April 2016 News

Srinagar : An Unliveable Urban Sprawl In The Next 10 Years?

30 April 2016
Kashmir Observer


Srinagar: Srinagar city will be an unliveable urban space or even sprawl in the next decade. With the increase in population growth and demographic issues related to this, and land to people ratio, there will be ever increasing stress on Srinagar city. There is a limit or perhaps even a natural limit to the absorptive capacity of a city; Srinagar is no exception. Given rate of growth of urban settlement(s) in Kashmir, broadly speaking, Srinagar city will be a huge and massive urban sprawl in a decadal time frame. The Wikipedia defines an urban sprawl as the expansion of human population away from central urban areas into low density, mono functional car dependent communities (https:-en.wikipedia.org-wiki-Urban_sprawl). This is precisely and exactly what is happening in Kashmir. There is a wild expansion of urban centres which is , by and large unplanned. If this trend continuues, then , at the risk of repetition, Srinagar will be a massive urban sprawl in a few years time. Urbanization, generally speaking, is a natural concomitant to modernization and usually involves the concentration of humans at higher population densities, a shift from rural to urban areas and an occupation shift from farmwork to non agricultural work. It therefore also involves the conversion of land from agricultural to non agricultural use. From a strict definitional sense, 'urbanization is the increase in the proportion of urban population to the total population'. Urbanization , in many sense of the term, is irreversible but what is not inevitable is an urban sprawl. Urban sprawl usually develops when there is unplanned urbanization and there there is a policy mismatch between various policy apparatii. The manifestation of these contradictions and policies at cross purposes is an unmanageable urban sprawl. Urban sprawls, unfortunately, are not neutral phenomena. There are negative connotations and consequences associated with these. The major ones are congestion and environmental degradation association with congestion. The corollaries to these issues are pollution, urban squalor and poverty, unclean and unhealthy habitats. As sprawls grow, there are obvious issues pertaining to management and administrative domains; both are stretched to breaking point creating and generating corruption opportunities and rent seeking, predatory behaviour in the process. In terms of public health and hygiene, sprawls are an open invitation to disease and poor health. A statistical correlation has, for example, been demonstrated between sprawls, stress and hypertension. Another obvious characteristic of sprawls is the prevalence or widespread use of private transport which adds a layer of stress on extant road systems and structures making commuting arduous and even nightmarish, at times. The collateral damage is on public transport which, if is functional, ceases to address the city's genuine needs and gets bogged down under stress as well. It is often stated that a city is as good as its transportation system. There is merit to this assertion; if a city's transportation system is flawed, the city suffers as well from many angles. Increased vehicular traffic leads to emissions and pollutants which causes air pollution. The public health consequences of air pollution- asthma, respiratory disease(s), and other related illnesses are too obvious and delineating these would amount to belabouring the point. Urban sprawls also have an economic consequence. They are a consequence or some would argue cause of unsustainable development. They have an impact on the nature of the employment spreads spatially which also add stress on transportation systems and what have you. Education, recreation and entertainment - important concomitant aspects of city and urban life- all suffer and in the process suffer and deteriorate the quality of life of people. The picture that has been painted so far about urbanization and urban sprawls is not an academic or an idle one. It has a searing resonance on Kashmir and especially Srinagar. This picture will be the reality of both Kashmir and Srinagar if the rate of unplanned, haphazard urbanization is allowed to continue. Consider the consequences (alarming as they are) for Kashmir and its denizens. First, our food production, which has already dwindled, will get depleted till it reaches zero or almost zero. This will increase our import bill and add to our fiscal woes among other things. Second, there will be a tremendous housing shortage as there will be an increase in people to land ratio. Given Kashmiris' propensity to live in large spaces, urban sprawls will only grow leading to a cluttered urban space which might even turn to be claustrophobic. Third, our environment and the quality of air will deteriorate greatly leading to illnesses and diseases amongst the population. Our dying water ways, lakes and rivers will dry up leading to depletion of our natural resources- renewable and non renewable. And commuting will become a nightmare. Tourism , one of the mainstays of the economy, will suffer or it may given the broader environmental degradation even die. The point of delineating this alarming scenario is to alert people and authorities of the perils of inaction. Our urban space has degenerated into an urban sprawl but action at the right time can stem the slide into comprehensive disorder and urban decay. This will be the cost of inaction. What we need urgently at this point in time is a salvage job that will stanch the slide or even make urban advancement and progress possible. This calls for a vigilant and active rights seeking public and a responsive government. The people must demand liveable urban and public spaces as a matter of right and entitlement and the government must respond. The government as an institution with its resources and powers has the tools of public policy to bring the efflorescence of our urban condition to fruition. What it must do as a matter of priority is to align public policy with public purpose. The premier domain of this action , at this point in time, must be urban spaces and urban renewal. Even a little late may be too late.

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