The Evolving Urban Form: Delhi


It has been a time of ups and downs for Delhi, which has emerged as the largest urban area (area of continuous urban development) in India. By a quirk in the Census of India definitions, an urban area (urban agglomeration) may not cross a state or territorial boundary. As a result, Delhi continues to be the second largest urban area in India according to the Census of India.

However, as a Population Reference Bureau reported, the population of the urban expanse of Delhi had exceeded that of Mumbai by 2007 to become the largest urban area. In 2007, the Population Reference Bureau noted that the continuous urbanization of Delhi extended into the adjacent states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (which has largest population of any sub-national jurisdiction in the world).

In 2010, the United Nations placed the Delhi urban area population above that of all other urban areas in the world with the exception of Tokyo. This second ranking position was only temporary, since new census data showed stronger growth in Jakarta (Jabotabek) and Seoul. These developments, along with a smaller than anticipated population in the interstate Delhi urban area dropped Delhi to fourth position after the 2011 census. Even so, with its stronger growth, and given the plummeting birth rates in Korea, it can be expected that Delhi will exceed the population of Seoul within one or two years.

Delhi has experienced some of the quickest and most substantial urban growth in the history of the world. Since the 1951 census, Delhi has grown from under 1.5 million people to a population of 22.6 million in 2011 (Figure 1). Delhi has been one of the fastest growing urban areas in history and (along with Jakarta, Seoul and Manila) has added approximately 20 million people over the past 60 years. Only Tokyo has added more new residents than these four urban areas, (25 million population).

The national capital of India is the city of New Delhi (Note 1), which is a district of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. New Delhi is a fully planned national capital that is among the most impressive in the world, with broad expanses of green space not unlike that of Washington, DC. New Delhi became the capital in 1911, replacing Kolkata and much of the planned capital area was completed by the 1930s.

An Interstate Urban Area

This interstate urban area includes all of the urbanization of the National Capital Territory, which includes the urban core, as well as the adjacent Gahziabad and the Noida urban areas in the state of Uttar Pradesh and the Faridibad and Gurgaon urban areas in the state of Haryana.

Between 2001 and 2011 (Figure 2):

  • The population of the inner area, which includes New Delhi and the Central, North, Northeast and East districts of the National Capital Territory grew 15 percent. This area accounted for 10 percent of the urban area growth.  Consistent with the experience of other inner areas (such as Mumbai, Shanghai, Chicago and Kolkata), inner core of this area (New Delhi and the Central District) lost population between 2001 and 2001 (14 percent).
  • The balance of the urban area inside the National Capital Territory grew by 2.8 million people, an increase of 33%. This area captured 47% of the interstate urban area population growth.
  • The urban areas outside the National Capital Territory grew slightly less, at 2.7 million and accounted for 44% of the interstate urban area population growth. These outer areas grew by far the fastest, from 2.6 million to 5.3 million, an increase of .

Map of Dehli districts courtesy of wikipedia user Deeptrivia

Between 2000 and 2011, the strongest growth was in the urbanization in Uttar Pradesh and to the southwest in Haryana.

Gurgaon (photograph below), in Haryana, abuts Indira Gandhi International Airport on the south side, has emerged as an important corporate and information technology center. Gurgaon grew from 250,000 people in 2001 to 900,000 in 2011.

Ghaziabad (photograph below), in Uttar Pradesh, is located adjacent to Delhi's Northeast district and is the largest of the urban expanses beyond the National Capital Territory, having grown from approximately 975,000 people 2001 to more than 2,350,000 people in 2011.

Noida (photograph below), in Uttar Pradesh, is another business center, is a special econonomic zone and includes a software technology park). Noida is located in Delhi and grew from approximately 300,000 in 2001 to nearly 650,000 in 2011.

Faridabad (photograph below), in Haryana, is located directly to the south of the National Capital Territory and had the slowest percentage growth among the urban expanses beyond the National Capital Territory, growing from 1,050,000 people in 2001 two 1,400,000 people in 2011.

The preponderance of growth in the suburban areas mirrors the trend in the previous census. Between 1991 and 200l, 26% of the growth was in the inner area and 74% of the growth in the outer areas of the National Capital Territory.

Common Threads

Even with its somewhat less than expected growth over the past decade, the Delhi continues to be among the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the world. Including adjacent rural areas, the Delhi metropolitan region (Note 2) added approximately 6.0 million people between 2001 and 2010 (growing from 20.4 million to 26.4 million). This compares to the 10 year gain of 7.4 million in Jakarta, 6.6 million in Manila and Shanghai and 6.1 million in Beijing.

The Delhi urban area illustrates the same pervasive urban growth trend evident around the world. As urban areas become larger, they tend to grow most rapidly on their periphery as opposed in the core. As a result, contrary to popular misconception, they are overall becoming become less dense. In Delhi, as well as in all of the other urban areas or metropolitan regions examined in the Evolving Urban Form series, growth is concentrated in the suburbs and further out on the periphery.


Note 1: The city of New Delhi is officially the capital of India. It is, however, only a small part of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The city of New Delhi had a population of 134,000 in 2011, down one-quarter from 169,000 in 2001. While the term "New Delhi" has often been used to denote the urban agglomeration, both the government of India and the United Nations refer to the urban agglomeration as Delhi.

Note 2: This metropolitan region definition includes the National Capital Territory and the Ghaziabad and Gatam Buddha Nagar (Noida) districts of Uttar Pradesh and the Gurgaon and Faridabad districts of Haryana (districts are analagous to counties in the United States).

Top Photograph: India Gate in New Delhi. All photos by author

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life

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