Inspired by Los Angeles, researcher takes a new approach to urban planning

August 4, 2014

by Zach Wener-Fligner
Inspired by Los Angeles, researcher takes a new approach to urban planning

John Arroyo conducting research about art, culture, and civic space at the historic confluence of the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco in Northeast Los Angeles. Credit: Allegra Boverman
John Arroyo’s first exposure to the 51-mile, concrete-walled Los Angeles River came in riding mass transit downtown from his East Los Angeles home, past a riverside cityscape of industrial structures, graffiti, and piles of debris.

Yet despite the river’s hard-knock appearance, it has been a center of creative expression for artists. When Arroyo left Los Angeles in 2008 to pursue a master’s in city planning at MIT, he continued looking critically at the river as a new paradigm of urban planning.

“Although my community saw relatively little promise in the river’s ecological future, they saw great potential in its ability to elicit cultural engagement,” Arroyo wrote in the preface to his 2010 thesis, “Culture in Concrete: Art and the Re-imagination of the Los Angeles River as Civic Space.”

Today Arroyo is a doctoral student and Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). A self-described “nontraditional” urban planner, his work before grad school as a journalist and as a longtime arts advocate has encouraged him to incorporate methods from ethnography, sociology, and critical cartography into his research.

“At a very basic level, it’s recognizing that there are different specific physical, social, and cultural needs that planners, designers, and policymakers must pay attention to,” Arroyo says. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of situation.”

For planners to accommodate diversity, they need to understand the people they’re planning for. That’s where Arroyo’s research—which has involved Mexican immigrants from urban and rural environments, and even transient populations of Mexican immigrants who are so closely tied to their homes that their communities become campaign stops for Mexican politicians—comes in.

This means, he says, that planners should take greater care to understand the needs and wants of various groups before actually planning for them. Arroyo’s research has revealed how transnational Mexican migration has dramatically influenced the built environment on both sides of the border—something he calls “place bilingualism.”

Existing streams of thought often assume, he says, that Mexican immigrants all want the same things, and the same civic environments. “And my research is saying, ‘I don’t know if we can say that,’” Arroyo says. “Do people want public spaces that remind them of their place of origin? Which physical dimensions of their lives in the U.S. do they export back to Mexico? When and how do people develop a sense of agency, or become complacent, when faced with a radically different built environment, compared to what was previously familiar?

“Before we’re reactive, I’d like to be proactive so that we know what we don’t know,” Arroyo adds. “It requires a fundamental change, behaviorally, in the way planners work. People are living in the city; plans and policies should be dictated by them, especially when it comes to the built environment. That can be scary for a planner who’s used to having control.”

Close to home

Much of the inspiration for Arroyo’s research comes from his personal experiences. By the time he entered high school, he realized that the name of his unincorporated East Los Angeles neighborhood provoked a reaction in people.

It was a neighborhood that some might call “tough” or “blighted”; Arroyo calls it “underresourced.” He lived with his family in a small two-bedroom house that accommodated up to 20 people during the agricultural season, when relatives migrated from central Mexico to work transient jobs picking strawberries and oranges. Gang violence often kept Arroyo indoors; when he did get out, he found a concrete environment with few parks and little greenery.

Yet despite its imperfections, Arroyo was infatuated by his neighborhood. He attended Loyola High, a top-ranked Jesuit school that attracted students from all over Los Angeles; for many classmates, Arroyo’s neighborhood was just a place they heard mentioned on the news. One message about his humble upbringing was drilled into his head over and over, he says: “All you need to do is get out. When you get the opportunity, just go and never look back.”

“I didn’t necessarily agree with that,” Arroyo says. He loved the vibrant Mexican community, and the artistic and culinary cultures. He decided to attend the University of Southern California as an undergraduate so that he could stay in Los Angeles and look more closely at “troubled” neighborhoods. “Was L.A. really as bad as everyone said?” he asks. “Or was it really much better, filled with lots of potential?”

Not just on paper

“A lot of planning schools have become policy schools. They’re disconnected from design,” Arroyo says. “MIT is so applied. You don’t have to lose sight of how both policy and design affect professional practice. Not only do you not have to—you should not.”

Arroyo has stayed on the front lines of urban arts culture and advocacy. He has worked with the Los Angeles Urban Rangers, a group of artists and advocates who lead tours showcasing some of the city’s lesser-known natural and urban features. He has also worked with an MIT group called the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), which showcases research by DUSP students in an informal, applied manner via CoLab Radio. Many of the projects he’s worked on for CoLab—capturing soundscapes in European cities, or interviewing longtime residents of Los Angeles’ Skid Row—return him to his journalistic roots.

“Someone once asked: ‘Are you a journalist, or are you a planner?’” Arroyo says. “After I came to MIT, I wondered, ‘Why can’t I be both?’ Storytelling has such a major purpose in what we’re doing.”

It seems fitting that Arroyo’s latest project has returned him to Los Angeles and its eponymous river. Known as Play the LA River, it was started by Project 51, a group of artists and scholars whose goal is to inspire civic engagement with the river. Starting this September, the collective will hold events large and small to draw people to sites all along the river.



20-ACRE PLOT – DDA hands over Rohini land for DTC depot

August 4, 2014


The Times of India (Delhi)
New Delhi
Development Authority (DDA) has handed over possession of one of the three alternate sites to DTC for relocation of the Rs 60 crore Millennium Depot, which was built on the Yamuna bank area ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.“Nearly 20 acres of land has been demarcated by the DDA in north Delhi’s Rohini, near Rani Khera area. We have handed over possession to the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to begin with, for the relocation of the depot,“ a senior official in DDA’s land management department said. The department is still working out the payment options, he added.The bus depot, spread over nearly 50 acres along the western banks of the Yamuna, was built by the then Sheila Dikshit dispensation on a temporary basis.After petitions filed by environmentalists, saying the site was damaging the ecologically sensitive zone, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) took cognisance of the case and the matter went to the Delhi high court.In January , the former Kejriwal-led government had told the court that it would relocate the bus depot within nine months.

In May , DDA had told the court that it will be giving three separate plots, Rohini being one, to the city government for shifting the depot. “The depot is located in `Zone O’ (river plains) and there were demands for its shifting. A meeting was held at Raj Niwas to ascertain the status of the pending allotments to the DTC, where this decision was taken,“ DDA’s vice chairman Balvinder Kumar said. PTI



Depots missing, so capital can’t buy more buses

July 30, 2014

Jayashree Nandi    New Delhi

DDA Delays Allotment Of Land

 Without public transport, Delhi may never be able to address its twin problems of air pollution and traffic congestion. But it has failed to meet its massive demand for buses simply because there aren’t enough depots.Millennium Park Bus Depot where 800 buses are parked will be moved in the wake of a high court order to relocate it from Yamuna riverbed. Meanwhile, Delhi Integrated MultiModal Transit System doesn’t have any parking space for 1,000 buses. Delhi Development Authority has not managed to allocate any land to them yet. After Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power, the government decided in January to move the 50-acre Millennium Park depot to secure the Yamuna riverbed.“It’s a catchment area for water which cannot be meddled with,“ chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had said. But now delay in providing adequate space for buses by DDA has irked a section of environmentalists. Their stand is contrary to other activists who have been pushing for the relocation of Millennium Depot.

Environmentalist Sunita Narain feels bus depots should be prioritized over other issues. “The Millennium Bus De pot should not be shifted. A bus depot is needed; adverse impacts on the riverbed can be mitigated,“ she said. DDA has identified three places in Rohini Sector 4, Karkardooma and Institute of Driving Training and Research in Sarai Kale Khan. But relocation has been taking very long.

DTC officials claim that developing infrastructure in these three newly-allotted areas will mean massive investment in terms of both money and time.

Meanwhile, DIMTS has not been able to procure 1,000 air conditioned and non-air conditioned cluster buses as DDA hasn’t allocated any land to them.

“They have been promising it but nothing has been handed to us even though buses should be a priority . It’s time we should start looking at multilevel parking options for buses.
Delhi should also pay attention to safe infrastructure for bus stops and traffic calming measures near them,“ an official from DIMTS said.

DDA claims it doesn’t have enough land for bus depots.
“Allocating land to DTC for relocating Millennium Depot is taking long as we have to change land use. As for more land for DIMTS, we can only look for small patches of land–not big ones,“ a senior DDA official said.

Anumita Roychowdhury of CSE’s Clean Air Programme said, “It’s a very serious problem. Delhi has to find a way to share depot space efficiently and develop infrastructure like some depots in Bangalore so that more buses can be accommodated in them. We also need to explore efficient parking structures,“ she said.

More roads and bridges for Chennai

July 30, 2014


In a major fillip to infrastructure development in the State, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Friday announced road projects, bridges and sub-ways at a cost of Rs 2,325 crore. The prime beneficiaries will be Chennai and its neighbourhood.

The Chief Minister told the Assembly that her government had conceived plans to the tune of Rs 1,130 crore to prevent accidents, and to improve roads and road designs, widen narrow bridges, create accident-prevention mechanisms near open wells, medians and road signs. In the current year, works would be implemented at a cost of Rs 400 crore.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said that 250-km national highways in the newly extended areas of Chennai would be expanded with drainage facilities and pedestrian pathways.

The total investment for the work was Rs 1,033 crore and in the first phase, works to the tune of Rs 250 crore would be taken up. She said two multilane overbridges – one each at Medavakkam and Keelkattalai – would be built at a cost of Rs. 18.50 crore.

A subway would be constructed on the South Inner Ring Road at Rs 50 crore to be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).



New norms will ease funding of infrastructure projects

July 17, 2014


More space: Banks can now lend for very long-term projects
More space: Banks can now lend for very long-term projects


It will also minimise the need for restructuring such loans



The RBI on Tuesday issued a number of guidelines and incentives in the form of flexibility in loan structuring, and allowing banks to raise funds for lending to infrastructure sector without regulatory requirements, such as CRR, SLR and priority sector lending targets.

This will incentivise banks to lend to the infrastructure sector. In the past, banks have been reluctant to fund very long-term infrastructure projects, given the inability to raise funds for such long tenures.

The new guidelines will not only help banks reduce their asset-liability mismatches, but also minimise the need for restructuring such loans. Infrastructure is among the top five sectors that contribute significantly to the level of stressed advances.

On the asset side

The RBI has now allowed banks to lend to very long-term projects, with an option to refinance it periodically. This would help in two ways. One, banks would be able to lend to such projects easily without worrying about asset-liability mismatches.

Two, ensure long-term viability of projects by drawing up a more realistic loan repayment schedule. Banks can now have a repayment schedule for 25 years, and opt for refinancing it after a particular period, say five years. This is will ease the cash flow pressure on developers, as the loan repayment is spread over a longer period. Banks are now allowed to draw up a schedule for 80 per cent of the initial concession period (during which the developer is allowed to collect revenues on the project).

For instance, on a 25-year period road project, if the developer is allowed to collect toll revenues for 25 years, then the bank has a repayment schedule for 22 years. “Earlier, banks were constrained to draw up an amortisation schedule for a period of 12-15 years. This resulted in higher stress on cash flows of developers.

Now they can have a more realistic schedule, creating enough cushion for contingencies,” says KR Kamath, Chairman and Managing Director, Punjab National Bank.

This also reduces the need for restructuring, as banks will be allowed to refinance at specified periods.

“Thus, there will be a new set of lenders at different stages of the projects based on the risk appetite. If a financier wants to take on lesser risk and enter when the project is completed, he may not mind settling for a lower return on funding of such projects,” says Kamath.

Banks will be able to raise funds specifically for lending to the infrastructure and affordable housing sectors without regulatory requirements such as CRR, SLR and priority sector lending. Banks can issue long-term bonds of a minimum of seven-year tenure.

At present, banks need to hold 22.5 per cent of their deposits in G-Secs as SLR. Similarly, banks need to set aside 4 per cent of their deposits with the RBI as CRR, which does not fetch any interest.

By freeing up funds for lending to infrastructure, banks will be able to generate higher returns. The cost savings will depend on the amount of incremental bonds issued. Going by current numbers, nearly ₹1 lakh crore of liquidity could get freed up in the banking system. However, the RBI has capped the amount that can be claimed for such regulatory leeway. In the current year, only 16 per cent of the existing infrastructure loans and affordable housing loans on banks’ books will be eligible for claiming such exemptions.

This will gradually increase, and the entire bonds raised will become eligible for regulatory incentives in 2020.

“The more such incremental bonds are issued, the more will be the benefit that will accrue to banks. But the risk appetite for such bonds will also play an important role. As projects kick-start in the infrastructure space and there is more acceptance of such bonds by the markets, the benefit will be more. The cost of such funding will gradually come down,” says Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Chief Economic Adviser, SBI.

For the current year, the cost savings could work out to 10-15 basis points, which can go up to 40-60 basis points in 2020.

(This article was published on July 16, 2014)

No NHAI funds if Kerala develops NH stretches at 30 m: Gadkari

July 15, 2014



The Centre will not extend any assistance under the national highways programme if the Kerala government decides to develop NH stretches in the state at 30-metre width instead of 45 metres.

This was informed by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to BJP’s Kerala unit president V Muraleedharan who met him at his office here.

“We are opposing the state government’s move. We informed the minister (Gadkari) that national highway should be 45 m and Kerala government should not be allowed to convert it into a 30-m national highway. He told us that NHAI funds would not be available for NHs less than 45 m wide,” Muraleedharan told PTI.

The Kerala government is keen on fast-tracking four-laning of 30-m highways to avoid the massive land acquisition that was needed if the width was 45 m or 60 m as in the case of other NHDP projects in the country.

Bowing to pressure from the state, the previous UPA government had agreed in principle to reduce the width of 829 km of national highways being developed from 45 m to 30 m.

Muraleedharan claimed that the state government wanted to tweak the rules on the pretext that it could not acquire land.

“It was a sort of a conspiracy on their (state government’s) part,” Muraleedharan said and alleged that “if it is allowed to have a 30-m road and the central government’s assistance is available, it will benefit many people who are in this contract.”

(This article was published on July 6, 2014)

PPP in infrastructure gets a big push

July 11, 2014



The favoured PPP route ran like a common thread in Mr. Jaitley’s speech when he touched upon sectors such as urban renewal, urban transportation, real estate and gas pipelines.

The favoured PPP route ran like a common thread in Mr. Jaitley’s speech when he touched upon sectors such as urban renewal, urban transportation, real estate and gas pipelines.

To revive manufacturing and infrastructure to raise resources for developmental needs
Pointing out that public private partnership (PPP) has delivered iconic infrastructure like airports and highways, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday maintained a steady focus on PPP in his maiden Budget for 2014-15, announcing a number of steps to fast-track such projects in several areas.

In his Budget speech, Mr. Jaitley proposed setting up of an institution, called 3P India, with a corpus of Rs. 500 crore to provide support to mainstreaming PPPs.

The stamp of ‘Modinomics’ could not be missed in favouring the PPP route for development as the BJP’s manifesto and Prime Minister Narendra Modi rooted for it to help create world-class infrastructure in the country.

However, Mr. Modi during his tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister had added another ‘P’ (People) to it to signify people’s involvement in such project and the 4P concept was successfully tried in the Vadodara Halot Toll Road project.

The favoured PPP route ran like a common thread in Mr. Jaitley’s speech when he touched upon sectors such as urban renewal, urban transportation, real estate and gas pipelines.

“The task before me today is very challenging because we need to revive growth, particularly in manufacturing and infrastructure to raise adequate resources for our developmental needs,” Mr. Jaitley said.

Largest PPP marketThe Finance Minister said India had emerged as the largest PPP market in the world with over 900 projects in various stages of development. Iconic infrastructure like airports, ports and highways, delivered through PPPs, are seen as models for development globally, he said.

Sounding a note of caution, Mr. Jaitley said: “But we have also seen the weaknesses of PPP framework, the rigidities in contractual arrangements, the need to develop more nuanced and sophisticated models of contracting and develop quick dispute redressal mechanism.”

He reiterated the government’s commitment towards improving infrastructure in all sectors including roads, port, airports, railways, urban, rural and industrial infrastructure besides ensuring adequate flow of funds and financing of projects.

Mr. Jaitley proposed to develop an additional 15,000 km of gas pipeline systems in the country using appropriate PPP models.

“This will help increase the usage of gas, domestic as well as imported, which in the long-term will be beneficial in reducing dependence on any one energy source,’’ Mr. Jaitley said.


Smart cities promise to drive domestic IT market

July 11, 2014



When cities go big and unwieldy, you need something to piece it together to improve the quality of life. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s grandiose plan to build 100 smart cities with ₹7,060 crore looks promising. A relatively new concept in the global urban development strategy, a smart city is aimed at making technology work for you.

New biz avenues

If this project takes off, it will give a boost to the domestic IT market. Faced with zero growth in the domestic market last year, the industry could hope for new business avenues as smart cities take shape.

No wonder IT majors such as Microsoft, Intel, IBM and IT service firms have developed solutions to identify the needs of urbanites and solving them. A host of start-ups too have begun building apps to address these issues.

Microsoft has launched the City Next initiative and teamed up with TCS and Wipro in India. It has identified more than 40 solution areas across eight city domains, including energy, buildings, infrastructure and transportation. It picked Surat for the initiative.

This will promote investments in the use of modern technology, making India’s cities smarter and safer, Koichiro Koide, Managing Director of NEC India, feels.

At ₹70.60 crore a Smart City, the plan looks ambitious for some. “You can’t even build a mall forget about a Smart City,” a techie Tweeted, indicating the mood in a section of the IT industry.

“Unless new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become unlivable,” Jaitely said as he announced the Smart City plan.

To support the initiative, he proposes to tweak the built-up area and capital conditions for FDI from 50,000 square metres to 20,000 square metres and from $10 million to $5 million. Satish Jadhav, Country Manager and Internet of Things Lead (Embedded Markets), Intel South Asia, said the company is working with ecosystem partners to build intelligent transportation systems, modernising the public distribution system and digital security surveillance solutions.

(This article was published on July 10, 2014)

Singapore Minister will focus on Modi’s “smart cities” plan

July 8, 2014


He will find ways to elevate bilateral ties with India

K. Shanmugam

K. Shanmugam

Building on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s theme of “smart cities” will be a key objective as Singapore’s Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam begins his India visit on Tuesday. Mr. Shanmugam is the latest in the string of high-profile visitors in Delhi wanting to engage with the new leadership, following close on the heels of Ministers from China, Russia and France, and just ahead of U.S. Senator John McCain and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Sources said the five-day visit will be about “studying what are the priorities for the new government, while finding ways to elevate the India-Singapore bilateral relationship.” In particular, Mr. Shanmugam will speak about urban planning, water and waste management issues, where Singaporean expertise may be of use in India’s quest for renewing its city infrastructure, as also new ideas for strategic investment in infrastructure like the Mumbai port Singapore has contributed to.

Last week, after meeting Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, Singapore High Commissioner to India Lim Thuan Kuan said, “India is like a fast train that everybody wants to get into.”

Singapore is also India’s highest source of FDI, investing approx $ 6 billion here last year.

Mr. Shanmugam will meet the Prime Minister, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley while in Delhi. He will also travel to Hyderabad and Chennai where he will meet with Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.


IIFCL asks RBI to increase loan repayment period for infra projects

March 12, 2014

The infrastructure finance company has proposed to allow repayments of loans over 25-30 years

Remya Nair
IIFCL asks RBI to increase loan repayment period for infra projects

IDFs will refinance the existing debt of infrastructure companies, freeing up funds of banks for lending to new projects. Photo: Mint
New Delhi: India Infrastructure Finance Co. Ltd (IIFCL) has approached the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) with a proposal to increase the loan repayment period for infrastructure projects, especially road projects, to make them more viable.
The infrastructure finance company has proposed to allow repayments of loans over 25-30 years, compared with the current 10 years, to lessen the pressure on project developers who face fluctuations in cash flows.
“Project financing is slowing. It will soon come to a dead end. There is a need to extend the economic life of an asset so that the project becomes viable for promoters,” said S.B. Nayar, chairman and managing director of IIFCL, which has presented an approach paper to RBI on this issue.
The proposal was also discussed at a meeting of executives of state-run banks and financial institutions with the finance minister last week.
“When you have large projects and there is 75:25 debt-to-equity, it is impossible for the developers to pay back the loans in the next eight to 10 years,” he said.
Along with giving surplus in the hands of promoters, better private equity valuations for the project and lower user charges like tolls for projects, the risk for banks will also lessen, encouraging them to lend to this sector.
Banks are now the main source of funding for these projects.
Asset-liability mismatches and loan exposure limits to industries set by RBI have, however, made it difficult for banks to provide long-term funding.
The government has been looking at ways to make more funds available for the infrastructure sector, including setting up of infrastructure debt funds (IDFs).
IDFs will refinance the existing debt of infrastructure companies, freeing up funds of banks for lending to new projects. The government has also allowed IIFCL to continue as a sole lender in a project even after the lead lender has exited.
The Planning Commission has projected an investment of $1 trillion for infrastructure development during the 12th Five-Year Plan period ending March 2017.
India Ratings, in a report dated 30 January, had pointed out that only 20% of infrastructure loans were restructured till 31 March 2013 and the proportion could increase to 30-40% over the next two years.
“Restructuring of infrastructure loans will likely continue as the sector grapples with execution challenges and rising costs,” the report had said.
Samir Kanabar, tax partner at consultancy firm EY, said infrastructure projects, which are typically 25-30 years consortium contracts, need funding for a longer duration.
“At present, RBI has set many conditions on funding by banks. But any major relaxation by RBI, like a special carve out for infrastructure projects, given their long-term nature, will also depend on how it perceives the risks on the banks’ balance sheet,” he said.

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