New Delhi: A makeover

Recently the IHT carried an interesting article about New Delhi’s facelift as a city.

This is a capital city in layers, where the remnants of successive pasts live in strange juxtaposition: the aging temples of Hindu antiquity, the domed mosques of Islamic empire, the colonnaded bungalows of the British Raj. It is, as William Dalrymple, a British writer, has called it, “a city disjointed in time, a city whose different ages lay suspended side by side as in aspic.”

In recent times a lot of Indian cities have been grappling with a spate of issues including but not limited to infrastructure, land development, housing shortage, abysmal traffic conditions and an exploding urban population due to migratory trends from rural India.

The IT and BPO revolution, while doing a lot of good for India and its growing middle class, has had to grapple with these very issues that it has inadvertantly help spawn.

New Delhi started off on a plus, in that it was a clean slate till 1911 when Lutyens drew his grandiose plans onto paper and the new capital city of India was born. Few know the fact that Lutyens planned New Delhi on the same design principles that L’enfant used to design Washington DC in the 19th century. But, as my professor of Urban Theory at Pratt; Prof James Rossant once mentioned, New Delhi has succeeded in all the aspects where Washington DC has failed. New Delhi according to him is more pompous, majestic, and grand while Washington DC is kinda there, but just misses the mark. Coming from someone who has designed the capital city of Tanzania, its a lot.

As an urban designer, both cities have fascinated me everytime I have been there. Washington DC definitely has better public spaces. But I feel that it has more to do with the general fact that the city is better kept and spends more money on upkeeping of its facilities.

The article continues

New Delhi is attempting a makeover from smoggy megalopolis to a city to rival Bangalore or Mumbai as a global showcase for a world ever more inquisitive about India. It is a steep, unlikely climb for a national capital that was long the staid company town of the national government, a place reeking of officialdom – a city, as V.S. Naipaul wrote, “built for parades rather than people.”

I don’t agree with this statement and it has to be taken with a certain amount of sarcasm. As much as I am a Bombay lifetimer, there is a lot left to be desired of Bombay as a world class city. All the above inadequacies I pointed out to need to addressed for it to ever be considered one. It of course does not help that it has 400 years of baggage to carry!!

The intentions of the government seem to be idealistic

simulate the atmospherics of a global metropolis even before a middle-income economy arrives, the trappings, says a government report, of a “clean, green, hassle-free, world-class capital city.”

Read the entire article at the International Herald Tribune


  1. Akshay October 13, 2005

    I’ve lived in Bombay all my life and I must admit delhi is a better designed city and has better growth potential bc of this fact that it’s spreads out well.
    Dehli is a city that can grow and expand.
    Bombay on the other hand is a bigger mess, only way I see bombay growing is into a Tokyo or Hong Kong styled metropollis.
    May be India needs more city states, they seem more efficient, to address specific urban needs.

    But we should also be thinking beyond the metro’s the future of India lies in 2nd rung town and cities, they’re growth is going to outdo all others. I stayed in Poona for a while, well in 1990 Pune had about 2 million people it now holds about 6. To be quiet honest Pune infrastructure can’t sustain such a jump. The growth has been so haphazard, it’s scarry.

    The government needs to set down proper city planning measures, which are simply lacking and if they do exist are not implemented for various reasons.

  2. arZan October 13, 2005


    You are correct. Even Bangalore is in the same dilemma. In the mid 80’s Bangalore was not considered one of the big metros. It was then just the 4….Bombay Delhi Calcutta and Madras.

    And many even today feel that Bangalore is just not designed to become a massive metropolis.

    As regards Bombay, archaic laws and legislations need to be changed.

    Supplementing that is the need for a massive infrastructure overhaul. All our supply lines, be it water, waste management, people movement, are at their breaking point. So even if there is a flurry of high towers…as the case looks to be in the Parel Mills area, if infrastructure does not keep up, the city is doomed.

  3. Akshay October 13, 2005

    true bombay’s future will depend greatly on how it handles it’s poor, the segment of the population that crowd it’s slums. We need better rehab schemes that are economically viable and also don’t disregard the rights of the slum dwellers. Bombay has a huge housing shortage and hence very high real estate costs – this needs to be looked at. The government and government agencies owns a large chunk of Bombay’s land, they should open this to thought out developement.
    For example the Bombay port trust is sitting on so much land, it could possibly house millions. Bombay port is any way defunct since the terminals have moved to nava sheva, I don’t see why they don’t make a positive use of the asset they’re sitting on.

  4. Puneet Gupta November 22, 2006

    Hello Sir,
    i Puneet Gupta.I m working in a software company in NCR.A question is always comes in my mind .and that is Which city is bigger in metro city (New Delhi,Mumbai,Calcutta,Chennai).please give me answer on my mail -id
    Thanks & Regards

    Puneet Gupta

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