Building citizen consensus, influencing decisions is a must-do if we want livable cities: Who will rise to the occasion? June 2, 2012
I really like the model that the Philips Center for Health and Well Being has developed to measure the success of cities from the perspective of livability. They use three spheres-Authenticity, Inclusion and Resilience- each of which include socio-economic, technological and environmental aspects, among others.
I like this construct because it addresses the ingredients I believe most valuable in a city.
Authenticity pertains to identity, history, nature and natural heritage, architectural heritage, connections between people and between the citizens and the city, sense of place, etc. In short its about a city’s character and how it navigates change as time progresses.
Inclusion is about equal opportunities, equal access to amenities and resources, justice, freedom, participation, quality of public spaces, etc- about creating a city for everyone.
Resilience is about adapting innovations, diversity, attitude, accepting and adapting to changes in environment, economics and cultural manifestation, about tradition and modernity and the conflicts.
They call it the AIR model and I think it is an interesting way to look at things, considering the enormous challenges and opportunities cities offer in today’s context. I do wonder how many of these aspects can be measured though. For the past two weeks, I have struggled with finding ways to quantify things like community interaction and inclusion for the ratings for affordable housing that we are working on at mHS, along with Ashoka housing for All.
It worries me that while many cities worldwide have recognized the benefits of good stuff like walkability and inclusive planning, Indian cities continue to be designed for cars and the common man is still excluded from decision making. Therefore, even if we do find ways to measure these soft aspects of a city, it is more critical to find means to share viewpoints across a wide cross-section of citizens, reach a consensus and get a buy-in, influence policy using the power of community buy-in…..all monumental tasks. Who has the energy and commitment for all of this in a situation where we have to fight the system for something as simple as a plan approval or to get the road before our house repaired? It looks bleak, but somehow somewhere someone will have to find the strength to do this!
I don’t like the concept of a gated community, yet I live in one. I believe traveling by public transport is the right thing to do as well as immensely enjoyable and cheaper, yet I admit I do drive to work at least half the time. My action towards conserving electricity is to set my air conditioner’s thermostat to 27 degrees C instead of the preset 24 degrees C. I can no longer live comfortably without air conditioning.
Someone asked me today whether they should invest in a posh apartment somewhere in Noida that would be delivered four years later, or buy a flat in a not-so-upmarket but conveniently located South Delhi neighborhood. I began to tell them about lifestyle choices and how, once they are made, they trap you in their iron grip, dictating your daily choices thereafter!
We should know! We moved to Gurgaon as renters initially. We were about to have a baby a few months down the line and where we lived in South Delhi, we couldn’t envision being able to even take the baby for a walk in a pram! The secure, open, green spaces and childrens’ play areas in Gurgaon’s gated colonies made perfect sense at that time and continue to do so now. Neighboring families were kind of clones of ours- similar age group, life stage, backgrounds, lifestyles, even aspirations at times. And so we bought into this lifestyle. We did not, however, bargain for a car trip for daily shopping and a completely automobile dependent urban environment where crossing a road could lead to a mental breakdown!
Inside the above-mentioned not-so-upmarket South Delhi neighborhood, afternoons are drowsy and evenings lively. Neighbors fight over water supply and often have nothing in common, but it’s possible to get all your household supplies within walking distance. Ice cream can run out at ten in the night in the middle of a dinner party and it would just mean running round the corner to replenish your stock!
I’m comparing the above two scenarios because price-wise, a family would have to make this sort of choice. I made mine for specific reasons, but now I live a life at complete odds with my ideological stance. Is that hypocrisy? Yes, it is. Can I or would I change that? No easy answers to that!