Kolkata (1960-1970) / “Slow Development” of Salt Lake City

The development of the Salt Lake City had taken a long period of time of nearly forty years. Instead of rapidly implementing the master plan, a ‘slow development’ approach was adopted. Not only did this approach relieved the financial burden to the government, but also provided opportunities for the development to adapt to the changing needs of the society.

Change in Land-use Ratio

The first stage of development since 1970 include residential and institutional buildings. According to Dobrivoje Toskovic, the planner of Salt Lake City, group housing would be more beneficial than plotted bungalows given the high population density in Kolkata. At that time the middle class constituted for more than half of the population, while the upper-middle and high income group takes up around 30 per cent. By introducing group housing, properties would be more affordable to the middle class and spaces would be utilised to accommodate more people. Therefore, as Toskovic said himself, ‘I proposed to devote 70 per cent space in the new town to collective buildings or group housing, and the remaining 30 per cent to low-rise individual houses and public buildings.’

Original Land-use Ratio in Master Plan, ETH Studio Basel
Original Land-use Ratio in Master Plan, ETH Studio Basel
Changed Land-use Ratio, ETH Studio Basel
Changed Land-use Ratio, ETH Studio Basel

However, this land-use ratio had been reversed in the realisation of the plan (i.e. 70 per cent individual housing, 30 per cent collective housing). One of the reasons is because of the social settings in India; it was found that the middle class would consume the workforce of the low-income group as cheap labour force (Rothermund, 2008), therefore they wanted individual housing as the family was served privately. This lowered the demand for collective housing as only low-income group wanted to live there. Because of ‘slow development’, the irrigation department which was handling the development of the city was able to reassess the situation and reverse the land-use ratio from the master plan. The resultant ratio provided adequate living areas for different social groups: on average 1.8 square meters per person for low income group in collective housing, and 13.5 square meters per person for middle and high income groups.

Population Composition, Draft Development Plan of Bidhannagar Municipality
Population Composition, Draft Development Plan of Bidhannagar Municipality

As there were more individual houses than collective ones, the population density was much lower than it was planned. This made the city more attractive with more open spaces. Nevertheless, the change in land use ratio had arguably led to gentrification. The upper-middle income group had displaced the middle income group, as part of the middle income group might not be able to afford individual housing.

Recreational and Commercial Developments

Apart from the residential aspect, ‘slow development’ was also applied to recreational and commercial buildings. Salt Lake Stadium and Nicco Park were built in 1984 and 1991 respectively for citizen’s leisure. In response to the globalisation and outsourcing of IT sector, Salt Lake City changed Sector V, an originally planned industrial sector, to an IT sector in 1995. Together with incentives such as tax reduction, it attracted leading IT-companies to invest in Kolkata which boosted the economy and created many job opportunities. Supporting industries were also encouraged, as seen from the first shopping centre built in 1997 and the Hyatt Regency, an international business hotel constructed in 2002.

The 'Slow Development', ETH Studio Basel
The ‘Slow Development’, ETH Studio Basel



Bidhannagar Municipality. Draft Development Plan of Bidhannagar Municipality.

Dietmar Rothermund. INDIEN Aufstieg einer asiatischen Weltmacht. 2008.

ETH Studio Basel. “Salt Lake City — an Ideal City Just Completed.” November 2008.

“The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Metro | Planner rues loss of group housing.” The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Metro | Planner rues loss of group housing. Accessed December 19, 2016. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080421/jsp/calcutta/story_9160360.jsp.

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