Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Urban nonsense - final post

The last two posts showed the matrix of some of the players in the city master planning, which has led to a completely avoidable misery of poor life quality of citizens. Some of the other critical components would be

Indian master planners: They are either clones of the international planners or socialistic, romantic, incremental designers - without any big vision. Asking them to design a city and they would talk about cobblestoned alleys a-la-Paris or street furniture or small incremental quaint designs rather than serious, large scale, visionary solutions to the HUGE problems of the city. Completely alienated from the people.

People centric planning: This is by far the most critical component that is missing and the real reason why the entire planning is either motorist centric or built structure centric, but not centred on the people who are going to use it. When a colleague went to the second floor house of a heritage structure, the old lady suffering from arthritis living there started crying and saying to hell with heritage and all that...i need a lift to go up and down and see the world. The planning should think of her and not just the maintenance of heritage structures. A win-win solution should be created that would mantain the history of the context as well as take care of the people residing and working.

Institutional mechanism of stakeholder engagement:The 73rd amendment passed in 1991 by Rajiv Gandhi for rural grassroot governance led to the Panchayati Raj Bill, which has improved the quality of governance in villages and given a voice to every rural resident. The 74th amendment passed at the same time for bringing governance in urban areas closer to the citizens is still in a limbo. It is imperative to create a strong "Nagar Raj Bill" which would decentralise the urban governance system ( and allow the people of the country a say in the urban planning of the city. Remember when Bill Clinton was the President of USA and thus the most powerful man in the world, he had to go to his borough to get permission for getting his house facade repaired. And as I mentioned in my earlier post, I have no doubt that the local shopkeeper, paanwala and resident know faaar more about how the road should be, where the parking should be and how the park, school, health center and others should be located than the babus sitting in mantralaya and deciding their fate. Complete lack of democracy and democratic institution is the main reason for failed master planning.

Sthapatya Veda and the Indian knowledge system: Indian knowledge system has been eclipsed by the hundreds of ravaging attacks on the nation. Yoga, Ayurveda, Conflict resolving and inclusive world view, Spirituality are some parts of the Indian knowledge system which is now finding support and recognition all over the globe. The knowledge that India had on metallurgy, construction technology, construction material was outstanding and in some cases, better than even the latest ones. We had a Veda (book of knowledge) on Master Planning called Sthapatya Veda which gridlines, drainage instructions, city planning processes which led to excellent planning in Mohenjodaro and Harappan cities. The use of the five elements of ether (space), air or wind, fire, water and earth were so blended that it minimized the negative impact of heat and cold. Master planners need to revisit some of these successful concepts.

So, what we need for a sensible and workable urban landscape is master planning based on utilization of the best global practices married with local contextual ethos while taking stakeholder engagement from the survey to the planning to the implementation and post-implementation stage.

The final question is - whose plan is it? Mumbai with its vibrant citizens or a few disconnected centralized planners?