Cities bursting at their seams

Cities across India have grown exponentially in the last 50 years. What happens in the next 30 years will determine the global environment and the quality of life. In a nation where 62% of our GDP comes from cities, it’s easy to see why Indians flock towards a small number of urban super cities in search of better employment and a happier life. According to the UN World Urbanisation Prospects Report of 2014, the annual growth in urban Indian population rivals that of other major economies, with a whopping 404 million people estimated to be added to its urban centres between just 2014 and 2050! In 2007-08, 35% of this growth came from migrants from rural India.

However, the bright future these masses aspired for is more often than not denied to them. Our cities are not equipped to handle the strain of so many people utilizing their meagre resources, and inequalities of income and opportunities are rearing their ugly heads. Belonging to the privileged few who have access to the internet and are reading this article, you may very well ask why this is your problem. After all, at a singular level, it doesn’t seem to affect your lifestyle.

However, the reality is that your life is already impacted, and will continue to be so in the future. Think of the water scarcity in your building, or the hefty water charges every summer. Piped water is never distributed for more than a few hours per day, and only to about half the urban population. Leakages, water stealing, unauthorised connections and collection inefficiencies are incredibly large, siphoning away 40-70% of the available water.

Meanwhile, 60% of slums are completely deprived of water supply! Such is the irony of the times we live in. Less than half the sizable slum population in India have access to a basic flush or pit, which means about 35 million people in urban India alone are living alongside unsanitary and potentially dangerous conditions. Little wonder then that the precarious water available to slum dwellers is used and re-used, open sewage abounds, and diseases in the whole city are on the rise.

The truth is that while you may be in the best of apartments, your access to the most fundamental of resources including clean air, fresh water and good health are just as threatened by this urban explosion if not now, then in the near future. The biggest misconception of our times is that the little problems we face in our day-to-day lives can be solved independently and in isolation. As cities become overwhelmed, so do its people, resulting in increasing negativity and stress levels which you can already see all around you. Solutions are, unfortunately, nowhere in sight. Since economic growth is driven by those who have money, the bigger population of have-not’s needs are sidelined commercially. Balanced civic amenities remain a distant dream as they aren’t affordable by those who most need them.

The majority of the time, built forms emerge from the need to satisfy society’s commercial needs, instead of essential social requirements. As of 2011, 7.5 lakh apartments remained unsold across India’s major metros, while 65 million people lived in slums and another 0.9 million were homeless***. 90% of the housing shortage is faced by low-income groups, but there are no affordable housing solutions to meet their needs.

Nor, as it has been outlined, do they have access to the basic resources that could help them lead a healthier, more productive life. At 2getherments, we believe that it is these intangible essential needs of society that are at the heart of design, intent and life itself. Each built form needs to be understood in the larger urban context.

This understanding of urbanisation helped in the way we build our apartments. While we cannot end slum dwelling altogether, we can make a smart start towards living better in the emerging urban context.

We do this by creating local jobs for the people around us. We create eco-friendly alternatives which don’t create massive power-drains. By composting waste and initiating rain water harvesting, we don’t exhaust the limited resources in our over-burdened cities.

Our vertical gardens and rooftop kitchen gardens help improve the quality of air and food available to those around us.

All in all, we’re making a small, but significant step to build houses that are the “right kind” for those in urban India today.

***National Sample Survey Organisation 2005-06 National Family Health Survey Census data.

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