The New XXI Century Urbanism in Developing Countries. Case Study: India. Part I of II

Alfredo Munoz



We are immersed in a society that has rapidly changed from the culture of industrialization characterized by perfect, categorical, and rigid solutions; to another based on a precarious, fast, fluid, and shapeless context, archetypical of the Society of Information.  Globalization has accelerated the process of social transformation and, therefore, of the public space in the city.

Today’s’ habitability is spent in the places that Augé called the non-places, that is, architectural and psychological spaces that somehow are not ours and that are not able to be colonized. From the point of view of the city, are unregulated urban spaces, “free of domination” as described by Habermas, in which the new society can see itself better reflected. This concept of public space is even more noticeable in the urban environment of main Developing Countries (BRIC), where the speed of execution, financial pressure, poor regulation, and the “momentum” of growth creates multiple brand new unregulated spaces in terms of typology and urban structure.

If we want to make a thorough study of the new urbanism in the 21st Century, we must set aside the legacy of “think local, act global” characteristic of the late part of the 20th Century and get closer to “think global, act local”. To do this, it is essential to know the cultures where the urban structures that we want to analyze are established. India has some features shared by other Eastern countries, but, at the same time, shows other set of specific characteristics that must be analyzed in more detail in order to understand the new urban structures, and the infrastructures of the country.

Hand in hand with the social-cultural change resulting from globalization, we find the economic engine as the basis for such transformation. That is why it is crucial to analyze the economic assessments to understand the urban structures in developing countries, even more if we take in account that in such countries, are the economic pressures the ones that generally promote, organize, and structure the new urban spaces and the city’s infrastructures.

It will be then, that we will be able to analyze the urban and infrastructural typologies. In the case of India we can observe that the typology, conceived as the science of connectivity, is getting closer to explain the new urbanism, where the importance in architecture are not the objects by themselves, but the space-time relationships between them.

In the urban environment, this topology leads to a sponge-like, concentrated, and vast space that prompts different relationships between the natural and the man-made environments, relationships that can hardly keep being expressed in background-figure gestatic terms.

As we will discuss in more detail later, the European model of city and public space gives way in India and in a large number of BRIC to other kind of organization more open, less structured, where the separation line between public space and infrastructure becomes thinner, even merging together.



The study of India as part of the Asian continent reveals a number of shared features in the Asian culture that can greatly help to understand the culture of India.

Of the 21 civilizations that have existed in the World, according to Toynbee, only six remain today: three Oriental (Chinese, Indian and Japanese), the Occident, and the two cultures derived from it (Russia and Islam). Chinese and Indian Civilizations are the oldest, enduring uninterrupted for thousands of years. The Occident culture is born, according to the same author, around 700 BC, as a result of the Hellenic culture; while the rest appear after the year 1000 AD.

When we compare culturally speaking, the Judeo-Christian-Muslim vision and the Asian conception of the world, the differences between the first three seem basically nonexistent. Given the way almost opposite of understanding the reality of East and West, we could say that we are in front of two great ancient cultures in the present.

The Occident has grown outwards, the Orient inward. Some have reached the moon while the others reached distant states of consciousness. One culture is linear, centrifugal and progressive; the other is conservative and concentric.

From a cultural point of view, time is cyclical in the east and linear in the west. For the West there are absolute truths establishing the pure and abstract concept of opposite terms. To the east, everything is relative and complementary. For them, reality is part of a great interrelated balance, where opposed doesn’t mean contraire. For Western mentality, educated in the Cartesian dualism and in the Aristotelian logic, it is really hard to understand these nuances.

In the East there is the concept that harmony resides in diversity, while reality is understood as a constant flow of change. The possibility of improvement takes place through introspection. By contrast, Occident needs absolute truths, and the concept of harmony is related to a single truth. It requires immutable essences, solid, rather than the Oriental mind of the dynamic stream. The West prefers invasion over introspection.

To the east, the seemingly opposite are different states of the same process, and to get there, the development must be circular, not linear like in the West. Occident adopted the Jewish myth of linear creation to explain reality. On the other hand, the East does not separate creator from creation, setting up a spider web-like organization system.



Among the so-called big emerging countries BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), we can find very specific characteristics in India.

Political stability, linked to democracy (India is the most populated democracy in the World), the high level of English of the citizens, the high quality of education in Indian universities, the cultural skills related to technology services (IT), and the fact that governments are open to foreign investment, have been some of the key elements to understand the “economic miracle” that just occurred in India in the last decade.

The growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India, along with other features that we will mention later, lead many analysts and experts, among others Goldman Sachs, to predict that India will be the second economic power in the World by the year 2050.

From a demographic point of view, what for years was a big issue, today is becoming the best asset: With a population of 1.2 billion people and an annual population growth of 1.4%, experts estimate it will exceed the total population of China by the year 2035. This population, with an increasing percentage of them belonging to the middle classes thanks to the economic growth of the country, brings with it a very high demand of workforce, services, infrastructure, and products. The growth of middle class during the last decade has turned India into the country with the largest middle class in the world.

In addition, India has a very young population structure if we compare it with countries like USA, China, or Europe, where 650 million people are younger than 25 years. That assures a very large base of production for the next 50 years.

To this reality couples with the fact that currently only 25% of the population lives in an urban environment, so it is predicted that a large migration movement from rural to urban areas will keep happening, due to the large demand of high skilled workforce in major cities, more if we think that a big part of the country’s productive structure is associated to services (call centers, IT industry, light industry, etc). This reality shows that large urbanizing processes and big development of infrastructures are still to come.

From the standpoint of urban growth, currently we have 3 types of cities:

-       Tier 1. They are cities currently very dense, with a lack of undeveloped areas for expansion. Is the case of Mumbai or Delhi NCR.

-       Tier 2. They are cities with very active housing developments and with some more areas to expand. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune o Kolkata belong to this group.

-       Tier 3. They are emerging cities with high growth potential, where the expansion is taking place in a slower and more controlled way.. Chandigarh, Jaipur, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Mysore o Goa belong to this group.

While there are many elements that turn India into a country with a high growth potential, some of them already summarize before, there are also some other features that pose great challenges in order for the country to maintain the currently high levels of economic, urban, and infrastructural growth.

The rigid social organization, inherited from the caste hierarchy, sets a very stratified population in India, turning down often the potential for the individual growth that is typical of other developed countries, and creating big economic and social differences.

Also, the opacity of the system, the high levels of corruption, and the vast bureaucracy of such a large country creates loopholes, deregulation, submerged economy, and makes hard for the foreign investment to operate, just to mention some of the direct consequences of the other reality of the country.

As it happens to a social level, from the urban and infrastructural point of view, India is characterized by strong contradictions and differences. In India we find constantly large spots of development surrounded by totally impoverished and neglected areas. These differences are even more noticeable in cities included in Tier 1 (Mumbai and Delhi NCR).

Since the beginning of the economic boom of the early 90’s, the investment in infrastructure has been segregated of an equally fast economic growth, creating an overflow in the infrastructures and in the urban system of the country.

The small economic resources of public administration, their slow decision-making associated to the large bureaucracy and the financial pressure related to the general growth of the country has made that most urban and infrastructural developments were conducted by the private sector.

This fact of the development promoted by the private sector, along with the fast performance and other intrinsic characteristics of the country, is what is generating totally new city and infrastructure development completely original in the world, model which offers a big interest for the economical as well as the typological analysis.