The images are bright and hopeful: Smiling citizens walking past elegant buildings on the shores of pristine lakes, balanced employment, free trade zones, respect for the environment. The congestion, inadequate municipal services, and rich-poor divide characterized by slums next to gleaming hotels have all been left behind.
These are India's new planned cities, and while they have been started in the last decade, their founders already see them as the answer to regional economic development and, more broadly, to the pains of the subcontinent's urbanization.
Unlike the cities newly built in the era before India's 1991 economic liberalization, these entities are funded either partly or entirely by private money. Lavasa, a planned "hill city" three hours from Mumbai and one hour from Pune, is being developed by Hindustan Construction.
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Meanwhile, Mahindra World Cities (part of the Mahindra Group, an automotive multinational) consists of two exurban centers located 30 minutes to an hour from Jaipur and Chennai; a third outside Ahmedabad is being planned. The World Cities are conceived as special economic zones focused on production and job creation.
There is also Naya Raipur, the capital built by the government of Chhattisgarh state, which proposes to revitalize the existing city of Raipur with new public spaces and high-tech ventures.
To backers, these cities present a more sustainable urban model that will supply newcomers with skilled jobs and enhance opportunities for businesses. To critics, the rise of India's "exurbs" is just another way for the upper and middle classes to isolate themselves without solving the country's problems. It's a transition to a better quality of life for the few.
Promotional materials for the planned cities are buoyant. They advertise renewable resources and pitch an ecofriendly profile, aspiring to blend into their local environments.
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"The main purpose… is to create new urban centers that complement/decongest our existing cities by providing a well-planned ecosystem with modern infrastructure and connectivity," a Mahindra spokesperson said.