The updated development control rule (DCR) for Tamil Nadu is finally here! After many years, these rules have been updated and the biggest take away from this is the increase in density that is being permitted across most categories — Residential, Institutional and Commercial, with a special focus on the IT category being eligible for even more built space.
Typically, on any site the FSI (Floor Space Index) for Residential, Commercial, Institutional was 1.5 — this number has now gone up to 2.0. To explain what this means- if a site had an extent of 100 sq m you could have developed 150 sq m of built space on it. Today, you are permitted up to 200 sq m of built space on the same 100 sq m site — in other words, the yield of real estate just went up across our State. Most people in the development community are celebrating this increase. Rightfully so, as there is more square foot per project that is saleable now and therefore the value of the projects has risen. But the increased density has a few concerned citizens worried about overcrowding in the cities and the adverse reactions such a move could present. Let us consider both sides of this argument.
In sustainability and green building mandates, it is generally considered ‘good’ to be dense. The more stacked a building is with taller heights and more floors (aka more density), the better it will be from the point of curbing suburban low-rise sprawl — which tends to be more car-centric which in turn creates a larger carbon foot print. Also, tighter developments with smaller foot prints use less land. This creates larger un-built or open spaces which is also considered good from a sustainability stand point.
Overcrowding on the other hand, can be thought of as the stress experienced because of too high a population density in a given set of circumstances (Kutner 2016). Overcrowding, more than density, can lead to inadequate management and provision of resources such as water and electricity supply, and provisions for solid waste management, sewer lines and public transportation.
Does an increase in density necessarily decrease green space, community space, or other spaces that contribute to the well-being of a city’s residents? With added densities for built spaces it is logical that the requirement for open spaces should also go up – after all, the green area available to each person does come down when more people are added into a development.
Another potential addition in area is for service infrastructure – more areas need to be allocated for water management and waste management. It becomes important to mandate these sizing changes on a building level as well as a city capacity level in order to keep things in balance.
These are important questions to consider, as density is a key quality for sustainability in terms of resource use in urban centres- but excessively high density or poorly managed density can negatively impact the health and social sustainability of a city. So, there we have it, as we build denser, we have to build smarter and greener in order to stay responsibly sustainable!
The writer is an architect, urban designer, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects