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GURGAON: The sheen is off our Millennium City, if an article in the reputable ‘Harvard Business Review’ is anything to go by. A piece in the magazine’s July-August 2013 issue compares Gurgaon with a Vietnamese (satellite) city with a similar background and finds the former lacking in many respects.

In his paper on “Building Sustainable Cities”, John D Macomber, a faculty member of Harvard Business School, highlights how development of Gurgaon has largely been promoted by speculative real estate developers, with little attention to master planning and little investment on roads, water and electricity. “As a result, its landscape today is a mishmash of spectacular office buildings, large vacant areas populated by stray cows and goats, decrepit low-rise buildings, and slums,” writes Macomber.

The author also mentions how major users draw water from the ground through individual wells and traffic jams and smog are commonplace — “Power is so sketchy that virtually every commercial building regularly relies on costly and polluting diesel generators; and the water table is receding by up to one metre a year. The developers got their capital back quickly, but the long-term prospects are grim: Traffic, power, water and pollution problems seem intractable. It’s very difficult to install roads and water infrastructure. This is business as usual at the city scale, with no particular financial engineering plan and no use of technology to extend resources,” Macomber observes.

If that wasn’t enough, Macomber draws a parallel between the failing infrastructure of Gurgaon and the sustainable model developed by the Vietnamese city of Phu My Hung, an urban industrial hub near Ho Chi Minh City, the capital of Vietnam. Both the cities have roughly the same area (about 20,000 acres) and population (1.5 million). However, in contrast with ‘speculative real estate development’, Macomber writes, in Phu My Hung industrialists took a long-term “build and hold” approach and had an infrastructure-first master plan that included a privately financed and operated electrical generation plant, which powers much of Ho Chi Minh City and all the activity within Phu My Hung.

“The district depends on central water extraction, purification, distribution, and wastewater treatment and a central highway that was designed to allow mass transit to grow with the district. The developers had a nation-building agenda and a long-term orientation towards creating value… Today, the city is clean and green and orderly; its real estate values are among the highest in emerging Asia; and its parks and waterways are weekend destinations for people from surrounding towns,” writes Macomber.

Finally, Macomber worries about the future. “It is difficult to imagine the next urban billion living in 500 or more new cities built on the Gurgaon model,” he writes, and votes for Phu My Hung, where thoughtful, long-term-oriented, private-sector actors help the world create efficient water, power, and transit solutions… the necessary demand, capital, and technologies exist. What is now required is farsighted investors and businesses to organize the players…”



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