Center for Policy Research: Driving the Urban Sustainability Policy Agenda

Partha Mukhopadhyay, Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is one of the central figures driving the urban agenda of this long-established, independent and non-partisan research institute and think-tank. While Partha’s research focuses on economic development, urban transportation and sustainability issues, the CPR’s thought leadership advances creative solutions to pressing intellectual and policy issues, among which infrastructure, climate adaptation and urbanization.

Through numerous studies and surveys, he has collected extensive data and statistics on urban mobility, public transit and urban density. According to one of his surveys, he found that in Delhi, around 15% of slum dwellers and around 31.5% non-slum dwellers travel more than 10 kms to work on a daily basis. This study is interesting as it put numbers behind the well-accepted and growing problem of urban mobility in developing country cities. The problem of large travel distances is often worsened by traffic congestion and air pollution (unhealthy air quality) along the travel routes, resulting in larger time delays and lower quality of life. It was also interesting to find a large proportion of non-slum dwellers traveling longer distances than slum dwellers. This was a clear manifestation of another major urban problem taking root in developing country cities, that of inner city degradation. In Indian cities like other developing country cities, inner cities are constituted of enclaves for the rich, and then large areas with underutilized building and service infrastructure. Most new construction takes place on the outskirts of the city as high land prices in city centers inhibit new construction, and outdated urban laws and policies constrict redevelopment of existing areas and buildings. As a result, the growing middle class searching for a better quality of life continues to move to new developments in the outer peripheries of cities. This chain of events is similar to what had happened in cities in developed countries. The result was inner cities that became forgotten enclaves of crime and poverty. At the same time, cities continued to sprawl adding significant travel time and energy costs. Cities in developed countries are now trying very hard to reverse this phenomenon by programs and policies to revitalize their downtowns and attract residents and businesses back to downtown areas. Developing country cities on the other hand seem to be making the same mistakes all over again.

The population pressures and urban sprawl in developing country cities make urban mobility a key area of concern. Partha spends a lot of his time researching the topic. We spoke extensively about the Delhi BRT system, its successes and failures. He directed our attention to the Public Information System (PIS) at the Delhi BRT system. The PIS system uses GPS to track the position of buses to report the Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) of buses. This ETA is then published on LED Boards installed at bus stops, is available online and can be received on user cell phones through instant messaging. We also spoke about transit-oriented development. Partha highlighted for us that the governments are cognizant of the need and advantages of transit-oriented development, but most sectors were clueless about implementation of the same. He told us that that Delhi Metro has commercial exploitation rights in some places, Mumbai was considering a regulation to increase FAR around the new metro corridor, Bangalore had a plan to add density to areas within 200m of a metro stop and Hyderabad was considering the use of PPPs to drive transit-oriented development.

When we met Partha, he was working on an online community platform for institutions, researchers, policymakers, practitioners and concerned citizens, to promote dialogue and action on urban issues in India and governance in Indian Cities. The website also offers databases on JNNURM projects, SEZ projects and a compilation of laws on urban issues across Indian States.

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