Impact of COVID-19 on master planning process (Part 4 of 5)

This is a five-part series that revolves around understanding the current situation of Indian cities during the COVID-19 outbreak, and how resilience can be applied within our cities as a response to the resolutions of ‘social-distancing’. In this fourth part, we shall explore the impact of COVID-19 on master planning process.

This post was created by the author during his internship period and is also available at Housing and Urban Development Corporation Ltd (HUDCO), New Delhi. 

Previous Article: Pandemic hotspots: Result of urban density or urban form? (Part 3 of 5)

Series Finale: Strengthening ‘internal resilience’ within our cities (Part 5 of 5)

Since we now know that solutions need to focus on creating internal resilience by curbing issues created by household density and form, let us see what impacts would arise if we want to incorporate social-distancing and other measures. For this, we shall take the help of Delhi Master Plan 2021 and evaluate the short and long term impacts of the pandemic on aspects of shelter, recreational and public spaces, mobility, social infrastructure, and commercial spaces. 

The housing situation of the current hotspots in India, namely informal settlements and urban slums, would have the greatest impact. As already discussed above, social distancing in areas where disorganised and unplanned development is present would be impossible. Regularising unauthorised colonies without giving attention to space standards, infrastructure requirement and accessibility (keeping in mind social – distancing) would not make it a healthy colony. As mentioned by the master plan, unauthorised colonies would be redeveloped by ensuring participation of the inhabitants. If the inhabitants are not aware of necessary health standards, design regulations and codes that need to be followed, there would be no point in redeveloping such colonies.

Impact of COVID-19 on master planning process

Overcrowding is also an issue that is been seen in most of the JJ colonies and informal settlements within Delhi. With the advent of COVID-19, redensification of these colonies would have a different meaning. It would mean to readjust the DU size depending on the members within a single family, which leads to the optimum density that the parcel of land can withstand. This would also mean that going high rise in these lands would be a natural outcome, leading to higher FARs.

Another factor that would affect such areas are its location. The master plan talks about relocation and resettlement of slums and JJ clusters. Resettlement is considered to be mainly on built-up accommodation of 25 sq.m. as mentioned by the master plan. However, this number can change if household size is going to be a factor in determining the DU. Relocation sites are determined based on employment avenues in the vicinity. However sites should also be determined by the nearness to public health facilities like hospitals and other medical centres, quarantine zones and the lands need to be furnished with urban infrastructure like proper water and sewer lines, power supply, etc. Healthcare centres, medicine stores and dispensaries would also be a compulsory addition as a use activity to premises.

Today, more number of neighbourhood parks and green spaces that are in close vicinity to the residences are being used frequently. Hence decentralised network of green spaces, like for example in Valencia (Spain) or Nantes (France),  might be the new way of accessing nature (Honey-Roses et al, 2020). For example, in the MPD 2021, planning norms for recreational parks at sub-city level say that for 10 lakh population, there must be one city park of 100 Ha, two district parks of 25 Ha, and ten community parks of 5 ha each. These parks would most probably be divided and subdivided in terms of area and target population number in order too strictly maintain social-distancing and minimum contact between park users. The same would also be done for neighbourhood level parks and tot lots. Revisiting brownfield sites and rooftop gardens would be a key focus post COVID-19 situation. 

Apart from the area and location of parks, another important aspect is the quality of green spaces. Currently, green spaces that are closer to wealthier communities are regularly maintained and kept in good condition. The opposite is true for green (mostly brown) spaces in poor neighbourhoods. Good quality of green spaces bring out physical wellbeing, social interaction and coherence and also increases walkability. However, these reasons will no more be valid to maintain green spaces. Mental reasons like stress relief, anxiety relaxation and reduction off many other mental issues would be the sole carrier of providing appropriate quality spaces to the residential population (Ahmadpoor and Shahab, 2020).

One of the most important outcomes of post COVID-19 situation is the aversion to public gatherings and large crowds. In the immediate future, gatherings for concerts, events, and even public protests would be restricted. This decision to avoid these places would also being about consequences that are cultural and political (Honey-Roses et al, 2020).  Since public gatherings and huge crowds are to be discouraged, grounds like Pragati Maidan, or Ramlila Maidan, or stadiums like JN or IGI, where protests, fairs and events take place, would become a huge question mark in the process redesigning cities. But it could also be advantageous. These spaces can be transformed into grounds for camps that provide emergency medical services. Large stadium grounds can be converted into emergency field hospitals. As said by Honey-Roses, malls in India are being converted into temporary shelters for migrant workers. It is highly possible that depending on the requirement of the city, these spaces can be redesigned to fit the need of the people.

When it comes to mobility, the first point to pop up in our heads is the impact on shared mobility models like auto-rickshaws, car pools, etc. It is quite likely that these shared models are going to face a decline in use, as it poses health risks, and additional costs to make it healthy, hygienic and safe would need to be taken by shared mobility provider, which make it slightly costlier. What would likely happen is the boom of micro-mobility devices like bicycles and scooters. These individualised forms of transport would be highly beneficial in the streets that would be redesigned, and could also be affordable replacements. 

Streets also could be redesigned and expanded to accommodate the increasing demand of delivery systems, pedestrians and cyclists. New solutions to incorporate social-distancing might create isolated and less spots for street vendors and hawkers. Queuing areas might also be a new feature that gets added to streets. Temporary street calming and pedestrianisation methods would be adopted in cities. Since parking is also an aspect of streets, spaces for cycles, scooters and delivery vehicles might be given more priority than any other type of vehicle.

Public transport systems have all the more reasons to worry. People are afraid to use public transport buses, rickshaws, metro, etc. because of the spread of diseases. This only adds to the existing issues of public transport systems of being unaffordable, unreliable and unhygienic. This could also lead to increased use of private modes of transport, which could be more harmful for the environment. 

TOD measures can also be incorporated with more intensity, as it concerns both housing and mobility. “Planned mixed-use development near metro stations will automatically reduce the number of trips or the need for travel, since it will bring residential and commercial developments in close proximity” (Hindustan Times, Anuj Malhotra, 2020).

Commercial spaces would also face certain issues. Now that people are relying more on online shopping and e-commerce, retail shops could face a huge letdown. However, these spaces could also be turned into storage spaces and logistics centres to catalyse the efficiency of delivery systems. Offices and commercial complexes would also not have a lot of demand, as people have begun to get used to working from home.

As already mentioned before, there is an increased need for medical centres, emergency medical spots and hospitals. Grounds and stadiums can be converted into temporary medical shelters. In the MPD 2021, number of earth facilities might increase per population and have increased number of beds, storage and overall area. There also might be increased number of tertiary level medical centres and dedicated testing facilities at local levels, that lessen the congestion and pressure within hospitals, and also reduce the number of trips further away from residences.

Educational institutions would also face an impact. Today, school, universities and colleges are depending on online tutoring softwares to provide a classroom-like experience. This overrules the concept of Clarence Perry, where the primary educational institution becomes the centre of a neighbourhood. It could be possible that instead of schools, dispensaries and pharmacies might end up being the neighbourhood centres.

Sports facilities and stadiums would need to practice strict measures of implementing social-distancing in order to keep functioning. Gyms, spas and bowling alleys, etc. would also not see the similar attraction as before. Socio-cultural places like religious places, clubs, theatres, auditoriums, museums, etc. would also experience less number of people visiting them. Table 1 complies the short and long term impacts on the various aspects of a master plan post COVID-19 situation.

Table 1: Post COVID-19 impact of aspects in a master plan
Aspect Short Term Impact (<5 years) Long Term Impact (>5 years)
Parks and open spaces
  • Increased number of decentralised parks and connected greens
  • Better quality of parks
  • Remaking brownfield areas into greens and utilising rooftops for gardens
  • Closer greens towards residential area
  • Reduction in use of PT and IPT
  • Potential increase of private vehicles
  • Increase in parking spaces and parking traffic
  • Increase in walkability and cycling through streets
  • Pedestrian friendly streets rather than vehicle friendly streets
  • Application of TOD measures
  • Redesigned wider streets to occupy more pedestrians and cyclists
  • Specific standards for delivery vehicles
  • Considering social-distancing as an input to regularising unauthorised colonies
  • Planning reforms would include norms that ensure healthy DUs
  • DU size dependent on HH size
  • Compulsory addition of healthcare centres, medicine stores and dispensaries to premises
  • Ensures built-up space rather than horizontal unplanned development
  • Health as a contemporary part of categorising residential typology
  • Higher FARs
  • LIG colonies and settlements to relocated based on nearest employment and healthcare avenues
  • Better access to urban infrastructure facilities
Public grounds
  • Utilising existing public grounds as emergency  medical treatment centres
  • Areas in malls used as shelter for homeless and poor
  • Reconsidering the need for huge public gathering grounds
Retail shops
  • Lesser use of retail shops
  • More number of community and neighbourhood shops
  • Less use of office spaces due to norms that enable work from home
  • Conversion of existing retail shops into centres for logistics and storage for e-commerce
Health and educational infrastructure
  • Increased number of medical centres within the city
  • Decreased number of schools within neighbourhoods which can afford education at home
  • Hospitals, medical facilities or medical institutions as the core of a neighbourhood
Safety (disaster management)
  • Emergency shelters can be created as mentioned above
  • Pre-disaster preparedness would also include to combat communicable disease outbreaks
Socio-cultural facilities (clubs, halls, etc.) and sports facilities
  • Ensuring social-distancing would be a challenge as they attract a lot of people
Distributive facilities
  • Increased number of milk and vegetable distribution services to be established closer to residential spaces


Previous Article: Pandemic hotspots: Result of urban density or urban form? (Part 3 of 5)

Series Finale: Strengthening ‘internal resilience’ within our cities (Part 5 of 5)