Skip to main content

Conceived as infrastructure, western approach 'not fit' for building Indian cities

By Arjun Kumar*

A recent webinar on Rethinking the City, organized by the Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) at the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, even as stating that Western concept of city cannot be applied on India, insisted, urban areas were conceived as infrastructure, disregarding the actual inhabitants who live in there.
Those who participated in the webinar included Prof Pithamber Rao Polsani, Faculty and Dean, School of Advanced Studies and Research, Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design & Technology, and Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI.
The session was initiated by Tikender Singh Panwar providing the context on the current state of city planning in India. He emphasized the need for more sustainable models in order improved urban habitation.
Prof Pithamber Rao Polsani focused on two important factors that force us to rethink the city as a construct and a space of habitat. Modern city planning emerged out in the early part of the 20th century, especially with the founding and the active participation of the congress of the international architects.
The city was conceived to be the modern city, which is divided into various demarcated zones of activity. There was a total of four demarcated zones that were identified in the reports which are connected to what is called ‘human activity.
  • Firstly, we live, so we have housing. Habitat is where people live and have their housing.
  • Secondly, we work, so there is a space for working.
As humans we require recreation, and thus we also have spaces for recreation. And transportation, that is how you move people from one zone to another. Transportation is also the means and the principal objective of connecting different kinds of zones.
This idea of a city takes root very deeply from the early 20th century onwards. Many of the urban planners, in fact, the urbanism of urban planning as a self-conscious discipline emerges around this time. So, therefore, the city was looked at as infrastructure, which obviously disregarded actual inhabitants who live in the city.

Challenges of global warming

As the recent reports published by the United Nations along with the earlier ones that came about in the last couple of years, where they mentioned that the scientists, climatologists are re-thinking and re-evaluating their data. It is due to the precipitated downfall that is looked at in terms of the global weather and the changes in the global weather.
In a way, we can state that it is an end of a paradigm of the modern city as it was conceived in the early part of the 20th century. Global warming also brings about several dramatic consequences that are looming on the horizon and it is essential for us to re-think the concept of the city. It is because the city has become a major space for bringing together people and especially in countries like China and India.
Cities have become the place of opportunities, so there is huge pressure on the cities with regards to migration. And the cities as they were conceived, won’t be able to deal with the challenges that are coming up, as a result of all these variables.
When it comes to re-thinking the city, there is no definitive answer as the world is ever-evolving. But there are some models that are available to us. In order for us to break through this paradigm of what was initially established as the modern city or a zoned city that looked at the city from purely an infrastructure perspective.

Rethinking cities

It is important that we question and re-think the philosophical, epistemological presuppositions of the modern city. Hence, there are some models that are available which looked at the pre-modern ways of thinking about it. For example, a habitation is a collective appropriation of space by a group of human beings. Although all animals and birds have a sense of habitation and territoriality, it is the human beings who are capable of self-conscious appropriation and transformation of that space. So, when the appropriation of space takes place it is symbolic of something.
In pre-modern thinking, there was an interrelationship of people with nature surrounding it. But when we purely look at it from only an infrastructure point of view, then we are excluding what actually happens in the city.
City is essentially the people who live in the metropolis along with and bodies that move across the space, as it is the bodies that labor. These are bodies that laugh and entertain that walk, that travel the space. But the infrastructure does not take into consideration this body that moves through the space.
The infrastructure of the cities is similar to that of the ‘conveyor belt’. If we observe the roads and highways in Delhi for example, they are simple like conveyor belts and then each one of the individuals who are moving through that space is simply seen as an object that needs to be moved as rapidly as possible, from one destination to another.
This same conveyor belt example can be applied to the context of human bodies navigating through the cities. In addition, the notion of the common space in which people or citizens of a city would interact is something that is not thought through. Human interaction is only looked at from a point of view of an activity. Therefore, we will have to abandon this whole paradigm of a zoned city and will have to start rethinking cities that suffice the daily functionalities being highly efficient.

Effects of linear transformation

In the 1920s the people who enthusiastically embraced the modern zone city planning were across the political spectrum from Netherlands, Germany, and France to the Soviet Union. In terms of the elements of the idea, it was presumed that city development was a linear progression. Although the roles of cities have now changed, the concept of linear progression does not take place in the practical sense.
Due to the historical context of colonialism, we have taken over the entire modern paradigm of city building in India. Each point of view is different due to the presence of a unique set of circumstances, which then develops into a unique perception. Thus, the western concept of city-building can be about because of the perceptions of western society.
As a result, this western approach might not actually be the best fit for building the cities in the Indian context. The Indian way of life should be of paramount importance, while re-thinking and designing cities that serve the needs of the people, in a highly efficient manner. India, having its own unique culture across different geographies make it important to keep in mind the local context during the re-thinking process.
---
*Director, IMPRI. Inputs: Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Mahima Kapoor. Acknowledgment: Dhimaan Sarkaar, (MS. Business Analytics – Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA), Research Intern at IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Govt of India 'compromising' on mandate to regulate gene technologies, protect nature

Counterview Desk  In a letter sent to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and other related ministries and departments, the Coalition for a GM-Free India has raised "serious concern" over the guidelines notified for Genome Edited Organisms, in which major exemptions from regulations have been offered to certain categories of Genome Edited Organisms/Plants and products. A letter signed by Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Kapil Shah, co-convenors of the NGO network, addressed to Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, said, the Office Memorandum, dated May 17, 2022 of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology about Safety Assessment Guidelines, which follows the Office Memorandum dated March 30, 2022 of the MoEFCC, said, the move "essentially amounts to entry of risky GMOs through the backdoor. Text : Coalition for a  GM-Free India is a national volunteer-driven platform of hundre

A Marxian trend that queries undemocratic customs and traditions of capitalism

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  A very well-meaning comrade called me a pluriversal Marxist with a wild smile full of English irony, while chairing my book release function in the Marx Memorial Library, London. I dedicate this piece to her… There is no other philosopher who is more abused and misunderstood like Marx. There is no other philosophy like Marxism which is more demonised on a regular basis. The mindless vilification campaign against Marx and Marxism continues without any form of reason. The propaganda and portrayal of Marxism as a devilish doctrine signify its importance as a philosophy of human emancipation from the very forces who demonise it. Marxism is a philosophy of praxis which helps us to understand the centrality of creative power of labour in producing socially meaningful value. It helps us to analyse the laws governing production, distribution, consumption, exchange, market, profit, pricing and private property in the development of class-based society. As a humanist p