In technical terms, downtown is the nucleus area of the city, the heart of the entire urban system. It is also often the oldest part of the city, continuously worked upon by a set of centripetal forces (concentration of activities, greater accessibility, proximity to work areas, etc) and centrifugal forces (old and dilapidated housing conditions, degraded environmental conditions, stress and strain, inadequate infrastructure, etc).
Downtown Srinagar has always been a spatial location of significance, though its characteristic qualities are varied, both spatially and temporally. Being the central part of the city, the core area reflects the historical background of Srinagar city. Most of this area suffers from economic decline, physical decay and adverse social conditions. It is referred to, in urban planning, as ‘Zone of Discard’. On the basis of demographic size, the United Nations Demographic Agency (UNDA) has specified a 9-tier or 9-order classification of human settlements. According to this classification, Srinagar falls in the third-last class, i.e., in the 7th order of settlements, with a demographic size of 1.2 million souls (Census of India, 2011). Downtown Srinagar recorded a population of around 3.6 lakh, with a spatial extent of about 20 sq km or about 2,000 hectares, in year 2011 (Srinagar Municipal Corporation, 2011).
Demographics & Housing
Downtown Srinagar is home to about 30 percent of the city’s population. Its area amounts merely to about 10 percent of the city’s (Srinagar Municipal Corporation, 2011). The population density is 4 times (17,600 persons/sq km) in comparison to that of Srinagar city (4,126 persons/sq km). Similarly, housing density is 6 times (4,000 houses/sq km) in comparison to that of Srinagar (640 houses/sq km). The average household size is more than 7 persons per household, which is very high as compared to the rest of the city. Persons per room is also high (>3), which means that on average 3 persons share 1 room. Hence, majority of the wards experience high population pressure or crowding density.
The Downtown being the oldest part of the city was once the hub of socio-economic activities. Statistical data collected by primary survey (field study) pertaining to the housing condition of the city reveals that about three-fourth of the total buildings are in poor or derelict condition. With about 47% of the buildings of kutcha or semi-pucca type, the city core has turned into a regulated slum or urban blight. The poor quality of structures gives a poor and shanty impression.
There is a contrast in the occupational structure of Srinagar metropolis and its core area because the percentage of workers in the city core has decreased from 1981 to 2013, whereas in the city it has witnessed positive growth. In 1981, the percentage of workers in the city core was 30.6% against 30.5% in the whole city. In 2013 this had reduced to 26.3%, whereas the city as a whole witnessed a marked growth from 30.5% to 33.4%.
Nevertheless, this inner core of the city ought not to be left to decay. Being a dweller of this urban core is still thought to be a status symbol. Fortunately, typical slums do not exist, except in one locality of Makhdoom Sahib (Hawal), but that too is a regulated slum.
Also, Floor Area Ratio (FAR) or Floor Space Index (FSI) for city core of Srinagar is more than 3, thereby indicating that the total floor area of building structures is more than 3 times the gross area of the plot on which structures are constructed.
What is Needed?
1. There is a need for protecting and revitalising the city core for economic efficiency, including urban renewal and re-development, up-gradation of infrastructure, poverty reduction, employment creation, promotion of trade, and related developmental activities.
2. It is observed that the house structures are old and dilapidated, requiring immediate repairs or renovation or re-development.
3. An effective and efficient Downtown Master Plan (DMP) for Srinagar is need of the hour, which should be framed on priority basis.
4. An Urban Housing Policy with an aim to reduce population pressure.
5. Inclusion of Housing Geography as a specialised field of Urban Studies.
The writer has a doctorate in Geography from Kashmir University on the topic, “Urban Housing Planning in Srinagar City”. He works as a Resource Person for the School Education Department, J&K.