization, Renewal – Urban Redevelopment has many synonyms. History, as we know it, suggests that the evolution of concepts is part of human endeavor. So, we keep working to get to ‘good’, which can be upgraded to ‘better’ – and there’s still another higher level, ‘best’. In the Indian scenario, we tend to ‘settle; or ‘create’ an urban conglomeration without planning for the future.             

As the population density in any urban conglomeration grows, services resources and services get stretched. The difficulty quotient keeps growing to the point where there is a need to make necessary changes, to accommodate not just the growth in population density, but also the change in activities in that area. It is not just about redevelopment; usually, we are faced with situations where we need to make paradigm changes, to ensure things get better.          

At times, redevelopment is something as simple as moving on from existing G+4 structures to G+28 structures through the process of demolishing the existing structures, while ensuring the creation of matching infrastructure to support the enhanced population density.

Then, it is also about industrial land usage in a changing business environment, giving way to residential townships – which in the 1990s and 2000s, was the story of Thane. And there is also the model of ‘planned decongestion’ of cities by the creation of new cities in neighboring areas, which in Maharashtra, CIDCO has worked on.  While New Aurangabad is seen as a model that seems to have been successful; Navi Mumbai actually resulted in the creation of a new city independent of Mumbai. Instead of decongesting Mumbai, it resulted in creating a separate, totally new urban conglomeration.             

Re-development in the Indian scenario happens through different models. There is no ‘one common model’ that fits all redevelopment needs; although the required end-results usually are similar. And, it is never something as simple as ‘enhancing capacity’; at times there is a need to shift some categories of activities – and with them, a section of the dense population – away, move it to another location.  An apt example would be the wholesale grain and commodities market in Mumbai’s Masjid Bunder area, which was relocated to the APMC, Vashi in Navi Mumbai towards the end of the 1970s.

How does one define the impact of this example of urban redevelopment? What has been seen over the years is that density of population in the Masjid Bunder area has reduced marginally. In terms of changing the real estate in the area, no major gain has been noted – except that the wholesale commodities market moved to a newer constructed space in Vashi, the stakeholders in commodity trade gained by the move to an alternate location which was roomier and comparatively better in terms of construction and availability of newer facilities.            

Similarly, consider Mumbai’s Dharavi, and redevelopment has been the mantra that has been repeated since some years now. And yet, the actual process keeps stalling; and even as it remains ‘work in progress’, there are differences that keep being voiced; or suggestions and alternatives which could be looked at.               

In my years of creating real estate by following a model of development which is ‘integrated townships’, the process has always started by looking for ways to make the development ‘future proof’; At Hiranandani Gardens, Powai it is over 25 years since the first residents moved in – and we are still creating new towers, creating new social infrastructure as also change in the commercial real estate segment; but the basic concept of the development stands good even today. When we look at urban development done on a commercial basis by the private sector, we find that there is thought that goes into the planning process. In most urban redevelopment projects; we tend to get the feeling that even in the redevelopment planning process, many important issues are either ‘glossed over’ or not given sufficient importance. When it comes to re-doing or re-working an existing urban space into something that is improved and better, the experience so far, across India, has been usually a process where stakeholders tend to have differences of opinion. It is at times, a political ideology which creates the difference in opinions while working on the redevelopment model for any urban conglomeration. In the Indian context, where we have the coexistence of diverse political ideologies; whether an enhanced focus on creating a redevelopment plan that is labor-friendly will work from a business growth perspective is something we keep debating over and over. The aspect of sustainability being the cornerstone of any redevelopment in such a situation is something that either gets missed out on or is defined in diverse ways.           

And, as the issue of a Metro car shed being set up in Mumbai’s Aarey shows, the diversity in opinions seems so far apart that one does not see a common meeting ground where concerns can be addressed and development can move ahead. I do not hold brief for either side, but Aarey is an excellent example of how we Indians are unable to come to common ground on any issue that deals with redevelopment. As our democratic spirit has grown, the conflicting rights of different stakeholders are causes that at times delay – and then, sometimes, cause a planned redevelopment to be scrapped.   

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi first spoke about the ‘100 Smart Cities’ initiative, to my mind, what the concept focused on was a methodology which would improve how residents in existing urban conglomerations could enhance living standards. Effectively, regeneration, revitalization, renewal – in other words, Urban Redevelopment. How successful this will be is something that remains to be seen; although this model does seem to have largely been accepted by stakeholders.   

With the adoption of global best practices in form of new technology and methodology, the aspect of demolishing existing structures as also creating new ones, or ‘redevelopment’, as we would term it, is definitely proving to be a better alternative to citizens continuing to exist in poor conditions in existing urban conglomerations. Here’s hoping that all stakeholders get on ‘the same page’ and ensure proper redevelopment across India.

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