The rapid expansion of city limits often described as the urban sprawl or peri urbanization – a quintessential feature of contemporary urbanization. Peri-urban reality is depicted in upcoming commercial and residential townships, smart cities, new towns, city extensions, infrastructure projects, transportation corridors and special economic zones-all of which open up new challenges to the questions of urban governance and environmental sustainability.

The visible spatial transformations are particularly witnessed in the form of high-rise buildings and gated communities mushrooming in the peripheries of gradually expanding city limits. Socio-economic forces are creating new demands for real estate, commercial, residential and leisure spaces which call for densification and horizontal expansion of the city.

Urbanization pattern in contemporary India represents the urban sprawl following the American model of creating suburbia, downtowns and automobiles to connect them. Peri-urbanization is now the norm in India’s urbanization story further bolstered by private investments, capital and attendant modes of urban governance that allow such urbanization at a faster pace. It is perhaps easier to identify peri-urban areas by features and processes than to look at fixed geographical distances or boundaries. These areas are transitional with intense land use change, contested natural resource use, rapid migration, and emerging lifestyles that often replace pre-existing modes of urbanism.  Some essential features of peri-urbanization that raise fundamental questions on urban governance and environmental sustainability are discussed in the rest of the article.

Cities across India are increasingly experiencing peri-urban growth where rural and urban features coexist on the periphery and beyond their limits which, creates confusion on demarcating a territory as panchayat, Nagar panchayat, the municipal council or municipal corporation. Despite definitions and set criteria, the existing features of these areas often pose major challenges to acquiring the appropriate civic status and suffer from official apathy with no attendant services like water supply, sanitation, garbage collection and disposal, street cleaning, lighting and are also subject to environmental vulnerabilities.

The lack of supporting social infrastructures like schools, colleges, hospitals and cultural and recreational centres leads to life remaining confined within the self -sustaining a gated community. Outside the gates, sparse interactions of people, communities, and mobilities do not create the much-needed social interconnections that constitute urban life. It is not surprising that with such huge tracts of land, under-construction sites, unoccupied buildings, fast-moving vehicles in adjoining highways and lack of “dense social life”, peri-urban areas become havens for crimes, especially against women and children.

The processes of peri-urbanization compel newly formed, often unequal and stark connections with adjoining rural belts. It’s not unusual to stumble upon huge swathes of open fields, unoccupied or under- construction sites adjacent to swanky residential and commercial enclaves.

The emerging new towns, smart cities and city extensions represent what is often termed as bypass urbanization that eats away on ecological commons like wetlands, mangroves, saltpans, forests and water reserves that are crucial for economic production, for providing livelihoods to varied communities and also for the ecological sustainability of the larger adjoining region.

To conclude, rural and urban do not divide anymore. Rather, they represent a continuum as witnessed in the peri-urban reality of India today. All nation states, including India, are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that calls for the building resilient, safe, sustainable and inclusive cities. These goals mandate that we rethink and reflect on our current urbanization processes. Cities can’t continue to grow rich at the expense of their rural hinterlands. The peri-urban reality in India compels policy makers, planners and urban practitioners to step back from treating the city as a standalone entity and look at the region as a whole. The vital ecological and economic linkages between the urban and the larger region, the upcoming transitional areas awaiting civic status, and the surrounding rural areas have to be seen as a system from a sustainable environmental and equitable perspective. This includes addressing current consumption patterns, cut short supply chains, grow locally, bridge the resource gap to make the peri-urban reality more inclusive and sustainable.

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