A day after I blogged about the opportunity Delhi would miss by not consulting citizens and involving young design to inform the redevelopment of large tracts of government land in the city centre, an article coauthored by my colleague Gregory Randolph and myself has been carried in The Hindu’s op-ed page. The piece, titled ‘Castles in the Air‘ speaks out against the government’s subvertion of due process in a bizarre scheme to relocate thousands of slum-dweller families in 17-story highrises. It underlines that a lack of community consultations and environmental analysis means that the new homes are unsuitable to the lifestyles of the poor who will be forced to sell and return to a slum. In effect, the project is a nightmare and set to fail, a tregedy that can be avoided.
It is, of course, a huge honour for us at mHS to be published in The Hindu and it is fitting that they should have helped us voice our plea for a serious re-think on attitudes towards housing for the urban poor. For those of you from outside India, The Hindu is one of the country’s most respectable daily newspapers and is renowned for calling a spade a spade! As a friend put it, the column we got covered in is usually reserved for opinions on current issues and has carried pieces by eminent people like veteran journbalist P Sainath and Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman, no less!
But beyond the thrill of being published, I hope articles like these generate more serious debates on the need for participative planning processes. For there is no argument that these are the cornerstone for inclusive and sustainable urban development. In a rapidly urbanizing world, it is time experts and non-experts alike, indeed all of us living an urban existence, dwell upon these issues that urgently impact our present and our future.
Dear Minister for Urban Development Mr Kamal Nath, Chief Minister of Delhi Ms Sheila Dikshit and Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Mr Tejendra Khanna, and all those who can influence the planning process in Delhi,
I write to you first as a citizen who is proud of Delhi, the city that shaped her identity, accepted her for what she was, that made her fall in love with urbanism and the big-city life. I also write to you as an architect and urban planner, because I can sense sharply the enormous potential of Delhi and am heartbroken by the seemingly myopic attempts to ‘leverage’ available government land without consulting the people, and without adequately giving back the city, its people and its vast and rich history. Allow me to explain.
Delhi is fortunate in being one of the only mega-cities in the world to have large amounts of government owned land located centrally. This means that the government has the opportunity to plan and implement ambitious urban renewal schemes of the scale that most governments across the world can only dream of. Especially in the case of an ancient city like Delhi with tremendous heritage, social and political value, this is a golden opportunity indeed.
From what we know, however, it seems that the government is seeing these lands as opportunities for financial gain rather than as a chance to create lasting social and physical infrastructure that would benefit future generations. ‘Densification’ is being seen as a lucrative solution to redevelop vast amounts of under-utilized land (read low density). However, while the city does urgently need more housing, it also desperately needs parks, recreational spaces, cultural spaces, water bodies and much much more.
Within the bucket of housing, for the sale of illustrations, we know that a spectrum of solutions are required as opposed to only creating ownership ‘flats’ for government employees and for sale via the private sector developer. I would like to see, for instance, government-created rental housing stock for low- and middle-income families and singles. Located centrally, such a stock, similar to housing created in cities like Amsterdam (In many Dutch cities, ownership and rental housing co-exist in a nearly 50-50 ratio), would be instrumental in creating a vibrant city centre with a diverse population that has excellent connectivity to employment centres such as Connaught Place and Central Secretariat and metro links to peripheral areas as well.
As I ponder and bring to my mind the areas in question–Laxmibai Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, the dysfunctional Safdrajung airport, Sarjini Nagar, etc, I feel strongly that the government should invite a competition to create an urban design scheme for this entire area. Once seen as a large bloc, new opportunities will be unraveled. Young, creative minds will contribute fresh ideas that an expert panel can vet. Shortlisted designs must be displayed publicly, using large-scale models, interactive audiovisual exhibits and citizen meetings. The city’s active civil society will be delighted to participate in mobilizing public opinion. Once informed by this wide consultation, I am confident that the government will take decisions that are far more relevant to the city’s future. Delhi will truly be able to emerge as a ‘world class city’ in a way that is environmentally sensitive and inclusive and not merely cosmetic. Above all, India would be able to put forth an example of participative, forward looking urban renewal, the likes of which the rest of the world can admire and imitate.
The powers that be, I beseech you to not push this letter aside as the ravings of an unstable mind, but as the passionate and anguished outpourings of a young citizen who desperately wants her country to take its (rightful?) place in the global order, as a country that stands up for her citizens across barriers of class and economy, as a country that has the wellness of its citizens right at the centre of its political and economic philosophy, as an upright nation with a bright and golden future.
Citizen, Architect, Urban planner
Feel free to react at mukta DOT naik AT gmail.com
Stolen moments of pleasure are always special. But often times, when you suddenly find yourself at a loose end with time on your hands, when a meeting gets over too soon for example, it’s hard to figure out what to do. I rack my brains to think of all the stuff I always want to do but never seem to have time for, and nothing comes to mind.
Well, today the cylinders inside my brain fired up at the right time when I realized I was done early at college and my car wouldn’t pick me up for another hour at least. I walked briskly to the other side of the road and caught the first auto to Mandi House. This was a nostalgia trip for sure, for Mandi House was where we went whenever we had a free afternoon, back in the days when we studied architecture in SPA. A sort of culture hub, we were always sure to be able to see a few art exhibitions and would end up catching a play or music performance at one of the 5 or so auditoriums there.
This afternoon, I headed first for the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was always our favorite among the Mandi House venues because it is a Joseph Allen Stein building, beautiful, always serene and quiet. As usual, most galleries were open and walking through the art, both paintings and sculpture, was pleasurable indeed. ‘Polemics of a Soul Catcher’, an exhibition of very large paintings, oil on canvas, by Satish Sharma offered a commentary of the place of modern man, his moral dilemmas, his new increasingly urban environment..thought provoking. A group art show in the open air court offered a variety of techniques and themes and the sculpture court was also full of interesting works.
I had but a short time left, but I still tried to dash across to the Lalit Kala Akademi building, where again I know there always is something worth looking at.This ws quite a job with all the construction happening in this area. Thankfully, there were marshalls who were actually stopping cars so pedestrians could cross! I don’t come here often, but since I was a pedestrian today I noticed just how much the vehicular traffic has increased by in Lutyen’s Delhi. It completely destroys the charm, the constant whirring of cars with impatient drivers who don’t really want to wait for the pedestrians to cross! And this is the only walkable part of the city!
I had only about fifteen minutes at Lalit Kala Akademi. The building, Rabindra Bhawan, hosts important cultural institutions for literature, fine arts and performing arts and is an iconic building designed by Habib Rehman, one of many public buildings he designed in the ’50s and ’60s. The art gallery here has been renovated and I was entering the renovated space for the first time. Rather nice and uncluttered. The exhibition, and I cannot remember the name of the show or the artists, was an exploration of abstraction using new media. I quite liked some of the works, especially those depicting nature and human form.
An hour or so well spent, in my own company, soaking in art, the city and its spaces….