What does open space and amenity space provision really mean in a residential layout in our cities? Presently, Section 16 (1) (d), of the Karnataka Urban Development Authorities Act 1987, stipulates that for development schemes, it is mandatory to reserve not less than 15 per cent of the total area of the layout for public parks and playgrounds and an additional area of not less than 10 per cent of the total area for civic amenities. The Karnataka Urban Development Authorities (Amendment) Bill, 2016, now seeks to reduce this to 10 per cent for open spaces and 5 per cent for civic amenities, in urban areas of the State other than Bengaluru (which one can presume are not as dense as Bengaluru).
What could be the reason for this move and who would benefit from such a reduction? Clearly, this would result in more built-up space per residential development scheme, which directly translates into more profit for the developer per development. This will, in turn, translate into more people per development — who ideally should have more open space at their disposal, rather than less.
New developments are likely to develop either in a peri-urban context or through redevelopment of large existing urban parcels, as in the case of land occupied by declining industries. In peri-urban areas in most of our cities, planned development is irregular, if not absent, resulting in inadequate open space and amenity provision. This scenario would therefore demand more than a cumulative of 15 per cent for layout open space and amenities. For sites where urban redevelopment may occur, lowering land area reserved for civic amenities implies that surrounding areas would have to cater to the additional demand of inhabitants of the development scheme, mostly through private means, such as privately operated crèches, primary schools, clinics, health centres etc. This could have an adverse impact on existing residential localities through commercial proliferation of privately run civic amenities.
At the macro or city level, provision of open space and civic amenities are generally obligatory functions of municipal corporations. This proposed regressive legal amendment of the GoK will reduce, in real terms, the total per capita availability of these civic functions, for cities in Karnataka, making them less liveable and also less desirable investment destinations. Per capita open space norms, for example, vary between 2 sq.m per person in Hong Kong, where population density average is about 700 persons per hectare, and MoUD’s URDPF guidelines which mandate 10-12 sq.m per person at the city and ward levels. Bengaluru represents a range from about 0.01 sq.m per person in older settlements to about 2.5 sq.m per person in newer planned layouts.
In Mumbai, for its population of 12.44 million, the latest Draft DP that has just been released for public objections and suggestions has adopted an open space standard of 4 sq.m per person. It is important to note that this is over and above the land reserved for residential layout open spaces and amenities, at 15 per cent per development scheme, (a constant since the first DP in 1964), despite the pressures of increasing real estate values and decreasing land stocks.
Diluting the existing standards is a regressive step that means irrevocable loss of open space that will be difficult, if not impossible, to regain in the future. The choice is between more liveable cities and open space close at hand and less space for your child to play.
(Champaka Rajagopal is a PhD scholar, International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam. She has worked on the Revised Master Plan 2015, Bengaluru, and the Development Plan Greater Mumbai, 2034, among other urban development projects.Malini Krishnankutty is an independent urban planning consultant and has worked on Regional Plan, Goa, 2021, Regional Plan, Mumbai Metropolitan Region 2016-36 and Development Plan 2034, Greater Mumbai.)