Have you ever played SimCity? Well, I spent hours (no, actually, days!) trying to make my planned cities thrive in the classic version of the game, some 20 years ago. You can now play the game online, for free, with SimCity’s Classic Live. For those not hooked to the game, here is a short story: You take a “greenfield,” remove trees and marshlands, lay down some roads, zone some areas (industrial, commercial and residential), build a coal power plant (with no limits on CO2 emissions), connect power lines, place some fire and police stations, and, voila! Wait for development to happen.
Magically, houses, warehouses and stores start to pop up…in addition to congestion, pollution and crime. As an all-powerful mayor, you have the choice of changing taxes and determining the budget for the police and fire staff, as well as road maintenance. As the game progresses, you are able to place other features on the barren land: a sports stadium, an airport, a sea port, mass transit lines, parks, etc., and check your popularity in the newspaper polls. You learn that even with these limited features, making a city progress is hard: you run out of budget and problems start to pile up (you can be mobbed out by your Sim Citizens.) And things get trickier when disasters happen, like earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and even Godzilla.
I felt like I was in SimCity last week when I had the opportunity to visit the construction site of the new city of Naya Raipur, in the young state of Chhattisgarh, India.
The new city is the result of nine years of planning, for the new capital of the state, in the tradition of other planned capital cities around the world: Brasilia, Ankara, Islamabad, New Delhi (the Lutyens’ Delhi), Paris (the Haussmann’s Paris), Washington, D.C. (L’Enfant’s capital), and Chandigarth, the capital of the Punjab and Haryana states in India, designed by modern architect Le Corbusier.
Like all planned cities, Naya Raipur is monumental. The development plan includes an area of 80.13 kilometers, which will house 500,000 inhabitants by 2031. It has well-defined zones for institutions, housing, commerce, light industry, recreation and extensive parks, including a green belt. The main roads have a 100-meter wide right-of-way with a wide green median, while the secondary roads are 60 meters wide. The superblocks are 800 square meters and will include internal roads, as well as a green internal network. More than 100 kilometers of roads have already been completed. The construction of the state secretariat building is very advanced, and it is expected to be finalized by December 2011. The cricket stadium is ready (and it is beautiful), and the first apartment buildings are also under construction. For photos on the progress, see www.nayaraipur.com. It is impressive. Large plots have been already planted with thousands of trees. The feeling of a SimCity, for real, is there, with the initial steps of the “game” completed.
Will the planned city thrive? It will be a nice place, for sure: greener than most Indian cities, with an exceptional landscape, and full of trees and open spaces. The new buildings to house the government are modern, well-built and spacious and have advanced technology for lighting, cooling and connectivity. The plan follows the principles of modern architecture, in which “form follows function” and buildings are “machines for living.” Its development will benefit from great doses of “human scale.” While keeping the main features of the plan, it will be very important to introduce several principles of “New Urbanism” and transit-oriented development. EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, is assisting the Naya Raipur Development Authority in planning and designing the new city. Here are some good ideas to consider:
Apply the “five D’s” principles for good transit, human and urban integration: Density, Diversity and Design (Cervero and Kockelman), and Destination Accessibility and Distance to Transit (Ewing et al). The superblocks can be upgraded by providing high density developments close to the street, design for human-powered transport (walking and biking), accessibility to all people, including a lot of connections to mass transit systems (for example, bus rapid transit, in the short term) and public spaces (to reduce walking distances.) This will bring a totally new flavor to an already impressive development.
Designate the median lane of all roads as a bus lane for the BRT system, giving the faster and more convinent traffic lane to the majority of potential users. The designation is possible without much difficulty, as the roads are not used or encroached now. This will make a very clear statement on what is the priority of the roads: moving people, not moving cars.
In the extensive exchange we had with the authorities in charge of this awesome development, we perceived a good attitude and openness to these ideas. They want to create India’s best planned city, and the game has already started. They are not able to re-start and re-do, like in the computer game, but they are very able to improve on what they already have.