Urban Transformation: A Study of Pune City

Pune City- Introduction

Nestled amidst the Sahyadri hills in the vast, prosperous Indian state of Maharashtra, Pune has a population of 45lakh (Intach, 2007). Situated at the height of 560m above sea level, it is surrounded by hills, valleys and historic forts (Intach, 2007). Pune is the second largest city in Maharashtra, after capital Mumbai (Intach, 2007).  Known variously as the ‘Cultural Capital’ of the state, the ‘Oxford of the east’ or ‘Pensioner’s Paradise; Pune has many different identities, depending on who is talking about it (Intach, 2007). It is the people who live here that define the city (Intach, 2007).  Pune has many identities, each of which is also a definition of its inhabitants (Intach, 2007). The is a city of retired government officers, motivated professionals, dedicated social workers, dynamic members of the armed forces, talented artists, gifted scientists and vibrant students (Intach, 2007).

Once Maharashtra bastion, it is now a melting pot of different communities, each contributing to the unique ethos of the city (Intach, 2007). A blend of tradition and modernity, the city is home to diverse people, ranging from the profoundly conservative Punekars to the more contemporary and open-minded Puneites (Intach, 2007). While pockets of the inner city reflect a more traditional ambiance, the outer areas or the newer areas of the town and the cantonments have more cosmopolitan outlook (Intach,2007).

Shaniwar Wada
Shaniwar Wada

Pune is a versatile city, has evolved over the time, always changing to meet new challenges (Economic times, 2006). Pune was the city of Peshwas, the 18th-century hereditary prime ministers and de facto rulers of the large part of the country (Economic times, 2006). Pune in 19th century was a birthplace of ‘Swaraj’, and yet again Pune in early 21st century is the city of information and Biotechnologies, geared for the powershift to an information age (Economic times, 2006) Such versatile Pune has so many contradictory faces, typifying Brahminical orthodoxy to some; revolutionary ideas of freedom, including heretical ones of educating women; of progress and sheer cussedness, a refusal to change, of old styled wadas standing cheek by jowl with modern glass structures. (Economic Times, 2006). With, of course, the gothic and neo-gothic architecture of British ‘Raj’ thrown in for additional flavour… this is part and parcel of the city (Economic times, 2006).

Old buildings making way for new
Old buildings making way for new

Today, just into the 21st century, these old stone structures are making way for glass and concrete towers and malls are taking over everything in sight (Economic times, 2006). Just like the rest of the country, as armies of young knowledge workers storm the old citadels (Economic times, 2006). The small – town landscape of yesteryears has become a sophisticated metropolitan stretch marked by swanky residential towers, integrated townships, chic malls, glass and chrome offices, and sprawling infotech parks (Economic times, 2006).

Contemporary Pune retains a measure of its old charm in pockets like the Garrison areas and old city while the rest of the town has made the inevitable transition into a congested, crowded and polluted urban settlement (Economic times, 2006). With the city area saturated, massive construction activity is forced on peripheral regions like Hadapsar, Kharadi, Yerwada, Kalyaninagar, and Vimannagar at the eastern end and Aundh, Baner, Bavdhan, Balewadi and neighbouring annexes like Sus, and wakad on the western front (Economic times, 2006).

Located just five km away from Hinjewadi lies the self-sufficient suburb of Aundh and Aundh Annexe, as its fast-developing fringes are now called (Economic times, 2006). It is a predominantly residential zone favoured by IT professionals for its proximity to the former as also for the fact that Aundh also offers an adequate presence of schools, hospitals and entertainment options (Economic times, 2006). With a clutch of IT firms still firming up plans to enter the city while existing players mull over expanding operations here, there seems to be no stopping the IT wave which appears to be sweeping Pune, changing the fortunes of its newly crowned IT havens like Hinjewadi in its wake (Economic times, 2006).

Problem Statement

Cities have many obvious faults when it comes to their services to people (Gallion and Eisner, 1986). They can be overcrowded, contain significant amounts of substandard housing, be centers of unemployment, and have corrupt governments (Gallion and Eisner, 1986). Taxation tends to be high and services less than adequate (Gallion and Eisner, 1986). However, even with all of these faults, cities are here to stay (Gallion and Eisner, 1986). The charge to planners at all levels, public and private, is to find ways to make these essential elements in our social system work better, more efficiently, and thus to make our cities more desirable places in which to live (Gallion and Eisner, 1986).

Related: City Development Plan

Like any other urban space, Pune is also continuously evolving, developing and growing with growth in the number and potential political power of urban population the magnitude of housing, infrastructure and socio-economic problems of the 21st century could not be ignored (Gallion and Eisner, 1986).  To survive in the new housing developments tenants to adjust to rhythms and forms of urban life that open little or no relationship to the customs and practices of small, rural communities or premodern (Gallion and Eisner, 1986).

In India most of the towns show natural growth rather than pre-planned growth, Pune is not an exception (Hiraskar,1993).  The city has developed as a matter of change in socioeconomic conditions than design (Hiraskar,1993).  Pune has emerged in the form of concentric rings, with the nucleus as the town since the natural tendency of the people is to keep the centre, core or heart of the city as near as possible as shown in the map (Hiraskar,1993). Such a town soon suffers from improper housing overcrowding, congestion of traffic and accidents (Hiraskar,1993).

In Pune, many of the existing houses were constructed more than a hundred years ago, and due to this aging process, many residential and commercial buildings have happy places with plenty of open spaces and all amenities (Hiraskar,1993). However, in recent times the picture has changed (Hiraskar,1993). Excessive centralization and activities related to industry and trade have caused a tremendous growth of urban population (Hiraskar,1993). As a result, there is the acute shortage of housing, squatting on public lands, encroachment, uncontrolled settlement increased density in built-up areas, lack of public utilities and community facilities. (Hiraskar,1993). Once peaceful and green residential areas have been engulfed by high-rise malls (Hiraskar,1993). There is no noise, smoke, dust in the towns, which are converting into slums (Hiraskar,1993). The transportation facilities are also found to be inadequate due to limited road network every street has become a highway due to increased automobiles (Hiraskar,1993). The present communication system seems to have collapsed (Hiraskar,1993).

Pune Developed in the form of Concentric Rings
Pune Developed in the form of Concentric Rings


All these and many more evils have created the blight in Pune city, which have begun to suffer from neglect and decay (Hiraskar,1993). To prevent these, it is utmost necessary to take immediate action to replan the present city, which has been deteriorated by the passage of time. (Hiraskar,1993). It is also to be noted here that planning a new town on virgin land is very easy, but it is too challenging to replan the present city. (Hiraskar,1993). Physical decay has eaten deeply into the urban community of Pune.  Unchecked obsolescence stretches its withering fingers over the environment and brings degeneration to the city (Hiraskar,1993).  Irresponsible local management invites it, and negligent public housekeeping permits it to spread. (Hiraskar,1993). It menaces health, breeds crime and delinquency, and brings traffic death and injury (Hiraskar,1993).  It undermines civic pride, threatens municipal bankruptcy, and gnaws at the human mind and nerves (Hiraskar,1993).

Blight casts its sinister shadow across the face of the city (Hiraskar,1993). It decays the core of the business and industrial districts, and it disintegrates the outskirts (Hiraskar,1993). It is not confined to slums, but it is most apparent there; it is there that we have failed to maintain the much-valued heritage of Pune, and standard of living (Hiraskar,1993). Lack of planning poor subdivision practices, excessive land values, ineffectual zoning, old streets, and inadequate transportation have created a condition of congestion, unplanned and incompatible mixed land uses, and economic distortion that renders whole sections of the city in the process of built-in physical decay and social disintegration (Hiraskar,1993). The problem has transcended piecemeal treatment for improvement and has reached a stage where large-scale rehabilitation is the only physible procedure (Hiraskar,1993). Such methods imply the understanding of social and economic problems of the poor as well as the coordination and participation of all forces at the command of the urban population of Pune. (Hiraskar,1993).

Approach and Solutions: 

When a town reached an advanced stage of deterioration, it becomes necessary to adopt immediate and forceful actions to improve undesirable conditions (Rangwala,2000). The drastic measures for this purpose may include pulling down of the deteriorated structures, carrying out an extensive renovation of the buildings to be retained redesigning the street system, changing the pattern of land use etc. (Rangwala,2000).  The procedure to be followed for implementing all such measures is termed as the urban renewal project (Rangwala,2000).

With the help of such projects, we can make choices about the surroundings in which we live and work (Oliver and Richard,1990). Prosperity and beauty need not exclude one another (Oliver and Richard,1990). If the rules of the planning game are wrong, our democracy enables us to change them (Oliver and Richard,1990). This is the proper time to reassert a sense of vision and civilized values (Oliver and Richard,1990).  Most of us are conscious of liking or disliking the appearance of a building a street or part of a city, and often think of architecture purely in this visual term (Oliver and Richard,1990).

Architects frequently admire the vernacular tradition of an area for its integrity; in other words for its capacity to meet the physical and as far as they are aware, of the social needs of a community. (Oliver and Richard,1990). They respect the use of indigenous resources and the fact that local craftsman who know their peculiar fashion and assemble them with skill and with ‘truth of the materials’ (Oliver and Richard,1990). They admire the simplicity of the buildings, by which they do not mean that they are naïve or essential, but that they are not designed to impress (Oliver and Richard,1990). The combination of benefits of the best of the old with the best of the new is what many people would like to see in their everyday environment (Oliver and Richard,1990).

If we are to guide the development of buildings in Pune cities better, we need to enter activity into the debate (Oliver and Richard,1990).  We cannot expect that everyone will want to take an interest, but if we do, we need to ‘stand and be counted’ (Oliver and Richard,1990). The actions of community and other interesting groups have in the past achieved remarkable successes in preventing the distribution of historical buildings, or the development of inappropriate new structures (Oliver and Richard,1990). The planning systems of more and more countries provide the opportunity, and sometimes other resources, to enable groups and individuals with strong views to make their case and participate in the development decision – making process (Oliver and Richard,1990).

The private sector can be encouraged to invest in urban development through public-private partnerships. Urban infrastructure and services and low-cost housing offer massive potential for such businesses. State Governments and cities must provide the enabling environment for the private sector to participate and for the public, private partnership to take roots in our country.  We need urgent capacity building within urban local bodies to enable them to design projects, undertake reforms and raise adequate resources. The 74th Amendment was a pioneering initiative of the late Shri Rajiv Gandhi conceptualizing Urban Local Bodies as critical developmental entities. However, in practice their capacity to undertake economic and social planning and address issues of poverty, environment and the like is limited. This must change and change for the better.

Architects not only have to do conscious architectural development but also, he has to build a system (Fergusson,1990).  In system building, however, the architect is not merely incorporating new technology; he is asking society to transform its economic organization radically to provide shelter more efficiently (Fergusson,1990). The various issues involved: aggregation of the market, the response of the unions, and so forth, are more than simple questions of techniques they generate fundamental economic, social and political issues that are generally not the architect’s prerogative to resolve (Fergusson,1990). In any event, the mandate to intervene so radically in this social transformation is not yet manifest (Fergusson,1990).  While the “architect might amuse us as ultimate social arbiter,” realism forces us to recognize that it is one thing to be radical in the use of material and techniques (Fergusson,1990).

Architecture has traditionally been produced by the interaction of a designer’s experience, intellect, aesthetic sensibility, and common sense (Fergusson,1990). This interaction usually occurred within the established context of a style and the client’s moderate with the consequent imposition of both objectives and constraints (Fergusson,1990). A city, when it was consciously planned or designed at all, drew largely upon the same creative sources, with correspondingly larger but more poorly defined sets of objectives and constraints (Fergusson,1990). Within the last decade, questions have arisen as to the adequacy of this historical mode of form – giving for both cities and buildings (Fergusson,1990).

The modern movement in architecture questioned this tradition while it can be argued that the contemporary movement has only occasionally produced architecture or city design at the level espoused in its rhetoric, there was a break in the facile continuum of stylistic evolution (Fergusson,1990).  It can also be argued that, relative to pre-industrial societies, contemporary architecture is of a wholly different order of complexity there is, in fact, a significant change in both the scale and scope and scope of projects (Fergusson,1990). Today’s large-scale architectural projects encompass more of an economic, social and political nature than was encountered in the simple building of earlier physical structures (Fergusson,1990). This added complexity demands a coherent ordering or organising of the planning and design efforts; in short, it requires a consciously articulated approach to the problem solving (Fergusson,1990).

To take part in modern civilization, it is necessary at the same time to take part in scientific, technical, and political rationality, something which very often requires the pure and straightforward abandon of a whole cultural past (Frampton,1992).  It is a fact that every culture cannot sustain and absorb the shock of modern civilization (Frampton,1992). There is a paradox: how to become modern and return to sources, how to revive old dormant culture and take part in universal civilization (Frampton,1992).

Urban design has the most effective impact when all of the theories of serving the residents with open space and amenities are reflected in a planned unit and subdivision development within the framework of the comprehensive plan.  Sound judgment must be applied to the various relationships between the permitted number of dwellings and the spaces between them.  The economics of building types, provision for access, parking and the responsibility for the maintenance of the open areas are issues that must be resolved before construction can begin.  Pune must find itself in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, the transformation of ourselves.  Such modern experience should cross cut all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, class and nationality of religion and ideology.  In this sense, such development can be said to unite all humanity.

As the centre of politics, commerce, and art, the Pune city constitutes one of the main areas in which modern experience unfolds.  However, many of the new development which took place in the town had their origins in the previous century.  The configuration of the Pune city as a whole, along with the treatment of its constituent parts, provided some of the most significant challenges for an architectural profession committed to the idea that the city could be managed through design.  However, such a commitment did not mean that architects agreed on a single set of design strategies for shaping the city.

After independence, a variety of proposals in Pune ranging from the creation of a new type of settlement altogether to the reconfiguration of the traditional city were advanced by architects and planners.  The latest development of Pune city remained contested ground to conventional vernacular architecture, offering the radically different vision of the modern metropolis.  Ultimately the result should be a devoid of any reference to identifiable historical models yet still recognizable as an extension and refinement of the Pune tradition of structural rationalism committed to the integration of classical design principles with the modern science of building construction.

You May Also Read: Kanpur Development Plan


Intach (2007). My Pune Travel Book: Discover Pune like never before. Pune: Elephant Design Pvt. Ltd.

Economic Times (26th October 2006). Brand Salience Pune

Gallion, B., and Simon, E. (1986) The Urban Pattern: City Planning and Design    

Hiraskar, G., (1993) Fundamentals of Town Planning. Published by Dhanpat Rai

Rangwala (2000) Town Planning. Charotar Publishing House Pvt. Limited

Oliver, P., and Richard, H., (1990) Architecture an Invitation. Hoboken, New Jersey: Blackwell publisher

Fergusson, F., (1990) Architecture cities and system approach. The University of Wisconsin – Madison  

Frampton, K., (1985) Modern Architecture: a Critical History. London: Thames and Hudson,