The myth of orderliness- Aug 7, 2012

Planned developments are overrated and certainly alien to human nature. People at work were amused to hear that coming from an urban planner. Aren’t you the folks who want the straight lines, the zoning, the setbacks and height restrictions? Aren’t you the people who say planning creates better lives? Well, yes. But not the way it’s being done. In India, we are clearly happier having more of a say in the places where we live. I argue that is but natural and I support it by observing children at play.
I was clearing up Aadyaa’s toys today and I noticed she had a strange assortment of items placed together, no doubt essential components of an elaborate role play. There was one wooden circular piece from the carrom set, a few pieces from a set of interlinking blocks, a plastic horse, a teddy, pieces from a puzzle and so on and so forth. My mommy brains immediately noted that I need to set their toys in order someday, restore the various pieces to their own sets, etc. The fact that many fellow mums maintain impeccably well sorted playrooms for their children has always given me a complex! But then I stopped. Was I not, by doing do, imposing my adult sense of order on my child? She was not throwing away things or spoiling them. In fact, she was being creative by mixing sets up to create infinite new combinations and therefore new ways to play with the same bunch of toys. And instead of encouraging her, I was planning to (pun intended) simplify her wonderfully and effortlessly complex world.
And that’s what city plans do as well. Attempt to oversimplify urbanisation, which is an incredibly complex process. Sure planning needs to ensure adequate infrastructure and inclusion and perhaps offer broad guidelines, but beyond that there are surely ways to encourage people to create built form to suit their own lives?
Ever watched kids build Lego? Only the ones over instructed by adults build long straight towers. Usually, kids create complex forms that explore many dimensions, that are interesting and exciting. As an urban practitioner, this is something I think about a lot. How do we take the best of the two systems (planned and spontaneous) and marry them into something we can all live with and enjoy?

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