Gurgaon: the unplanned/planned city

Since 1991, India has been going through an enormous economic rise. The new middle class, who in the past sought their salvation abroad, are now looking for accommodations in satellite cities with large houses and a public space that has to be clean, intact and safe. Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, is such a place. In ten years time, three to four big developers have created a new world for about 1.5 million people. An extraordinary urban development in which the correct relations between market, government and citizens still have to be found.

Gated communities
Gurgaon is the industrial and financial centre of the state Haryana. After General Electric (GE), a global technology, electronics and services concern, established its call center here in 1997, many other multinational companies, like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Motorola, Ericsson and Nestle followed. Attracted by the newest company buildings and the presence of many young highly-educated Indians and expats who were at the same time settling in the new residential areas.

The Local website describes Gurgaon as follows:
“With access to amenities like private parking, sanitation and common area maintenance, the standards of life is certainly at par with any bustling American or European city. The quality of life in Gurgaon makes it a perfect end point for people looking for an above average life. Facilities like power backup and club areas with gymnasiums and health facilities are increasingly becoming the norm rather than an exception.”
Developers anticipate cleverly on the popular Western consumption culture and the wish to live in a closed district with sufficient space and green areas. The city consists of a great number of different gated communities in which the residents have everything they want. Luxury houses with servants, but also golf courses, spas, restaurants and shopping malls. Children do not have to leave the community to go to their private school either. Everything is within reach. Besides these facilities and the earlier mentioned safety, the presence of electricity is an important motive to settle. Who can pay for it (through the service costs), is connected to the emergency power unit to make sure air conditioners, televisions, refrigerators and computers will always work. A luxury in India.

Just like the complete urban development, the market also plays an important part at the mentioned facilities. They are all privatized facilities: from the security to the garbage collection and the power supply. However, this city that’s ‘planned’ by developers has one important downside. Plans have only been made in a number of areas. This can be explained as follows. The country was led by a number of private parties that – when the market was ripe – started developing at breakneck speed. Not crossed in their plans by a local government, because it simply did not exist. The state government could have intervened, but wasn’t able to handle the pace of the market. So there was little to no cooperation between the developers and the planning departments of governments. The consequence: the development of many incoherent little plans. So despite the presence of beautiful houses and luxurious shops, realized by the market, a good system when it comes to sewage, electricity, water supply, infrastructure and transport is lacking. Because of this, the different gated communities are independent entities in bigger unplanned whole. Small, privatized oases in a big government desert.

This leads to a number of problems. The New York Times (June 8 2011) summarizes it as follows:
“How can a new city become an international economic engine without basic public services? How can a huge country flirt with double-digit growth despite widespread corruption, inefficiency and governmental dysfunction?”
More practical: where can a resident complain if the tap produces polluted water? Who is responsible for the continuous traffic jams? And who maintains the neatly organized public space now the developers have moved to their new projects? The answers must be sought in de democratic triangle of government, market en society. But no one knows yet in what relation.

Partly, you can see that the economic developments also cause new political developments. There is a new local government that is well down, but it is working on the connecting infrastructure with the help of urban planners and urban developers.
Furthermore, there are residents who take control and establish communities to maintain the public space. And residents who enter into the legal fight with the developers and call them to account to accept their responsibility. They simply claim that the developers do not live up to the promises they made in their sale brochures. Besides the many completion defects, the brochures promised that the market parties would take care of the public space and even hospitals.

Despite or thanks to the government?
An interesting dilemma. Thanks to the market and the absence of a strong controlling government, these new, planned communities came into being. With an enormous attraction on many inhabitants and companies. But apparently more is needed to get an unplanned city working. However, the question is who is responsible for this. Should the market also play that connecting role by making an urban development master plan itself and build the necessary infrastructure? Should the privatization go even further? Or remains this a task for the government? Or should the government have other priorities considering the poverty elsewhere in the region? And what is the role in all of this of the wealthy residents? They cannot construct the sewage, but what role can they play in the maintenance of, for example, the public space? Questions that remain unanswered for a large part of Gurgaon.

Who wants to read and see more:
The New York Times (2011) In India, Dynamism Wrestles With Dysfunction
VPRO (2009) Tegenlicht: I am Gurgaon. The new Urban India.
Next American City (2012) Opening the Gates.

Bron foto: Ozonebuiltech