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

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.

Critics of your government should not be in jail: PUCL shoots open letter to Modi

Counterview Desk In an open letter, Ravikiran Jain, national president, and Dr V Suresh, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have taken strong exception to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s view that raising human rights issues can ‘tarnish’ the country’s reputation, stating, those who raise human rights concerns do it “through established United Nations mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.”

Dalits 'celebrate' Constitutional Power Era in 12,500 villages of 16 districts on Nov 26

By Pradip More*  It is a fact that the majority of the people do not have much knowledge about the law, and especially the Constitution. Yet, today's younger generation is becoming increasingly aware of its rights. One wished it would have been good if it was taught about the Constitution well in the schools.

When judges behave more like priests, delivering sermons from high podium...

By Ajit Singh*  The theory of separation of power found its origins in ancient Greece but with the passage of time it became widespread in other parts of Europe. Early proponent of the theory Greek philosopher Aristotle in “Politics” argued that implementation of constitution in letter and spirit can only be possible if the three elements among whom the power has been distributed are well arranged.

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".

'We are scared to even raise our voice': Delhi sewer workers tell roundtable

By Our Representative  A roundtable attended by more than 100 sewer workers in Delhi, saw sharp voices against the contract system, poor wages and lack of any social benefits. Organised by the Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch (DASAM), which has refused to reveal the identity of the sewer workers who spoke on the occasion for fear of retaliation from the authorities, saw workers complain that have been working for more than 10 years, hoping that someday they would be made permanent.

Govt of India's 'narrative' of hate, 'clarion call' for onslaught on civil society: Ex-babus

Counterview Desk  Addressing “fellow citizens”, the Constitution Conduct Group (CCG), having former prominent civil servants as it members, has said that recent assertions by National Human Rights Commission National Human Rights Commission Justice (retd) Arun Mishra, the Prime Minister and General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff, portent a deliberate and disturbing strategy to “deny civil society the space and wherewithal for its operation.”

Muck being thrown in Uttarakhand rivers: Villagers face 'existential' crisis

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  The Uttarakhand government must act fast to clear the path of Dhauli Ganga river about two kilometres ahead of village Neeti and about one kilometre from Ghamsali village, which is about 90 kilometer from Joshi Math town in district Chamoli. The creation of an artificial lake due to throwing of muck and mud can create a catastrophic situation like what happened on February 7, 2021-- the Rishi Ganga-Dhauli Ganga tragedy at Tapovan and Raini village in which over 200 people lost their life.

How Indore turned into water minus city after authorities 'managed' Water Plus title

Water harvester cleaning up hyacinth from an Indore river By Rahul Banerjee*  Recently, the city of Indore was declared the first Water Plus city in India under the Swachh Sarvekshan programme of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development for its ostensibly exemplary waste water management. However, the reality is quite different as a detailed study of the prevailing wastewater management situation in the city shows.

UP govt 'ignoring' demand to fill up teachers' posts despite unemployment: Rights groups

Sandeep Pandey with Shikha Pal Counterview Desk  Commenting on the unique protest undertaken by Shikha Pal atop an overhead water tank for nearly four months, the Socialist Party (India), in association with several civil rights group, Yuva Shakti Sangathan, Socialist Yuvjan Sabha and Rihai Manch, have wondered why has the Yogi Adityanath government is so “insensitive” towards her demands and is looking the “other way.”