Author Archives: ramblinginthecity
A week of exciting talks at CPR!
Originally posted on cprurban:
By Mukta Naik, Senior Researcher, CPR
With three excellent talks taking place within a week, CPR has been quite the hub for discussion on topical urban issues. While distinct, the talks (as conversations on ‘urban’ are wont to do) converged and coalesced, intersected and jumped around common themes like inclusion and poverty, the politics and contestation over urban services and identity issues around urban and rural.
Inclusion in public sector housing
On Friday, 20th February, Diana Mitlin, Professor of Global Urbanism and Director of Global Urban Research Centre at Manchester University talked about ‘Realising inclusive urban development – a discussion of experiences across the global South and lessons from the JNNURM’. Her study of the Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) component of the JNNURM program reveals, broadly, that end-users were inadequately consulted during project, that access to services worsened for many beneficiaries, that the process of…
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People offer a flavour that nothing else can and will!
Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:
Even a tourist destination is more than just the site – its the people, the place and its environs that define a place. In the recent whirlwind 5-day tour we did in Kutch, we stayed 4 nights in 4 different places, traveled 1500 kilometers by road and took in a multitude of sights. So, there was little time or scope for people interaction. However, what ever chance I got, I did try and catch the local color!! (All pictures taken with permission of the subject)
The local tourists were few and far between. Gujarat Tourism charges just Rs 5/ per adult for entry, which I felt was ridiculously low. But then I caught these two women, in all their pinkness, sitting in the sun. And they said their …
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I haven’t opined on Indian politics for a while. To tell you the truth, I’ve been ruminating, taking it all in. And here are some randomly picked thoughts from the thousands that buzz around my head.
#1 Let’s stop comparing AAP’s Delhi election win with the 2014 general elections!
I’m really tired of the over-analysis, the conspiracy theories and the general building up of expectations. The truth is that any new government will take time to settle and move forward. And really, can we compare Delhi’s politics with India’s? My quick thoughts: The AAP win is a good jolt for the BJP and hopefully has sent them scrambling to their desks to actually bring out the many policies that are “being worked on” at this time. For AAP, my big question is: Is there a method to Kejriwal’s politics or is it a case of learning to swim so you don’t drown! I’m hopeful, but given his huge mandate, I’m afraid citizens will have to play the triple role of whistleblower, class monitor and audience-giving-polite-applause! Not something we’re used to doing really!
#2 Young people’s politics is confusing and their apathy disappointing
I’m constantly apalled at the strong streak of conservatism among the young today. On Valentine’s Day, I met a young neighbour and asked after her V-Day plans. She didn’t have any. And what’s more, she told me her parents were devastated and upset about her being single and not so ready to mingle! Survey after survey of youth in India have pointed towards a tendency to support the status quo. The Yuva Nagarik Meter survey brought out in Jan 2015 showed these disturbing trends among Indian youth, trends that are consistent with other surveys in recent years:
- Youth are ignorant about basic civic issues like democracy, rule of law and human rights
- They are dimly aware of citizenship: “Only 35 percent of high school students consider themselves citizens of India. Nearly three fourth do not know that the legislature is responsible for enacting laws,” as per a Huffington post report
- They have internalised stereotypes on gender and social justice- 50% are intolerant of migrant workers from other states, many believe that “household help do not have the right to demand minimum wages”
#3 Youth apathy combined with high expectations impacts poll results
I’m not surprised therefore, that we are seeing more absolute mandates than before when elections happen. I think young people are impatient for change but might not really want a radical rethink of positions. Also, they (and it’s not just the young) are given to pass quick judgements and move on if their expectations are not met.
#4 How much does your politics alter your perceptions?
I’m not a BJP supporter and certainly not overawed by the PM’s rangeela personality and flavourful brand of politics. I have a number of friends who are in the opposite camp as well. Many of these left-leaning friends of mine have been upset about something. They claim that previously ‘moderate’ friends who voted for Modi on the plank of development must speak out against the BJP’s divisive politics. There’s a fair amount of hurt going around and the PM’s very recent press statements on religious freedom will, I suspect, add flame to the fire rather than settle things down.
I’ve been arguing with the moderates and leftists among my friends, who tend to shout down anything Modi says or does, on the need to give a fair hearing to the positions brought forth by the current government. Critique them by all means (if possible, constructively), but being obstinately obstructive might not really help! And I’ve been trying hard to follow my own instincts, that tell me that an unconsidered extremist position is a bad one, whether your politics is conservative or liberal is besides the point.
A most informative and thought provoking read. Let’s not forget the women in history….another type of subaltern!
Originally posted on nilanjana roy:
For the last two decades, I’ve taken my voter’s ID card for granted: it’s just there, like the “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” of India itself. I almost voted for Dharatipakkad in my first election, before using my franchise a little more wisely, and will vote along with much of Delhi this Saturday. Like most of my generation, I can neither imagine living in a country nor a world where women had to fight for the basic right to vote.
In my favourite photograph of Sophia Duleep Singh, the princess stands outside Hampton Court, an elegant woman whose face expresses her determination. She is selling copies of The Suffragette. Until Anita Anand wrote Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary (Bloomsbury India), even most feminist historians were unaware of the role played by Maharajah Duleep Singh’s daughter in the Votes for Women campaign.
Sophia Duleep Singh died a year after India gained…
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This is precious! Especially for all you data lovers out there…
Originally posted on cprurban:
By Bhanu Joshi, Research Assistant at CPR
Electorates are central to any election. Parity in the electoral units (constituencies) is a vital component in defining how representative and, to a certain extent, how fair the elections would be. This draws from democracy’s fundamental tenet of “one man- one vote”; a principle articulated in the framing of India’s constitution.[i]
Preceding the Delhi elections in 2015, Janagraaha came up with a report which was widely published in The Hindu & Scroll on some of the discrepancies in the electoral rolls and effectively electoral misrepresentation in the form of omissions or deletions of electoral rolls in Delhi.[ii] While this reportage, principally around an election, brought around the necessary publicity, the larger process of voter registration continues to be an issue that needs deliberation.
Delhi has seven parliamentary constituencies which neatly fit ten assembly constituencies in them. Post the delimitation exercise, in…
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Fortune has dug into its archives and pulled out a gem in celebration of the 50th edition of Jane Jacob’s famous treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
As I read this essay, titled Downtown is for people and written in 1958 as a critique of the slew of downtown redevelopment projects that American cities were investing in, I find myself smiling often. It is uncanny how much of what Jacobs writes can just as well be about the approach that governments and planners in India (and even citizens, unfortunately and ignorantly) have to smart cities today. She outlined the problems and offered solutions 50 years ago and it seems that we are still not listening!
“From city to city the architects’ sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.”
#2 Obsessed with order
“The architects, planners—and businessmen–are seized with dreams of order, and they have become fascinated with scale models and bird’s-eye views. This is a vicarious way to deal with reality, and it is, unhappily, symptomatic of a design philosophy now dominant: buildings come first, for the goal is to remake the city to fit an abstract concept of what, logically, it should be.”
#3 Citizens, ignorantly perhaps, buy the imagery
“…citizens who should know better are so fascinated by the sheer process of rebuilding that the end results are secondary to them.”
#4 City plans must fit the people, not the other way round!
“You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong……..
…..the best way to plan for downtown (replace: the smart city) is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown (Replace: The city) does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.”
#5 Beyond managing cars, allow interesting spaces to flourish
“There is no magic in simply removing cars from downtown, and certainly none in stressing peace, quiet, and dead space. The removal of the cars is important only because of the great opportunities it opens to make the streets work harder and to keep downtown (read: urban) activities compact and concentrated. ……. The whole point is to make the streets more surprising, more compact, more variegated, and busier than before-not less so.”
“Think of any city street that people enjoy and you will see that characteristically it has old buildings mixed with the new. Downtown (Read: City) streets should play up their mixture of buildings with all its unspoken–but well understood–implications of choice.
#6 Technology can inform, but also misinform
Jacob’s example is easily supplanted by the obsession with big data, GIS and 3D imagery, which in itself is a great tool provided planners are able to infuse these with the reality that is so often left out! Populating the walk through with human figures simply ain’t enough!
“Why do planners fix on the block and ignore the street? The answer lies in a short cut in their analytical techniques. After planners have mapped building conditions, uses, vacancies, and assessed valuations, block by block, they combine the data for each block, because this is the simplest way to summarize it, and characterize the block by appropriate legends. No matter how individual the street, the data for each side of the street in each block is combined with data for the other three sides of its block. The street is statistically sunk without a trace. The planner has a graphic picture of downtown (replace: the smart city) that tells him little of significance and much that is misleading.
…….Believing their block maps instead of their eyes, developers think of downtown streets as dividers of areas, not as the unifiers they are.”
#7 Drawing it on a plan does not make it reality!
“In this dependence on maps as some sort of higher reality, project planners and urban designers assume they can create a promenade simply by mapping one in where they want it, then having it built. But a promenade needs promenaders.”
She also makes in the context of Philadelphia the observation that successful urban design happens when city planners and civic leders walk in the city. That’s one simple target for Indian cities! :)
#8 Self- fulfilling prophecy
“government officials, planners–and developers and architects—first envisioned the spectacular project, and little else, as the solution to rebuilding the city. Redevelopment legislation and the economics resulting from it (Replaced: ‘Smart cities’) were born of this thinking and tailored for prototype project designs much like those being constructed today. The image was built into the machinery; now the machinery reproduces the image.”
#9 The individuality of the city is vital and a project approach won’t get you there
“The project approach thus adds nothing to the individuality of a city; quite the opposite–most of the projects reflect a positive mania for obliterating a city’s individuality. They obliterate it even when great gifts of nature are involved….”
Jacobs specifically observes that “the project approach that now dominates most thinking assumes that it is desirable to single out activities and redistribute them in an orderly fashion” and denounces this strongly!
….But every downtown (read: smart city) can capitalize on its own peculiar combinations of past and present, climate and topography, or accidents of growth.”
#10 Sense of place and the importance of surprise and fun!
“A sense of place is built up, in the end, from many little things too, some so small people take them for granted, and yet the lack of them takes the flavor out of the city….”
“(The) notion of order is irreconcilably opposed to the way in which a downtown (read: compact city) actually works; what makes it lively is the way so many different kinds of activity tend to support each other……Where you find the liveliest downtown (cities) you will find one with the basic activities to support two shifts of foot traffic. By night it is just as busy as it is by day”
“….will the city be any fun”
Have picked these quotes out deliberately because the smart cities envisaged in India profess to be moving towards being compact, dense and sustainable in line with contemporary buzzwords that dominant urban planning and design.
Points to ponder
And finally, for me, it is important to remember that a city is created over time. Many layers – historical events, personalities, social movements and geography, among others- shape a city and make it livable. Do our designs for smart cities have the physical and metaphysical space to allow them to shine and glow with the patina of time? Or will we be issuing a Pass/Fail report card to these entities a decade after they are built, like we are already doing for suburban urban centres like Gurgaon?
A final quote from Jacobs:
“The remarkable intricacy and liveliness of downtown (read: a city) can never be created by the abstract logic of a few men…” (and women)!
Read the essay here.
Exploring a city isn’t necessarily about visiting a heritage site, park, entertainment hub or any other place of tourist importance. It can also be about experiencing the everyday. In my (often unsuccessful) pursuit for opportunities to get in a little bit of exercise into my routine, I ventured out onto the streets of Gurgaon for a walk. I consciously decided not to drive up to a park and walk inside it, a decision I partly regretted when I tried to navigate a heap of pig-strewn rubbish that came my way!
My adventure, which I will shortly document in pictures, did not strike me as blog-worthy until I came across this piece in Guardian on walking in the city. The article refers to French poet Louis Aragon’s book Le Paysan de Paris in which he writes about the walker’s ability to experience a ‘moment’ if “sufficiently alive to the nuances of place and atmosphere.” A bit of a philosophical conflict, but also intermingling, between surrealism and rationalism here, I agree. But it is exactly what I felt and enjoyed, the ability to experience my city the way it was, without curation or choreography.
My walk started from Shikshantar School in South City 1, where I dropped my son Udai for a football match, and ambled across a major road, then through a city park, via a small slum and default dumping ground for construction waste, through an urban village and finally back to base. I won’t dwell on the gaps in infrastructure. Broken footpaths and traffic lights that do not program for pedestrians are business-as-usual in Gurgaon, as in most Indian cities.
I do want to talk about the joy of seeing the city wake up, in a leisurely fashion, between eight and ten on a Saturday morning. I enjoyed the lack of reaction to a lone female walker in deserted parks and less populous roads of the city. I reveled in the absence of pre-meditation, in taking turns that led God knows where. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to experience my city, I thought, and I should do this more!
It caught my fancy. Jia Bhoroli, what a lovely name for this lively river that we had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy that last week of 2014 on our visit to Assam. Known as the Kameng in the Indo-Tibetan glacial regions and flowing through Arunachal Pradesh, the river gets this typically musical Assamese name as soon as it enters this state.
We rafted down a picturesque stretch alongside the Nameri Tiger Reserve, with the Himalayas behind us, navigating one gentle rapid after another, enjoying a delightful picnic on the raft. Three rafts, five families, many excited and boisterous children. It was a blissful picnic ending in a meal at the Eco Camp, which sports tent accommodation and local produce & handicrafts.
I must ask my Assamese friends what Jia Bhoroli means. If I can take a guess, I would say I agree…something about these waters, their lyrical rhythm, their sweet taste, their meandering gait filled my heart with satisfaction. A unique pleasure that only being with nature can give.
The dovetailing of urban planning and development is incomplete even as development authorities and private real estate developers continue to fraternize and collude. What happens, then to low cost housing or private property rights? Is this an issue of class conflict or of irresponsible governance? Raeesa Vakil’s case note sheds light on these essential questions…
Originally posted on cprurban:
The development of the Powai Area Development Scheme (“PADS”) in Mumbai, has been fraught with legal controversy for the last twenty-odd years. In 1986, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (the “MMRDA”) entered into a tripartite agreement with the original landowners to develop 93 hectares of land in Powai, Mumbai. The land was leased to the Hiranandani group for development at a nominal rate of Rs. 1 per hectare. In return, Hiranandani was to construct low cost housing of two types – one of 40 square meters, and the other of 80 sq.m. The original owners would get housing for themselves and an 80-year lease over developed property. Of the remaining housing, 15% would be sold back to the state at low rates for allocation to government employees. The rest would be sold for profit by Hiranandani.
The original agreements with Hiranandani also had requirements for the provision of open…
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