The compact city offers various claimed benefits (Elkin et al., 1991). First, the high intensity of development reduces geographical spread and thus permits consumption of less land and other resources. Second, the planned higher residential densities offer opportunities for accommodating more people on the same land area and also contribute to greater social interaction. Third, average journey trips become shorter, leading to lower fuel consumption and lower harmful emissions. This makes compact cities more energy efficient (McLaren, 1992; Hillman, 1996). Fourth, governments are able to provide basic services more efficiently as transmission wastes are minimised. Ultimately, the compact city planning approach can contribute to the attainment of sustainable cities (Jenks et al., 1996).
This chapter demonstrates that the city of Delhi does not enjoy any of these benefits. One reason is that its form is the opposite of that of the compact city, i.e. it is an inverted compact city, which has low gross residential densities in the inner areas and high gross densities in the outer areas. Gross densities are at least four times higher in outer areas than in the inner city. Intensity of development is also low. For instance, there are single- or double-storey residential buildings in most of its inner-city areas, whilst four- to eight-storey residential buildings are quite common in the outer areas. Sometimes these outer areas lie outside the urban area boundary. High-rise residential apartments in the southern parts of Delhi are one such example.
How did this urban form happen? It can be explained by looking at the political events of the first decade of the twentieth century, which led to the unique process of urbanisation of the city of Delhi. At this time a statement of imperial grandeur, order and authority was made through the construction of New Delhi. Vast low-density residential areas were developed in New Delhi when the British Government of India constructed its new capital. Lutyens’ Delhi was planned to contain merely 140 bungalows (Mehra, 1999). No bungalow would rise above a single storey in the heart of the city (King, 1976). Furthermore, large spaces are occupied by even less dense land uses, such as Second World War military barracks