It’s amusing and slightly frustrating to me that urban planners as a species are consigned to being perennially defensive about their profession. Architects are glamorous for some reason. They design stuff. Planners, to the lay person, appear to be limp and ineffective creatures, partially responsible for the urban chaos around us.
This morning I was at a meeting of parent volunteers in my children’s school. We were trying to contribute ideas and efforts to celebrate Shikshantar’s tenth birthday next month. Most parents were professionals from varied backgrounds. As we were leaving, a fellow parent asked me what I do. As I uttered the words ‘urban planner’, the familiar fuzzy look appeared. He asked me, perhaps mostly in jest, if that made me responsible for all the mess in our cities. Most people couch the question by asking how I would solve the problems, clean the mess. This guy said it bluntly. I cringed at first. My retort of the moment was to tell him that most city governments (municipalities) in India don’t even employ an urban planner, which is true. He was suitably shocked and I was suitably pacified by his mumbled “I didn’t know that actually”!
Which is why I have wanted to write a book demystifying planning as a practice, as an approach. Not in order to explain or justify what we planners do, but more to explore how participatory planning processes can evolve when citizens are more aware. And to show that planners can play a critical role on helping governments and people imagine their habitats and indeed, their future.