Urban challenges in the Gateway to South India
Real Estate

Urban challenges in the Gateway to South India

On India's east coast the bustling city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, has a rich history and cultural heritage. Well known for its beaches, historic buildings and mouth-watering food, the city serves as a significant centre for trade, commerce and education and draws visitors from across...

On India's east coast the bustling city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, has a rich history and cultural heritage. Well known for its beaches, historic buildings and mouth-watering food, the city serves as a significant centre for trade, commerce and education and draws visitors from across the nation and overseas. Regardless of its many advantages, Chennai suffers a number of urban problems, including air pollution, water scarcity and traffic congestion. Advantage Chennai Despite the persistent issues, Chennai has a lot going in its favour. As R Ramkumar, Managing Director, RPC Realty, says, “Chennai has been growing steadily at a rate of 10 to 12 per cent per year. With the influx of white-collar jobs and the development of numerous IT companies, the growth has been significant. The city's infrastructure is also a plus point, as it has been well addressed. There are currently plans for a new express highway, the Bangalore-Chennai Express Highway, which is expected to have industrial corridors that will create a lot of opportunities. Chennai is the largest car manufacturer in India, producing almost three cars per minute, making it one of the 10 major automobile hubs in the world, much like Detroit. It accounts for approximately one-third of the automobiles required in the Indian market. Although Chennai is a culturally rich city, it is now turning towards manufacturing, IT, pharmaceuticals and related growth, as the city produces a skilled workforce and has supportive infrastructure for any industry. A new greenfield airport is also being built close to Chennai, which will add more value to the city's infrastructure.” Such developments have had a positive impact on real estate. Pointing out the most desired areas for the residential segment, Rajendra Joshi, Executive Director, Alliance Group, says, “One good area to own a residence in Chennai is OMR [Old Mahabalipuram Road]. Another area developing rapidly is GST [Grand Southern Trunk Road], which is connected to South Chennai and OMR, with good infrastructure and roads. Likewise, we are seeing a lot of traction and demand for residential properties in areas like Guduvancheri, Urapakkam and Chengalpattu.” Urban challenges As urbanisation continues to transform the landscape of cities across the world, major challenges arise that need to be addressed for sustainable development. In this regard, CN Raghavendran, Managing Director, C R Narayana Rao (CRN), notes, “As someone who has lived in Chennai for several years, I've seen first-hand how the city has changed and grown over time. Twenty years ago, Chennai was a very different place. The city has experienced rapid growth and development in recent years, and this has brought both benefits and challenges. In terms of the development index, health education, medical facilities and national development, Tamil Nadu and Chennai are doing extremely well. The city is home to a diverse range of people from all walks of life, and it has a rich cultural heritage that is reflected in its architecture, art, music and cuisine. However, with growth comes challenges. One of the biggest challenges facing Chennai today is its limited avenues for growth. The east is bounded by the sea, while the north and west are industrialised and not conducive for residences. This has led to a lot of horizontal growth in certain regions, facilitated by new elements of mobility and connectivity.” “To address this,” says Raghavendran, “urban planners need to think creatively about how to convert existing disadvantages into advantages. One solution could be to opt for vertical high-rises, but this would require significant infrastructure development to support it. Traffic, health and mobility are all important factors that need to be considered. Fortunately, the government is taking steps to address these challenges. They are investing in the development of green spaces and open spaces, making them more habitable and user-friendly. Lakes are being developed on a massive scale, adding value to the life of citizens and improving their quality of life and livelihood. Overall, Chennai is a dynamic and rapidly growing city with its share of challenges and opportunities. As someone who has come to love this city, I'm hopeful that with the right planning and investment, it can continue to thrive and become an even more liveable and vibrant place to call home.” Adding his insight, Deviprasadh A, City Head - Project & Development Services, Chennai - Cushman & Wakefield, says, “The increasing population of Chennai and the resultant pressure on housing and sanitation facilities is a common problem, besides which increasing horizontal expansion can lead to the scarcity of habitable land in the future. This can be resolved by constructing high-rises on small land parcels, which can help accommodate more people in a limited space. Desalination technology is an effective solution to address water scarcity issues and Chennai has made commendable progress in this area. The use of seawater as potable water can also help in conserving freshwater resources. However, it is important to note that desalination technology is energy-intensive and can have significant environmental impact. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the energy used in desalination plants comes from renewable sources and the discharge from the plants does not harm marine life.” Sustainability and the city Cities need to be sustainable to tend to the growing global urban population and address the impact of urbanisation on the environment, economy and social well-being of individuals. The sustainability factor ensures that cities promote the efficient use of resources, reduce pollution and waste, increase resilience to natural disasters, and create a healthier and more liveable environment for their citizens. Achieving sustainable cities requires a collaborative effort among government, private sector and community stakeholders, with a focus on smart urban planning, renewable energy, green infrastructure and sustainable transportation. Raghavendran says sustainability has become an increasingly important issue in recent times as people realise the impact their actions have on the environment. “A century ago, Indians were pioneers of sustainable living. They valued frugality, worshipped natural elements and believed in simplicity. Unfortunately, in recent times, we have lost sight of these values and adopted western ideals. Having said that, the government is supportive of sustainable growth initiatives and Chennai is making remarkable progress in desalination technology, groundwater usage and rainwater harvesting. Tamil Nadu was the first state to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for each household, which has become a standard feature in all new constructions. Though waste management is still a challenge, we are on the path towards a more sustainable future.” Executing projects efficiently Sustainability is crucial for a city’s long-term prosperity and architects have a significant role to play in achieving this goal. Collaboration among different stakeholders is also essential in achieving sustainable growth. “Architects play a crucial role in bringing all stakeholders together and acting as the glue that holds the team together,” says Suraksha Acharya, Founder and Principal, Midori Architects. “They are responsible for leading the vision of a project and executing it effectively while balancing various requirements such as budget, sustainability and spatial, economic, technological and environmental considerations. Architects must be both specialists and generalists, possessing a clear understanding of how stakeholders come together. They must be able to communicate effectively with all stakeholders, including clients and project managers, and ensure there is no trust deficit. Trust is essential in ensuring that all parties work together towards a project's success. To achieve this, architects can use various communication tools and techniques, such as regular progress updates, clear and concise project documentation, and regular meetings with stakeholders. They should also be available to answer any questions or concerns that stakeholders may have, and be willing to make adjustments to the project plan as needed.” In projects where multiple stakeholders are involved, the power of decision-making is also a key concern area. Jerry Meshach, Principal Architect, Dwellion Architects & Interior Designers,says, “The architect is regarded as the ‘doctor’ of buildings in Western countries, with the authority to approve any modifications in the construction process. However, in India, across all states including Chennai, architects are primarily viewed as designers with less control. Civil contractors can undertake construction work without much involvement from architects, and there are no specific regulations that mandate the participation of architects. Unlike the UK and US, where even minor modifications require approval from architects and local authorities, regulations in India are not as strictly enforced. It may sound frivolous but, in the West, the regulation boils down to the fact that the shadow of a building should not fall on neighbouring buildings. However, in India people end up encroaching upon neighbouring buildings.” Meshach believes the problem stems from the fact that architects are often underestimated in their role in construction projects, despite playing a critical role in ensuring proper planning and utilisation of precise construction methods. “Contrary to the misconception that involving an architect in a project will only increase costs and cause problems, architects can provide efficient planning and design solutions that can ultimately save money in the long run. It is crucial for the Government to acknowledge the significance of architects and their contribution to the country's development. Proper policies and programmes that support and promote the role of architects will not only benefit architects but ensure that the country's infrastructure and built environment meet high standards.” As one of the important cities in Southern India, Chennai's benefits include its ongoing growth, a diverse economy, skilled workforce, and first-rate infrastructure. Taking note of urban challenges, investments in parks and other open spaces and the construction of large buildings on sparsely inhabited sites should be prioritised by urban planners. Desalination technology is helping Chennai's predicament in reference to its water shortage, so any innovation in this regard will be helpful. Likewise, efficient planning and precise collaboration across different stakeholders will ensure the city can focus on resource efficiency, combat pollution and build a better environment for its citizens.

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