Urbanisation and Urban Sprawl: A
Perspective On India’s Urban Growth

Indian Urbanisation Story

India’s rapid economic development, especially since the 1990s is intrinsically related to its urbanisation process. The structural changes taking place in the economy and related poverty alleviation are both outcomes and accelerators of this urbanisation. This process has generated positive benefits for India’s gross domestic product and jobs for the young demographic dividend. Today, Indian cities generate two-thirds of India’s GDP, 90% of tax revenues, and the majority of jobs, with just one-third of the country’s population (New Climate Economy, 2014). It is projected that by 2030, while the urban population of India shall grow to 40.76%, the share of GDP contributed by urban areas shall touch approximately 70% (NHB, 2013). However, gaps remain in the overall quality of life for the urban residents.

Presently, Indian cities are home to an estimated 377 million people or 31.16% of the country's total population. While traditionally this urbanisation was oriented towards the large cities, the growth rates in these cities have declined since 1991 and faster growth is now observed in the adjoining districts. 

For example, Greater Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis by population, witnessed an annual growth rate of 0.4%, while Thane, which borders Greater Mumbai to the north grew at 3.1% annually. Similarly, Delhi district witnessed a growth rate of 1.9% annually, while Gurgaon district just to the south, grew at an annual rate of 4.5%. By 2031, while there is an anticipated growth in diverse and widespread large and small urban centres, the 11 megacities in India will continue to dominate the India urban landscape in sheer population numbers.

There is a significant growth in the number of classified towns and urban agglomerations across India. The largest increase is seen in census towns - areas having urban features, but lacking any institutional setup such as a municipal body or cantonment board for governance.

Much of this growth has occurred in sprawl like manner with low density and large spatial footprints. In accordance with the Agglomeration Index, the World Bank in their report, ‘Leveraging Urbanisation in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability’, has estimated that urban sprawl actually accounts for 55.3% of India’s total population, indicating a wide gap between the official census figure of 31%. The report estimates that urban footprints are growing at twice the rate of urban populations, reflected directly in the increasing urban sprawls (Ellis and Roberts, 2016).

A distinguishing factor in Indian cities is the spatial continuum and agglomeration of low density centers. India now has 37 multi city urban agglomerations; the most striking being the Delhi-Lahore agglomeration - one continuously lit belt with an estimated population of 73 million (Elllis and Roberts, 2016).

Challenges Facing Indian Cities

Undoubtedly, the overall urbanisation process has generated positive externalities for India’s development with increased access to physical, economic and social infrastructure. However the pattern of urban growth (low density sprawl continuum across mega regions) has also produced negative outcomes; all Indian cities are facing a severe shortage of water supply, sewerage network, affordable housing, affordable transportation and other facilities.

The Indian cities are experiencing an unending spiral of habitats developing on peri-urban areas that lack infrastructure, yet are home to populations that cannot afford housing in the cities and commute to jobs within core cities using unsustainable commuting modes.

The poor quality or complete lack of urban services is leading to a rapid deterioration of quality of living within Indian cities. The additional emerging challenges for the Indian cities are their increasing vulnerabilities to climate change and the lack of institutional capacities to manage urban areas.

Affordable Housing

Similar to other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, Indian cities attract people from rural areas that are unable to offer unskilled/semi-skilled migrants a minimum opportunity of livelihoods. This segment of people settle in: a) un-authorised residential areas, which are cheap, even though they lack civic amenities; or b) slums and squatter areas of cities. The existing housing shortage within Indian cities due to the mismatch between the demand and the supply is thus exacerbated.

A total of 108,227 slums blocks are reported from 2,543 cities (63%) out of the total 4,041 statutory towns (Chandramouli, 2011). The severity of the problem is clear - about 90% of the estimated urban housing shortage of 18.7 million units lies within the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG).

In addition to slums, a number of housing clusters have mushroomed in and around various metropolitan centres in haphazard and unplanned manner, without a proper layout and devoid of service lines and other essential facilities. Due to lack of options, these unauthorised developments naturally develop on land parcels belonging to Government bodies, public/ private institutions or areas meant to be green belts.

Air Pollution

Indian cities continue to face the challenge of pollution. Common causes of air pollution in Indian cities include combustion of fossil fuels used in transportation (diesel-fuelled vehicles), power generation and industrial sector; construction activities; open pits dug in cities to lay infrastructure; extreme heat and dry conditions in summers; and poor waste management.

Box 1: Sources of Key Air Pollutants

Particulate matter (PM) is a general indicator of pollution, receiving key contributions from fossil fuel burning, industrial processes and vehicular exhaust; SO2 emissions, on the other hand, are predominantly a by-product of thermal power generation. Globally, 80% of SO2 emissions in 1990 were attributable to fossil fuel use. NO2 is viewed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as an indicator of vehicular pollution, though it is produced in almost all combustion reactions. (Source: CPCB)

WHO focuses on four health-related air pollutants, namely, particulate matter (PM), measured as particles with an aerodynamic diameter lesser than 10 μm (PM10) and lesser than 2.5 μm (PM2.5), NO2, SO2 and O3.

Recently, Indian cities have been ranked among the most polluted cities for air quality. As per World Health Organization (WHO) rankings released in May 2016, four out of top 10 cities with worst air pollution levels are from India – Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna and Raipur (Reuters, 2016). Another six cities are listed between 11th to 20th spots. The WHO has also categorised air pollution as the sixth biggest cause of deaths in India, triggering an alarm with studies showing that breathing ailments are on the rise in Indian cities. As per Hindustan Times news article dated 4th June 2016, the report – the Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database – showed India’s upcoming towns and cities were grappling with toxic air, possibly because of limited government intervention and increasing vehicular congestion.

India’s pollution watchdog data for the last 15 years show that escalating air pollution in smaller cities such as Gwalior, Allahabad, Kanpur, Jodhpur, Ludhiana and Bhopal has outpaced that in big metro cities. A recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that outdoor air pollution in the country is contributing to more than half a million premature deaths each year at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars (Ghude, 2016).

Box 2: Measuring Air Pollution in India

India launched the National Air Quality Index (AQI) in April 2015, for monitoring the quality of air in 10 major urban centers across the country on a real-time basis and enhancing public awareness for taking mitigating action. The index considers eight pollutants - PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3 and Pb.

As part of the endeavour, the Union Environment Ministry proposed to extend the measurement of air quality to 22 state capitals and 44 other cities with a population exceeding one million.

Climate Change

Indian cities are increasingly exposed to climate change threats every year; these manifest in heat waves, increased rainfall and flooding that alternate with periods of water shortage and drought. It is established that anthropogenic activities play a significant role in changing the chemistry of atmosphere. The proportion of greenhouse gases has gone up and subsequently altered the climate regimes and extreme weather events globally. Climate change manifests in a variety of ways with both direct and indirect impacts. For example, heat waves have a direct impact on comfort level and health and indirectly result in increase in demand for water and electricity.

The occurrences of heat waves, both in terms of frequency and intensity are increasing in Indian cities particularly in the last two decades. This observation is also reflected in the IMD summary reports published between 2005 and 2015. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha have had heat waves eight times while Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have suffered between four to six times in the 10 year period. Moreover, the impact of Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, which raises both minimum and maximum temperatures in a city, is becoming more pronounced. A TERI research study shows an increase of 2 - 3 degrees centigrade variation in both temperatures during the last 15 years in Indian cities. The same study also indicates a 5 to 7 degree centigrade temperature difference between cities and their surrounding rural areas on summer nights.

Similarly, extreme rainfall events in India continue to deluge cities, cause unprecedented damage to property and claim precious lives. For example, Mumbai was flooded in 2005 due to an extreme rainfall event, when 944 mm of rain poured over the city in a 24 hour period. Other examples of extreme rainfall and subsequent floods have been seen in Uttarakhand (2013), Srinagar (2014) and Chennai (2015).

The impacts of climate change are particularly harsh for the vulnerable groups such as the poor, disabled, elderly, and children. For India, which is yet to fully come out of the vicious circle of poverty, the opportunity to choose a sustainable development path that can lower the greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the extreme climate variations is big.

India accounts for 6.5% of total CO2 emissions of 35669108 kT in 2013, behind China (29.5%), US (14.9%) and European Union (9.5%) (EDGAR). As per a government estimate (INCCA, 2010), gross GHG emissions in 2007 were 1904.73 million tons and net emissions were 1727.70 million tons (after deducting 177.03 million tons of emissions through land-use Change and Forestry activities). It can be seen that the dominant source of GHG emissions is from either the urban sector activities - electricity, transport, residential; or urban industries - cement, iron and steel etc.

Energy Consumption

There is a strong two-way relationship between economic development and energy consumption. Energy, regardless of the source, is a primary need for development. City-related production, mobility and transport patterns, deployment of urban infrastructure and private household consumption all lead to a substantial increase in urban energy demand (Sunak, 2010). While it is true that these activities lead to increased economic prosperity required for fuelling urbanisation, a sprawl-based growth also directly impacts energy consumption negatively. A study of 50 cities worldwide estimates that almost 60% of growth in expected energy consumption is directly related to urban sprawl, surpassing the impact of GDP and population growth.

In the case of New Delhi as per the Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-15, while the per capita income level of the state increased by nearly 13.5%, power consumption increased by 3.63%, and the peak demand increased from 3,626 MW in 2005-06 to 5,925 MW in 2014-15 (The Economic Times, 2015). The State of Environment report for Delhi states that 98% of the power demand generated in the state are by domestic and commercial users.

Lack of Governance and Poor Quality of Infrastructure

Good social and physical infrastructure facilities are crucial for economic growth, human development and poverty reduction. The expansion of city infrastructure in Indian is primarily in the domain of the municipal corporations and the development authorities. This devolution of powers in India has been enabled by the 73rd (rural Panchayati Raj) and the 74th (urban) Constitutional Amendments. Both these amendments define the broad set of functions and services to be delivered and the set of reforms to be implemented by the governing bodies.

The interesting part of the urban governance story is the increase of 2532 census towns and 242 statutory towns from 2001 census (Table 1). The new additions, especially census towns do not have an established urban governance institution such as an urban local body and are probably still governed by the 73rd Amendment. Some estimates note that only 26% of India’s population is governed by ULBs (Kapoor.M, 2016). In absence of this transition, the infrastructure planning and augmentation needed for urban services is neglected and consequently there is additional stress on the current infrastructure. Even in cities with an urban governance structure, the delivery is affected by fragmented institutional setup (AMRUT Apex Committee, 2015-16). The Indian government has been aggressively trying to upgrade the municipal services in the cities through the various missions. The previous JnNURM (2006-2014) and the current AMRUT (2015-2020) mission have supported efforts to upgrade the infrastructure services to reach an optimum benchmark level set by the MoUD.

An assessment of the Service Level Benchmarks (SLB) data for the year 2010-11 for 35 cities with population ranging from 1 lakh to 1 Crore in the JnNURM mission indicates a significant gap in the service delivery. Figure 2 illustrates the median values for various SLB Indicators for water supply, sewerage network and solid waste management. The indicators for each of the three are listed with their ‘benchmark’ or standard value under column titled ‘SLB’ and the most commonly found status of the services in the 35 cities is listed under the column titled ‘Median’. According to the data, most of these cities only have 66% coverage of water supply and 38% coverage of sewerage network. This trend is seen again in the newer data from AMRUT Apex Committee Panel of 2015-16. It notes that 60% of the Indian cities performing better in provision of water supply services as compared to connection to sewerage network. It also notes that almost 20-25% of Indian cities have more than 80% coverage of sewerage network, but they too lack efficient collection and treatment.

Box 3: Unequal Cost of Infrastructure

The High Powered Expert Committee report on Infrastructure 2011 notes that smaller cities suffer from higher per capita investment costs than larger cities. The per capita investment cost for water (production + distribution) is higher in Class IV cities (Rs. 5901) than Class I cities (Rs. 3517). The same is observed for other services such as sewerage (network + treatment) where the per capita investment costs for Class IV cities is twice that for Class I cities.

The size of cities is therefore understandably correlated with higher costs of distribution and is an additional challenge in the Indian urbanisation scenario that is showing trends of low-density outgrowths.


The rural to urban migration in India is showing increasing flows to the peripheries of large and small cities. In both cases, the areas are devoid of basic services and virtually untouched by norms of formal urban governance. The lack of affordable housing within the formal city area forces the existing economically weaker sections of the populations and the new migrants to settle on urban fringes with no transportation linkages (amongst other infrastructure) to the job centres. Even slum rehabilitation programmes have, until now, resettled the urban squatter settlements on the urban fringe thereby continuing to consume land and increasing the spatial footprint of the city. An example of this spatial expansion is the development of Delhi as a border-less city. Delhi’s urban continuum comprising a number of rapidly growing towns in Haryana and UP (GNCT, 2010) is coupled with increase in private vehicular fleet has given it the dubious distinction of being the “world’s most polluted city” (World Bank, 2015).

Low institutional capacities and fractured mandates prevent operationalisation of infrastructure and efficient service delivery. The current growth pattern of low density and spatially segregated urban areas or ‘sprawl’ is, unsustainable. The challenges of providing affordable housing and ensuring resource efficiency and sustainability have to be included within any progressive approaches of integrating land-use and transportation.

The subsequent sections will discuss the two primary factors; suburbanisation and transportation that drive this sprawl and their unique context to Indian cities.



The traditional evolution of transportation focused on mobility - allowing people to travel and accessibility - allowing people to reach places that were unreachable before. This dual focus and the evolution of different transportation modes enabled cities to grow economically and spatially. This section will look at the evolution of transportation modes and integration of transportation and land-use globally and in India. Given the suburbanisation trends in global and Indian cities, there is the immediate need to coordinate public transport and housing in order to manage the city growth. The transportation profiles of Indian and global cities explored in this section will set the context for Transit Oriented Development discourse in the sections ahead.

Urban Spatial Structure and Transportation

The relationship between urban spatial structure and the transportation network within an urban area can drive or hinder the economic productivity and quality of life of the city. Undoubtedly urbanisation has allowed economic mobility for citizens due to agglomeration of jobs, technology, healthcare, education and information. These agglomeration benefits account for 80% of South Asia’s GDP (World Bank, 2016). The geographical footprint where these are distributed and the ease with which these are accessed determine the overall productivity of the city. Indian cities are no different; the more economically productive cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Ahmedabad also offer more mobility choices to their residents.

The advancement of transport technology and the declining costs of personal automobile relative to incomes have allowed cities to de-densify and expand horizontally. This pattern of a sprawling urban continuum has various costs associated with it; costs that Indian cities of all scales are struggling to cope up with. 

Transportation Trends in India

The reliance on private vehicle ownership for mobility is increasing rapidly in Indian cities due to a variety of factors. This growth reflects the trends in growing urbanisation, increasing incomes, suburban expansion and inadequate public transportation.

  • The Indian vehicle population that stood at approximately 60 million at the beginning of the millennium has doubled to 120 million vehicles by 2009 (IIHS, 2011). The majority of this growth has occurred in the ownership of two-wheelers (84 per thousand in 2012) followed by cars/jeeps (13 per thousand in 2012).
  • The combination of public transport and non-motorised transport (bicycle and walk) exceeds more than half the total trips made in India. While cars and two wheelers constitute about 80% of vehicles on Indian roads, they account for only 29% of total trips reflecting an inequitable road space share (IIHS, 2011). The growth in private vehicle ownership is an important factor leading to decline in the share of public transport in Indian cities.
  • The car ownership trends are predicted to grow in a range of 30 million (ADB, 2006) and 47 million (Ghate and Sundar, 2013) by 2025. Second tier cities in India such as Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mysore, Rajkot etc. are seeing a rise in two-wheeler ownership exceeding other Asian cities (EMBARQ India and Shakti Foundation, 2012). This might increase the rate of decline in public transport ridership, especially if the quality of the public transportation services are not improved.

Thrice the length of roads per 10,000 population was constructed in cities with population less than 50,000 than in cities with population more than 4 million. Cities with a population between 50,000 and 1 million continue to build roads at exceedingly higher rates than bigger metros.

Globally, there were two major divergent adoption models of transportation - one driven by personal cars and highway construction as seen in North America and one driven by railway networks as seen in Western Europe and East Asia. Indian cities have until now, traversed the path taken by North American cities.

Indian cities risk a downward spiral of declining investments in public transportation, resulting in declining quality of services and declining ridership and so on. Globally this trend is beginning to reverse after three-four decades of unsustainable investments; Indian cities can avoid this trap.

America and Germany adopted the automobile and highway culture during hte period post World War I and World War II. Both these countries leveraged the assembly line car production technology, the increasing incomes and the vast hinterlands to disperse housing and businesses to the suburban fringes. Germany, driven by war time needs was advancing along the same path as the United States but at a much faster pace of building 4000 miles of Autobahnen (Hall, 2014) complete with interchanges and grade separations, similar to those being built in India now.

In America, these investments collided directly with the investments in the railroad systems and caused a precipitous decline in the public transit ridership (dropped by 70% in the US) by the end of the 1960s and 1970s (Jones, 2008). But by late 1970s, urban activists in the United States and Europe had started to protest against massive highway construction. The revolts in San Francisco, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, etc. combined with the Arab Oil Crises provided the impetus needed to reform laws in the US such as the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964, the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970s and the most important, the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Despite the highway construction budget outstripping transit funding there, the United States, since the 1990s, has earmarked separate funds for the Mass Transit Account (Gillham, 2002). By the 1980s, over forty major American cities had committed to rail transit systems.

But for all the opposition to highway construction and increased visibility to public transit since the 1980s, the rate of automobile ownership and its use for daily commuting has been increasing globally and is difficult to reverse the "laissez-faire" (business as usual) scenario.

A different model built on railway and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) expansion has been successfully demonstrated in Europe and East Asia. Indian cities will do well to learn from these cities.

In the same period that automobile ownership increased in America, other parts of the world responded to the challenge of mobility in a different manner. Stockholm was one of such cities. The General Plan of 1945 (Hall, 2014) proposed a radial subway system along with highway investments; a proactive land acquisition policy; and social investments in high-density housing around nodes connected to central Stockholm by subway trains. These nodes were replicated at several locations such as Vallingby, Skarholmen, Farsta, Tensta-Rinkeby etc. High-density housing, especially for the weaker sections was provided around these nodes (Hall, 2014). Paris, until the mid-1960s, also was struggling to cope with the increased metropolitan growth and automobile travel. In 1965 "Paris Schema Directeur" envisaged growth of nine new towns, connected to Paris by rail transit along with the highway. Paris also adopted the Stockholm model by linking eight new towns on an express transit system called the Regional Express Rail (RER).

The early harbingers of today’s regional Transit Oriented Development was seen in Stockholm in the 1940s and Paris in the 1960s.

East Asian cities (or High Income Asia in Figure 4), including modern Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong have distinctly invested in high-quality public transportation networks with densities that lead naturally to heavy demand for public transportation. These cities are high-density walking and transit cities with significantly lesser levels of car use compared to the US and Australian cities (Newman and Kenworthy, 2000). Despite high income levels, Hong Kong and Singapore have high public transit modal shares of 90% and 63% respectively (Federal Transit Administration, 2010). Curitiba in Brazil (see case study) and Chinese cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou have shown the effectiveness of modern high capacity BRT systems in influencing public acceptance towards public transportation. Other countries such as Denmark, Norway and Netherlands promoted non-motorised modes (bicycling and walking) as important modes for short trips and as feeder modes to public transit modes.

National policies in India have begun to recognise the need for sustainable mobility. Yet the adoption by the states and cities has been slow and needs to be scaled up.

Understanding the need to manage this growth in private vehicle (two and four wheelers) ownership, Government of India in 2006 formulated the National Urban Transport Policy that prioritised use of public transport and non-motorised modes and advocated integration of land-use and transportation to minimise travel distance. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) allocated approx 11% ($2 billion) of the mission budget ($20 billion) to urban transportation. Approximately 138 projects were undertaken with 33% of the funding being allocated to Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) and about 57% allocated to road/highway construction (EMBARQ and Shakti Foundation, 2010). Cities such as Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad have implemented Metro rail systems (up to 30,000 pphd passengers per hour per direction) with the funding from JnNURM. In addition, 9 cities (Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat, Bhopal, Indore, Pune/Pimpri Chinchwad, Vijaywada, Vishakhapatnam and Jaipur) (Centre for Urban Equity, 2013) have carried out/started construction of BRTS, with capacities up to 15,000 pphd. But, very low allocation (Centre for Urban Equity, 2013) (about 4%) to other projects besides parking, road construction and MRTS has led to exclusion of pedestrian and bicycle users, who constitute 40% of total mode split in India.



Urban spatial structures is an outcome of economic and social forces, infrastructural investments and local housing and transportation policies. The high-rise intense urban spatial structure of Hong Kong and low density sprawled urban form of Los Angeles, are specific outcomes of the cities' evolution shaped by these forces. Yet the underlying theme remains same in both these cities; they expand to accommodate the needs of housing, businesses and jobs. This section looks at suburbanisation trends and also at the phenomenon of "sprawl"- the rate of land expansion exceeding the rate of population growth. A historical understanding of the evolution of various urban spatial structures (monocentric, polycentric or hybrid) demonstrates that urban expansion is inevitable but the negative externalities of increasing commute times and automobile usage can be mitigated using the combination of transportation and densification.

Expansion Pattern of Cities

The other side of the land-use-transportation coin or the '"chicken" to the proverbial transportation "egg" is suburbanisation or the expansion pattern. Suburbanisation is the primary trend driving land-use globally and in India. Yet there are distinctions to be made in the Indian context. As cities expand to accommodate increasing population, due to rising household incomes and automobile usage, the spatial structure of traditional dense monocentric cities tends to evolve into a polycentric model with independent/semi-dependent job and residential towns and satellite cities.

Globally, the evidence on the ground indicates an increasing trend towards decentralised urban growth (Angel, Sheppard and Civco, 2005). So while urban population in cities in developing countries is estimated to double from 2 billion in 2000 to 4 billion in 2030, the urban footprint of these cities will triple from the current 200,000 to 600,000 during the same period, indicating an annual declining rate of density of 1.7% (densities declining from about 10,000 persons/ to 6700 persons/ This rate of decline is higher in cities in industrialised nations at about 2.2% per year. As a consequence, while cities now occupy about 3% of world’s total arable land in 2000, they could increase their spatial footprint of land consumption to about 5-7% by 2030 (Angel, Sheppard and Civco, 2005).

Cities respond in different ways to match the demands of housing and public infrastructure in their spatial footprint. While urban expansion (or suburbanisation) is inevitable, sprawl - the unmanaged spatial growth of cities is not. The sprawl landscape is generally characterised by the following dimensions (Ewing, Pendall and Chen) : a population widely dispersed in low density development; rigidly separated homes, shops, and workplaces; a network of roads marked by huge blocks and poor access; and a lack of well-defined, thriving activity centres, such as downtowns and town centres.

Indian cities have undergone a spatial expansion facilitated by the construction of highway networks, both radial and orbital.

Radial highways facilitate the expansion of the urban area and its inevitable transformation into a metropolitan structure where households live close to the highways for access to jobs in the central city. When another radial highway is built, households congregate along that new radii and commute to work. But there are distinctions to be made about the Indian process. As noted earlier in the analysis of JnNURM expenditures for transport, constructing highways have been the dominant form of transportation linkages until now. Many Indian cities such as New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Nagpur exhibit this radial structure connecting the main city core to its suburbs and distant outgrowth. Global cities too show this structure but the difference lies in the presence of growth management policies formulated to manage this expansion. London had a Metropolitan Green Belt Act 1938 to control the urban expansion through the designation of natural green belts as protected. The 1947 Copenhagen finger plan mandated the city to develop along suburban commuter rail corridors extending like fingers from the dense central Copenhagen while restricting the wedges between the fingers for agriculture and recreation. 

Box 4: Copenhagen

Much of the urban form of Copenhagen is due to its famous 1947 regional finger plan, which requires new growth areas to be sited along the transit lines, with large wedges of green space preserved between the growth fingers.

The results of urban expansion in India has produced different results for large and small cities. The pattern is not uniform and in fact quite fractured.

The New Climate Economy (The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, 2014) report notes that the fastest growth is occurring in cities of population 1 to 5 million followed by cities of population 5 to 10 million. The growth has occurred mainly in the urban areas on the periphery of the existing big cities. World Bank estimates that suburbanisation patterns in India reflect the international trends; the main difference being in the levels of per capita GDP (gross domestic product) at which the they are occurring. India is experiencing suburbanisation at a far lower per capita GDP (Vishwanath, et al., 2013).

 • The top 10 cities of India are home to 8% of India’s population, which produce 15% of total economic output yet occupy an urban land footprint of only 0.1% (IIHS, 2012). This indicates very dense urban structures and presents a huge opportunity for public transportation investments within the cities.

 • India’s largest cities show low-density sprawl with the percentage of built-up area outside the administrative boundaries of the ULB (Urban Legal Body) exceeding the percentage of population outside. The built-up area has been growing faster than the population for the last two decades (1990-2010) in most of India’s largest cities (IIHS, 2011).

 • The drop in built-up densities from core to peripheral areas in the top 100 cities is greater compared to the rate in the top 10 (or million plus) cities. Therefore overall sprawl is occurring in all Indian cities (IIHS, 2012).

The Indian suburbanisation process is driving the transformation of large Indian cities into metropolitan structures. This is distinct from the developed economies where suburban communities flourished, guided by low-density zoning regulations.

    • The suburbs and the peripheral areas in Indian cities are gaining job shares in manufacturing at the expense of the metropolitan core areas. The largest seven metropolitan cores (defined as areas within 10 km of the city centre) lost manufacturing jobs by 16% between 1998 and 2005 while the employment grew in the suburbs and immediate peripheries at twice the national average. High tech and export manufacturing saw the biggest shifts, about 60% (World Bank, 2013).
    • The urban agglomerations now expand to metropolitan levels as the originally planned new towns evolved into self-sufficient cities with jobs, housing and amenities. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region (population about 18 million) and National Capital Region in Delhi (population about 25 million) are examples of urban agglomerations resembling Seoul, New York etc. in their spatial extents. The new towns continue to drive the growth of population and jobs in metropolitan regions. The highest increase was seen in new towns that are less than 50 km (World Bank, 2013) away from the core city. In fact, one-third of India’s new towns have sprung within this distance from existing cities containing a population of more than 1 million (World Bank, 2013). 
    • Due to this, Indian cities increasingly exhibit the polycentric urban structure internally within the city limits (Greater Mumbai has Bandra Kurla Complex, Fort area and the Andheri-Seepz economic zone as multiple nodes of employment) and externally within the metropolitan region such as Mumbai Metropolitan Region (Mumbai-Navi Mumbai-Thane-Kalyan/Dombivali-Mira/Bhayander-Bhiwandi-Vasai/Virar) and National Capital Region (Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida-Faridabad-Ghaziabad-Sonepat-Bhiwani- Narnaul).

Based on India’s recent urbanisation history, the future holds the possibility of continuous growth of new towns and Tier II cities. Reliance on personal two wheelers and four wheelers for achieving better mobility, similar to the US, have already begun a vicious cycle in India and produced a spatial structure that consists of new towns within the metropolitan region, diffused jobs and high commute times. The externalities of this diffused growth pattern at peri-urban boundaries (or sprawl) are primarily social and environmental costs. The New Climate Economy report (The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, 2014) has measured these costs and notes:

    • One standard deviation from the length of average commute entails a welfare loss equivalent to 5% decrease in income.
    • 15 out of the 30 cities in the world with the worst ambient PM2.5 pollution levels are in India. Besides being the most polluted city in the world, Delhi ranks the worst in PM2.5 levels, about 10 times the WHO suggested standard of 15 ug/m3. Dehradun the last Indian city on this worst 30 list still records PM2.5 level at five times the WHO standard.
    • India’s PM2.5 levels are exceptionally high compared to countries such as Indonesia and Philippines with similar levels of per capita incomes. 
    • India features in the upper quintile of countries for deaths per 100,000 population from ambient particulate matter pollution; this is due to the pattern of urbanisation rather than the rate of urbanisation.

Box 5: New Town Development Model in East Asia

The design and building of new satellite towns and cities have also dominated decongestion and urban management policies in Asia. Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong (now part of China) have also adopted the polycentric new towns model to accommodate the burgeoning urban population.

      • Seoul’s first satellite town was established in Sungnam, approximately 25 kilometers away from the city of Seoul (Yeung Yue-Man, 1986). This trend continued with proposed establishments of 10 satellite towns within a radius of 30 km from Seoul in the 1971 guidelines for Seoul capital region accompanied by a greenbelt policy. To offset the rising housing costs because of the greenbelt policy, five new towns were built outside the outer edge of Seoul’s greenbelts in the 1980s (Suzuki, Cervero and Iuchi 2013). The three decades leading up to the 21st century saw 26 new towns built in the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area (Suzuki, Cervero and Iuchi 2013). But rising congestion in early 2000's saw rapid investments in subway expansion and bus rapid transit (BRT).
      • Singapore which now has about 22 new towns, first introduced the new town planning concept in 1952 through the planning and building of Queenstown by the Housing and Development Board. Public housing was the focus area of the new town developments. Tampines New Town, one such example is home to 200,000 people with a population density of 47,000 people/ won the World Habitat Award for Excellence in Housing Design from United Nations (Shichun Ni and Xing Qi Ang, 2008). Singapore has pursued a policy of high automobile ownership license fees and usage costs to discourage automobile usage and encourage the use of its highly efficient metro and bus transit systems.
      • The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s development pattern was the involvement of rail agencies in property development known as “R+P” model (Cervero and Murakami, 2008). Hong Kong, since 1950's pursued vigorously the development of new towns to accommodate the burgeoning population growth (it grew 58% between 1961 and 1981) (Hills and Yeh, 1983). By the early 1980's about 20% of the population (1 million) lived in the new towns (Hills and Yeh, 1983). The New Territories Development Department (NTDD) was established in 1973 to further accelerate the New Town Development Programme; since then 9 new towns e.g. Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin have been developed. These 9 new towns now house about 50% of Hong Kong’s population (3.5 million) (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, 2013).
The East Asian cities have focused on integrating high densities in new towns, high costs of vehicle ownership and high quality transportation networks to evolve an urban form that is polycentric and offers within these towns, a quality of life, normally associated with the core central city.

This adoption of New Town Development resembled the earlier Copenhagen and Paris experiments and are now accepted as the early trendsetters for land-use - transportation integration, one sustainable form of which is Transit Oriented Development.

It is evident from the facts presented before, that suburbanisation at the peri-urban boundaries of existing mega cities and growth of second-tier towns and cities will be the dominant form of urbanisation in India unless intervened. Secondly, as incomes and aspirations grow and with the absence of public transportation options in these growth areas, car and two-wheeler ownership and their usage for mobility will continue to increase. Increasing private automobile usage trends have and will continue to produce negative externalities, such as deteriorating air quality and increasing congestion and productivity losses, if no actions are taken to prevent it.