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

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

Muslim intellectuals met Bhagwat, extra-constitutional authority 'like Sanjay Gandhi'

By Shamsul Islam*  In a significant development a delegation of five Muslim intellectuals namely former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi; former senior bureaucrat Najeeb Jung; former AMU vice-chancellor and Lt Gen (retd) Zameer U Shah; politician-cum-journalist Shahid Siddiqui (presently with RLD); and businessman Saeed Shervani [Samajvadi Party] met RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat at RSS Delhi headquarters. The meeting was kept secret for reasons known to the participants and was held in August. According to the Muslim intellectuals the meeting held in “a very cordial” atmosphere continued for 75 minutes whereas time allotted was 30 minutes! In a post-meeting justification of the parleys Quraishi stated that their main concern was “the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere”. This delegation consistin

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Denying dissent democratic space in Gujarat: 'sad narrative of eroding ethical values'

By Sandeep Pandey*  A padyatra (foot march) was to be taken out between 26 September and 4 October, 2022 from Randhikpur village in Dahod district of Gujarat to Ahmedabad to apologise to Bilkis Bano. Randhikpur is Bilkis Bano’s village. In 2002 Gujarat communal violence she was gang raped, her 3 years old daughter, another child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 people were convicted and sentenced for life in 2008. However, on 15 August, 2022 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech from Red Fort appealing to people to change their attitude towards women and treat them with respect, a district level committee of Panchmahal decided to release the 11 rapists and murderers. A Bhartiya Janata Party leader described four of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins. Before the padyatra could begin from Randhikpur, on 25 September night, 7 activists were picked up from Godhra corporator Hanif Kalandar’s house where they had gone for d

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

GoI 'feeling threatened' by forces which can potentially fight 'Brahmanical fascism'

Counterview Desk  A network of civil rights and people’s organisations , Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)*, has characterised the recently-imposed ban on Popular Front of India (PFI), National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) and other organisations as “Brahmanical Hindutva fascist” move of the Government of India (GoI), calling it “onslaught on democratic dissent”. In a statement, CASR said, the move is aimed at terrorizing and vilifying the Muslim community, adding, at the same time, the GoI is curbing any protest and demonstration against the “fascist diktat of ban”, with peoplebeing “detained and arrested.” It added, “This kind of attack on right to oppose or criticize any step of government should be conceived as an attack on the very democratic values of the people.” Text : On 28 September 2022, Central Government led by BJP-RSS banned the Popular Front of India, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Campus Front of India, National Wom

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".

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”