Indian Cities – the Bazaar City Model

After weeks of being driven around Indian as part of a project it strikes me how different Indian urbanisation is from other models.  Not here the concentric/concentrated centre model of cities in Europe and America before the car, or the Edge City American Model.  Indian Cities have very little centrality.  The kinds of goods you can buy in the first shop on the approach road into a city is very little different from the kind you can buy in its very centre.  Certainly in the centre of the very largest cities you can get some street where the same kind of shops cluster, building materials, lamps etc. on the Bazaar model but these shops can be found throughout the city as well.  The usual indicator of high order clothes is no guide as there are no real pedestrianised outdoor mall type streets and indoor malls are scattered everywhere.

Defining the centre of cities can be hard because shopping lined streets spread everywhere along main routes right out to the edge of the city.  Shops are primarily small, often tiny, with few national chains.  The only real marker of centrality is public administration buildings. There is limited clustering around train stations because (except in Mumbai) services are designed for inter-city travellers.  Some stations of suburbs and towns next to cities might only get a couple of trains services a day.  Hence commuting is by bicycle car (still to a limited extent) and tuc-tuc.  This breeds a pattern of urbanisation where activities are located within easy distance by these modes, a pattern of development along bazaar lined roads and gradual infilling behind.  The planned suburb and township is a relatively new phenomemenon.  Most development being of individual plots, many legalised post hoc and post land grab, and the occasional small  ‘colony’ a planned (though often not officially planned) government or private scheme, often by a company or employer.

With industrialisation still relatively low the need for major urbanisation around factories never arose and indeed you can see major new factories built on national highways with only limited new housing, if at all, as most of the workforce can be drawn from surrounding densely populated villages.

One thought on “Indian Cities – the Bazaar City Model

  1. Fascinating blog piece. Thanks. It would be terrific to have more in this vein about the third world city. One thing I ponder is unemployment. How much is there in India ? Obviously it depends how it’s defined. That being settled, it fascinates me how our towns and settlements (in the UK) seem to repell individual entrepreneurialism. Our main routes structuring centre and periphery were once much like the Indian model – lined continuously with small retail. But no longer, unfortunately.

    I appreciate the idea that centre and periphery are harder to distinguish in the Indian settlements you describe. I think UK planning could learn something from that.

    The power of planning to control settlements is certainly strong. The question is whether planners thinking is strong. On a day-to-day basis, it often seems weak. The characters one deals with seem uninterested in ideas or the interpretive space policy gives them.

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