Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Housing - and a certain sadness


If the present statistic is to be believed, as much as 24.1 million dwelling units are required by the year 2012, of these 88.1% are required for the what the governemtn has classified as LIG, EWS and BPL. A minimum of 30 million units are needed by 2020.

The national housing short-fall, only looks to be getting larger.

There was a time, in pre-liberalized India. In the era of the welfare state, when India was the leader, nay a torch bearer in the arena of social housing. It was time when the DDA  housing competitions were setting the bar, and architects of an almost now faded era were giving the throngs of India‚Äôs new urban populace  shelter, that even today are regarded as highly coveted. A time when the Press Enclave Housing Society and Tara Apartments in Delhi alone, were giving new direction to the idea of an group housing.

In the last 30 years, a lot seems to have changed.

The mushrooming of satellite towns, and suburbs, the Spawning of Gurgaon, and the new economy have turned the tables on the notion of housing.

Also the increasing presence of private players, and bye-laws that refuse to acknowledge the needs of less financially fortunate citizens seems to be driving the agenda of most urban housing enterprise.

The chosen model of almost all housing development is the tower block which is high return-low investment friendly but hugely energy intensive. Or in other cases the American sub-urban housing district, where everything requires a car. (Except of course for the very exclusive, but that will scarcely reflect on the overall trend.)

The transferred costs, to end users scarcely ever seem to be part of calculations that are made, either in terms of energy footprints, or in terms of long term implication of ownership. This even before we begin to discuss the nature of the living environments, where all available surface is parking lot, and residents are cooped into holes that go as high as the eye can see.

It is no secret that the masterplan (flawed as it is) and the FAR intense by-laws have a huge hand to play in manner of such development.

I write because as I witness the rise of the Gurgaon model, and its many clones in numerous cities across the subcontinent (Bhutan, Nepal, included) I am at the same time aware of the housing elsewhere, that is accessible, livable, economic, and pleasurable.

I see a huge opportunity wasted, a torch blown out, and millions with no choice but to submit to bad design, high living cost, and the sheer strain of urban living in India.

As an architect, it does bring a certain sense of sadness to see (those possible) arenas where we will live our non-work lives, bring up our children, and inhabit with those we care for and love are lost every day.

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