How Gurugram Changed From An Aspirational City To A City Mired By Infrastructure Challenges

  • Even though the city was one of the firsts to experience fast-paced growth, it is now facing numerous infrastructure challenges.
  • Ankit SaxenaWednesday, January 4, 2023 8:00 pm IST
    Gurugram and its urban infrastructure woes.
    Gurugram and its urban infrastructure woes.

    Gurugram introduced urban India to the concept of mixed-use centres, high-rise gated complexes, fully-equipped condos, corporate parks, shopping malls with a fresh lens of looking at Indian cities.

    In the process, the city became a hub of IT companies, banking, finance, business centres and industries. The gentrification created avenues for the global skilled workforce to grow, with enticing careers, lifestyle and living conditions.

    It provided a language of aesthetics and placemaking for commerce, shelter and leisure. The new approaches to design, scale, materials appreciated modernism, which was novel in the context of any Indian city’s fabric.

    Undoubtedly, Gurugram became an agglomeration of global commerce and succeeded in serving as an engine of commerce and economic growth for the state of Haryana. It also opened up platforms for the social and economic progress of surrounding regions and populations.

    The city’s trajectory over the last two decades stands as a perfect example to read the diverse post-liberal transitions in urban policies, politics and socio-economic trends, after the 1990s to integrate with the global economy.

    Being one of the firsts to experience such fast-paced growth, the city’s fate was turned to numerous growing challenges of liveability and infrastructure systems. Gurugram’s exceptional character which initially showcased spaciousness and glittery transformations gradually began dwindling by urban issues of congestion, mobility, flooding and failing civic infrastructure.

    The city showed experiences of commuters choked in traffic for hours, abandoned cars on flooded roads, residents negotiating and finding ways for arranging water supply, handling drainage, and other resources for their regular survival within the city.

    Failure Of Urban Systems

    The inefficiency of the basic infrastructure was a consequence of the process of city development. The growth was based on the perceived desires and dedicated interests of state leaders, private developers, real estate giants and global firms.

    This gave rise to an arrangement of bold policies and flexible planning influenced by factors of corruption and politics of spatial arrangements. The actions led to haphazard restructuring which focused on developing individual transects and short-sighted the necessary public infrastructure on a larger city level.

    With a surge in investments, a swarm of private real estate and developers were provided partnerships and private acquisitions, with unaccountable clearances to cater to the market opportunities.

    The city’s expanse continuously increased from the initial concentration around the areas of MG Road, Sushant Lok, DLF phase one to four. It saw uncontrolled sprawl to the various surroundings lands, such as Sohna, which was once a family picnic destination and is now a busy hub of IT and business centres.

    Most of the existing micro settlements were invisibilised by the enormous glass complexes for IT parks, business centres, luxury apartments that defined the identity of modern Gurugram.

    In principle, the development of these contemporary transects comply with the guiding norms and by-laws as stated.

    However, leaving public works to private developers resulted in misplacing priorities for fundamental infrastructure that serves as the backbone in functioning of the city and its inhabitants.

    As a result, in the last two decades, Gurugram has been burdened with issues broadly in,

    · mobility, congestion, insufficiency of mass public transit and last-mile connectivity

    ·  miscalculated civic amenities causing regular flooding and irregular supply of water, and

    ·  liveability issues with housing, social infrastructure and common public spaces,

    that have become a label for Gurugram. A wider description of the existing conditions, the actions and determinants will help understand these challenges ailing the city.

    The City’s Distress

    The city still is mostly burdened with traffic even after having a multilane expressway which runs through as the keystone for connectivity. The connections to internal roads mostly form bottlenecks of congestion, almost regularly during peak hours.

    A significant factor for this chaos is that the road networks were not planned during the foundation of the city. The central expressway and the arterial networks were established and widened corresponding to the growing demand and increasing workforce.

    The untimely construction activities, diversions and blockages also added to disturbing the flow of traffic to greater extents. The expressway serves as the single main entry point to Gurugram and remains swamped by traffic. These are also part of the interstate road network, making the combined motion largely congested.

    The mobility framework and planning of Gurugram conditionally depicts a single mode transit for the dense population, mostly private motor vehicles.

    Adding further to the dependency on private vehicles, public transport yet remains unviable for the majority population. It lacks the availability of buses, connectivity and regulations to create an efficient mass transit system.

    Metro as an addition brought relief for connecting to Delhi, however, brings attention towards well-regulated and equipped last-mile connectivity to support the overall system. People can be seen overloaded in shared autos, shared cabs, and other such mediums for travelling with no regulated structure for use.

    The road networks along with the built-up surfaces of the city also face serious levels of flooding. The existing drainage infrastructure has been failing during heavy rains, to extents of hampering the city functions.

    A particular reason for this comes from looking back at the process of the rapid sprawl and transformation of Aravalli’s forested land and natural terrain into built-up pockets.

    The natural catchment areas and drainage have diminished and the water which used to recede naturally is now dependent on artificial drainage systems.

    The enormous overflow of rainwater leads to accumulation over surfaces and pavements. The surfaces have replaced the natural pervious surface, with materials that do not interact well in absorbing heavy water flow.

    While at the same time, there are growing obstructions to regulated water supply for all residential areas. The supply of water resources has been miscalculated with irregular data. This has created excessive utilisation of existing ground water.

    Moreover, drying up of catchment areas due to unregulated land use change has depleted water levels.

    Apart from the challenges with mobility and civic amenities, the growth vision for the city also brought in certain social and economic inequalities, concerning housing, social infrastructure and public spaces. The features of the city have limited accessibility for certain population.

    The planning and development undermined the diversity of social and economic groups of population that are engaged in the city functions.

    The gentrified Gurugram presented affluent gated complexes equipped with splendid facilities. These also include recreational and social resources confined within such complexes.

    This individuality of spaces limited to gated complexes of apartments, malls, clubhouses, has reduced the attention to create common spaces for recreation and social interactions for holistic public use, equally accessible by all citizens, visitors to the city, and residents.

    For the lower income groups, achieving basic shelter needs and supporting social infrastructure remains a challenge.

    The existing and migrant influx of lower-income groups seems to be left behind with changing times. These groups find themselves in marginal pockets, villages or the peripheries for their shelter needs.

    With no or challenging accessibility to basic living amenities, they face furthermore impacts of the challenges of the city.

    Reorienting The Way Forward

    The imagination for a city, such as Gurugram, overlooked the importance of a balanced proportion of diverse mobility systems, and thus lacks resources for other modes of transit.

    The recently implemented underpasses and others in pipeline will be supporting to smoothen certain busy intersections.

    However, the core infrastructure requires greater escalation to develop opportunities for multiple modes of mobility. This can be done through governance and policy, with design, planning and practice for NMVs, pedestrianisation and safe streets. 

    Active public transport and last-mile connectivity requires tighter hold under the transport authority. The Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus Limited (GMCBL) and Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) are required to regulate the services with improved response, reliability, safety, pricing and pollution checks.

    These actions will reduce dependency on private vehicles. It will help decongest the city mobility and improve accessibility on larger levels to enhance the transport ecosystem of Gurugram.

    With the severe water situation, strict sanctions have come in from the administrations looking at the acute depletion of the groundwater levels, regulating and stopping its use for construction activities.

    The responsible Municipal Corporation for Gurugram (MCG) and GMDA need to prepare a coherent plan for standardising the fundamental infrastructure for drainage and supply to all regions. It should be supported with reliable data on demand and availability of water resources.

    The drainage networks require widening and additional framing to accommodate the storm water, along with increasing capacity of sewage and water treatment plants. A focus on harvesting and circular usage of water resources will additionally support in serving the city’s water demands.

    Further, it is essential for channelling the rainwater corresponding to the natural flow and replenish the resources. 

    The minimised availability of common public squares and spaces within the city is also influenced by the capital-intensive approach of commodifying maximum areas through malls, complexes and clubhouses.

    The focus comes on developing more common spaces to enhance the social landscape of the city. These developments will reduce the class-based social interaction and inequalities that have surfaced due to the current spatial and economic arrangements of recreational facilities.

    A critical assessment of the shelter issues becomes pertinent for improving the housing resources and move towards making the city inclusive to diverse socio-economic populations.

    The lack of resources makes it difficult for regular management of residences, specifically in the EWS (economically weaker section) settlements. It is important to bring in efforts and strategies of housing management to improve residential conditions and easier accessibility to shelter facilities.

    Greater attention should be given by the city’s civic and housing authorities for maintenance of the housing, civic infrastructure and common spaces, also for the lower income settlements. These actions will help improve living quality and the overall fabric of the surroundings and city.

    Reading some of the broader issues of one of India’s aspirational urban spaces can bring out conscious interventions for the imagined futures of emerging urban India.

    As initiatives to address these challenges are still in progress, all has not been lost for the city.

    However, the roadmap for revamping the infrastructure issues yet requires serious assessments, adequate data to recognise the demands with well-coordinated governance, planning and collaborations between the different committees in charge.

    The case of Gurugram illustrates both admiration for the transforming landscape and cultures, while also recognition of challenges for a balanced and sustainable interaction between the evolving economy and urban land transformation.

    It brings in scope to prevent similar pitfalls for the new phases of cities, such as the emerging phase of Golf Link Extension and the upcoming New Gurugram.

    These regions are shaping up with residential and commercial centres and should be mindful through past experiences in tackling the challenges for important urban infrastructure.

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