Main Feature

Jul-Aug 2013


by Vedasri Kada

We have grown accustomed to images of the yellowing Taj Mahal tainted by emissions of sulphides from industries in Agra. We find it hard to forget the tragedy of the gas leak at the Union Carbide Factory in Bhopal. In an ideal world effluents from industry would be rendered completely harmless before they see light of the day. In an even more ideal world, the industrial city would be a great place to live. Is this possible?
Bokaro is one of India’s steel cities with five operating mega plants. There are over nine more industries in the pipeline, all having to do with the production of steel. Bokaro, now a thriving centre, had its humble beginnings in 1960 when the country’s first “Swadeshi” steel plant was established. Today the city is home to pioneers of the Indian steel industry from the Mittals to the Tatas. It is likely that every second home one visits in Bokaro will have its income from the steel industry. The town does not just employ people—it sustains entire communities and their lifestyles. Bokaro also boasts of a thriving tourism industry. Visiting industrial plants seems to interest people who come to witness the production of steel.
Bokaro does not begin to compare with its predecessor, Jamshedpur, India’s first planned industrial city, administered and run by the Tatas, India’s premier business family. A walk down the treelined avenues of Jamshedpur suggests there is something more than GDP at work. There appears to be an amicable balance between quality of life and industrial output, so different from many other similar cities in Asia which are mired in pollution and waste, where unregulated development leaves little public space and amenity.
A new approach to industrial planning, broadly described as industrial ecology, is advocating a hard look at the question of waste. The central precept of industrial ecology is that there is no waste; resources from one industry flow to another in closed loops such that there is in effect nothing to be disposed of.
To understand industrial planning one must look at the antecedents of urban planning. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City is perhaps one of the most utopic and influential concepts known to planners. In it, cities are planned as pockets of self-sustaining communities separated by green belts. These hold a mix of residences, and industrial and agricultural components. Howard makes a case1 for un-crowding and healthy living. The proportionate mix of components was a crucial aspect of the Garden City concept.
Before Howard, Hippodamus described the grid in urban design. The grid formed the basis of all the Greek and Roman cities built in their time. Each grid is called an insula, surrounded by four roads. As the city grows, insulae are added. The important parts of the city were housed in a fortified centre that formed the main node of trade, business and administration, much like a city centre.

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