Lucknow’s obsession with beautification

Another mega park, but what are the real benefits?

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav shared this photo on his Facebook page yesterday, with the title- “I would like to share with you the first exclusive pictures of Janeshwar Mishra Park. This 400 acre Global Standard park has a beautiful walkway, water bodies, jogging track, cycling track, landscaping and much more.”

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This park, being developed in the Gomti Nagar area of Lucknow, is modeled on London’s Hyde Park and will cost Rs 168 crore to build. Akhilesh Yadav takes pride in highlighting the green-ness of this grandiose scheme from the erstwhile Chief Minister Mayawati’s much-touted Ambedkar Park, which was widely criticized for taking the form of an infrastructure project strewn with stone structures and little greenery. A news item says the park will have “beautiful landscapes, two huge ponds spread over 38 acres, golf course, horse riding trail, lakes, sports centre, gymnasium, cycle track, jogging track, theme gardens, children’s play area, lawns etc.”

I grew up in Lucknow and have strong linkages with the city. My attachment to Lucknow urges me to ask three questions.

1- Do these large park projects really mean the creation of city commons? Or are they exclusive gated spaces more accessible to the elite and subtly less accessible to the poor?

2- Whose land was this and the older park developed on? Were there slum evictions involved? Akhilesh Yadav has made a press statement that implies that the park was conceived to “save the land from land mafia”? What does that even mean?

3- How does a city that desperately needs affordable housing justify a project that not only consumes a large tract of valuable land but also is sure to push property values and housing costs further up?

To offer a background, Lucknow has the dubious reputation of being a city that is in denial of the existence of slums! The municipal corporation doesn’t report any slums in the Census 2011! Yet, the State urban Development Authority estimated in 2000 that 11% of the city lived in slums. In the absence of any substantial addition in the housing stock of EWS/LIG homes in the city and with continued increase in urban population (decadal growth rate has been around 40% for the past decade), one can only imagine that those living in substandard housing with insecure tenure would have increased, not come down to zero.

A press analysis of the park

A press analysis of the park. Sourced from 20twentytwo.blogspot.in

My take

While I very much appreciate the creation of  green infrastructure and open space in the city, I see the park as another proof that city governments in India are obsessed with beautification projects and have very little vision or interest in what the city actually needs. I would have much appreciated the integration of such a project with meaningful amenities for the city. Golf courses (the city already has a functional golf club) and horse riding are clearly exclusive. Why not a govt-run public sports complex instead, open air gyms and an urban forest, not manicured lawns? I would be curious to see what the park’s designers (I believe they are from IIT Kanpur for hydrology and SPA, New Delhi for design and layout) have to say about its impacts on the city’s air pollution or groundwater levels. Despite its multiple ‘green’ features, I would like to ask whether their plan relates to the city’s needs for environmental sustainability. Also, was there any public consultation on what kind of public space the residents want or need?

Plea to Akhilesh

To the CM, I would like to offer a piece of advise. Move the propaganda around these mega park projects moves beyond beautification and to the real stuff. I know you will not answer my provocative questions about urban poverty and elitism, but do ask your PR department to talk about the real benefits of this park if indeed there are any. We, the public, would be very happy to know how this beautiful park will contribute to a more sustainable, economically strong and socially inclusive Lucknow.

Politics and urban geography: Do the poor have a voice or a place in Indian cities?

Political journalism in India is clearly divided into two camps, at least the way my eye sees it. There is the neo-liberal camp that at present has Modi as its poster boy. And there is the socialist camp that has defeated communists at one extreme and liberals floating around in it without a particular form of organisation. Intertwined within this dichotomy are the strains of religious communalism, identity politics (region, caste, class) and nationalism, that both camps use in their own way to justify their stands.

My specific interest in all of this has been the status of the urban poor, a community I’ve had the opportunity to work with and that I respect for their tenacity and street-smartness (that often contrasts with a certain surprising innocence). That political battles are increasingly being played out in urban geographies in our country is apparent.

This morning, I read a very interesting post by George Ciccariello-Maher, who is an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, on the intersection of politics and urban geography in Caracas. In tracing the history of the rich and poor settlements in the city, the author sheds light on some the mutual mistrust between the elite and the urban poor over time. Many of the phenomena the highlights are visible in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, in the past and in the present.

Synthesizing Ciccariello-Maher’s piece: Exclusion, segregation and the enduring nature of class conflict

1- Deliberate forms of exclusion: Gated communities, militarised exclusion and the creation of municipalities within the city to further enhance inequalities and ensure resources for the elite were some ways the rich separated themselves from the poor at a time when the barrios sprang up everywhere. Ciccariello-Maher’s points out, of course, that this was a reaction of fear of the poor (add to that the element of racism) who had risen in rebellion in ’80s (pre-Chavez) and had to be controlled per force!

2- Discomfort with the new-found voice of the poor: Social housing appeared as a key ingredient in Chavez’ socialism, in multiple forms. Not just new housing units built by the State, but also more recently, a strong demand for the granting of title for the poor so that they can live in self-managed housing. Ciccariello-Maher speaks about how the strengthening of housing for the poor is something the elite fear very much, inducing out-migration of the educated young from Caracas. To me, its interesting that his discourse is still focused on segregation and suggests that decades of socialism have not given the poor a leg-up or eased the social segregation in any significant way. If true, it does support my hypothesis that housing security is vital for larger social transformations.

The poor in urban India: Do we fear them? Hell, no!

What does this mean for India where the voices of the poor are still not loud enough, where the elite have an enormous sense of entitlement and security (they don’t foresee a rebellion) and where the government continues to refrain from taking bold decisions on providing housing security to those who do not have any? If one assumes that the rebellion is a long time coming, it only means inclusion still remains a distant dream. As long as professionals and practitioners like us, who belong to the elite but empathize with the poor, continue to remain apolitical, its not likely the status quo will change. Is that case for renewed activism? Or a case for a change in profession for people like me!

Does the government really understand? #Modi #oversimplify

I was taking an undergraduate class for architecture students this morning on housing and urban poverty in India. The discussion was long and winding. We spoke of how the informal city is created and how city managers are trying to resolve issues of varying magnitudes with scarce resources. I tried to bring in a bit of the realism and build on the interconnection of architecture with the social sciences in the classroom.

And then, one student raised her hand and asked me: “All this that you are telling us, does Mr Modi understand it? They way he says things, it’s like a magic wand needs to be waved and stuff will get done!”

Well, well, well! We’re all waiting and watching here….but a lot of us are beginning to worry about how much deep diving government departments are really doing into issues that matter when they are given 100-day diktats to conceptualise schemes to be unrolled in the near future and their prime motivation is to please the PM? Efficiency and speed are commendable, but I do hope it is not at the cost of quality and inclusiveness, especially of those still trapped in poverty.

 

Why are Indians not concerned about #inequality?

I came across this graphic today on twitter.

B0cuO8iCQAAiFm-.png_largePredictably for Indians, the top concern is religious and ethnic hatred and not inequality. While I understand that communalism, regionalism, casteism and all the other ‘isms’ are media favourites, political favourites and hot topics in drawing room discussions, I find it strange that ‘poorism’ is not of much concern to the Indian people. I’m not getting into the methodology that Pew might have used for this and whether their sample was sufficiently representative of the varying income levels in India, but what the survey is saying corroborates well with what I observe around me.

Those of us who research and practice in the area of poverty and human development are usually preaching to the choir when we express our concerns. Most Indians, sometimes including the poor, are not really concerned about the issue of income inequality in India. Is it that we have normalised inequality? Or is it that we believe in the passiveness of the Indian poor who will never rebel? Or do we really believe that India is decimating poverty rapidly enough for it to not be a concern?

I don’t have the answers, but I sure find it interesting. Also, perhaps if we focused more on bringing down inequality, the other ‘isms’ might matter less? What do you think?

‘Make in India’ – Modi’s War on the Poor

ramblinginthecity:

Sigh! What can I say?

Originally posted on Kafila:

For some months now, I have been thinking of someone whom I saw on television during the parliamentary election campaign. The place was Benaras and Modi’s candidature from the seat had just been declared. The television journalist was interviewing a group of clearly poor people, taking their reactions on this new, though expected development. This person, fairly drunk in his Modi-elixir – and perhaps also a bit literally drunk – swaggered as he answered, affirming his support for Modi: Modi bhi chaiwala hai, hum bhi chaiwala hain (Modi is also a tea-seller and I am also a tea-seller). His words reflected the success of the remarkable gamble – that of projecting the new poster boy of corporate capital as a humble tea-seller. It was clear how so many of the poor had bought into this campaign.

What reminded me of this person initially, was that very soon after the election results were…

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Privileged citizenship!!

ramblinginthecity:

#citizenship in india is no joke!

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

Who am I? I thought I knew –  ‘an elderly woman  with short greying hair and wearing spectacles’  who looks back at me in the mirror!. But I am not so sure anymore! I am one of many me-s in my various ‘photo-ID’s – although my driving license (which I have lost) was without a photo, the me in the passport, PAN card, voter card, aadhaar card, bank pass book are all different me-s, depending on when it was made.

When I moved to Lucknow in 1987,  the local branch of SBI within our campus helped me to transfer my account from Mumbai. It was slow and through slow mail, but fairly painless.  I renewed my BRADMA (a system of  embossing letters on plastic, which younger people will not recognize)  made driving license with the local RTO.  The passport, possessed by a privileged few,  always had a photograph and I…

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Ignoring human dignity in the name of economic growth is unacceptable #kailashsatyarthi #socialism

I’ve heard the most outrageous snide comments about Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Prize, not just from proponents  of the extreme right in India but also proponents of capitalism in general (I’m aware that Satyarthi wasn’t a friend of any government in the past and fought a lonely battle, for obvious reasons, so this isn’t an attack on the government in power, in that sense).

Anyway, the snide remarks are coming from people who presumably are willing to turn a blind eye to infringement of rights and the law in the name of the free market and economic growth. In the context of child labour and trafficking too, some have asked whether the parents of these children were really happy when they were saved (they were earning members of the family, you see). I am assuming they meant that the trickle down effects of economic development will,, eventually, lead to a situation when parents will not need to sell their children or make them work for a living. And hence that is an argument for rapid economic development using child labour, cheap labour, bonded labour and whatever works to keep industry competitive….

Maybe it is just me, but I find this line of thought extremely twisted and am convinced that there is a need to find some balance. I do not believe India can progress if we throw socialism out of the window. However much we believe in the rewards of capitalism, basic safeguards are necessary to preserve the dignity of human life and the focus must be on ensuring more people are being pulled out of poverty, not just on an enhancement in national GDP.

Having said that, Kailash Satyarthi didn’t just save children and leave them to fall back into the vicious cycle of exploitation and poverty. Instead, he helped them help their families come out of poverty by empowered them in various ways and that is the strength of his work. A few links to read more on this…

“Satyarthi has also helped children sold to pay their parents’ debts to find new lives and act as agents of social change in their own communities.” writes The Guardian. Read here

” (Satyarthi’s) innovative approach of child empowerment through Bal Mitra Gram and bal panchayat (children’s parliament) at a par with gram panchayat has played a major role in getting this recognition (the Nobel)” writes the Times of India. Read here

“Bachpan Bachao Andolan (started by Satyarthi) runs three “transit” rehabilitation centers for rescued boys and girls in India to help them enter the mainstream and lead constructive lives. Younger children are enrolled in school and adolescents are given informal literacy and vocational training. Once they acquire confidence and skills, former child labourers are reintegrated into society. Legal aid is also provided for victims.” An extract from a 2001 award announcement by the US State Department. Read here

Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red

ramblinginthecity:

I had the same experience. Its a wonderful tribute!

Originally posted on joy loves travel:

Pictures of the poppies at the Tower of London have been sweeping the internet. Having been to the war graves and World War 1 battlefields in Belgium during the summer and then helping plant memorial snowdrops in Manchester, we couldn’t not see the poppies and this visual commemoration of the World War 1 centenary. A rainy day with howling winds greeted us as we arrived in London, we headed straight to the Tower.

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Everywhere was busy – people had come from all over to see this – it is easy to see why. The red poppies stretch out before you – thousands and thousands of them, never-ending it seems. They bleed from the bastion window – designed to symbolise the infantrymen at the Somme. This is powerful imagery indeed.

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The moat is almost saturated with crimson – by 11 November (Armistice Day) it will be. Volunteers will by then have…

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The Nobel season and some musings on science and women

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

This is the Nobel season – come the first week of October, there would be those who know they are on the nominated list, who will be anxiously keeping an ear open for the famous ring!!! There are the prizes for Peace,  Literature and Economics, all of which have had some element of political fine balancing, and the choices have  often led to much public debate. However, the  Science prizes  – Medicine or Physiology, Physics, Chemistry – have evoked less controversy and without question, these are the highest recognition of scientific excellence.

The average age of the Science Nobel recipients, being awarded since 1901,  is in the 50s,(55 for Physics and 58 for Chemistry and Medicine) and women have generally done poorly (11/105 in Medicine, 4 in /106 in Chemistry and 2/108 in Physics) for many obvious reasons. In the first half of the century , women featured only 4…

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In appreciation of the Mumbai taxis

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

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I made a brief, official visit to Mumbai over the past week end – a city that I have been visiting off and on since the early 60s and where I lived for 5 years in the 80s.  And the sight of the local  cab has not changed much since then – the  black and yellow Fiat being as iconic and symbolic of the city as the orange Ambassadors of Kolkota or even the yellow cabs of New York.  In India, we have this luxury of hailing down cruising, ubiquitously available cabs (a common scene in New York based movies)  only Mumbai and Kolkota.

On the Saturday evening I walked through familiar streets of Dadar/ Matunga with no specific agenda, visited the temple and  flavored the market (less bustling and congested than as I remember it from 2 decades ago). When I decided that I should head back to the…

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