Making a ‘Plan’ for the City

In an effort to study Photography, I recently learnt that if you are putting a story together about a Public Space, you would need to observe it over a long period of time, understand what happens there at different times of the day, what individuals or groups come there, for how long and so on. When you have a substantial understanding of the subject that you intend to photograph and have a story to tell, it is only then that you would be able to “represent” what you know through a series of photographs.

In architecture, to design any built environment is to “represent” people’s daily lives within a sheltered space. A space within a house is sculpted the moment the plan is conceptualised. However, it is the usage of and the linkages between the many small spaces within the house that needs to be first understood. The place to invite guests, the place to eat, the place to rest for the night, the place to study and the place to ponder and to relax are each important. In India, architecture has also had spiritual meaning that may relate to the time of day, in the way light enters the sanctum sanctorum of a temple at a particular time on a particular day in a given year. The architecture of water in the stepped wells of ahmedabad is an experience of shade for a traveller. We try to know the essence of these experiences and then “represent” them to generate a plan.

To make a ‘Plan’ for the City is to make a representation of what exists and what needs to change. It could be an indication of what happens there or what can happen there. If the citizens begin to share what they they think their cities should be and if the administrators and planners understand the city as a reflection of the everyday lives of its people – the planning, the implementation and the enforcement of policies and regulations would take a different and perhaps more appropriate direction.

A Plan is a representation of the everyday lives of the people who inhabit it. If we were to ask ourselves: Can it suggest the ‘pace’ of a city? Can it tell us about the ‘culture’ of the city? Or, Can it reflect the ‘social life’ of the city? For now, the answer might be: It cannot. So, if we wanted the formal plan or the ‘Master Plan’ to also represent all of these, what do we need to do? What is the data we need from the ground? What modes of analysis would we apply to interpret this data? And, how would this data and its analysis lead us to a plan that reflects ground reality?

As A.Ravindra, former Chief Secretary, Govt.of Karnataka points out in his paper ‘Urban Planning & the Dynamics of City growth’ (2010), some of the reasons for the gap between the ‘Plan’ and its implemenation are the lengthy processes of preparation of the Master Plan, a Land use plan that creates segregated zones, a Plan that finds it difficult to adapt itself to the changing needs of the times, a Plan that does not take into account the economic and social dimensions or environmental factors and finally, a lack of Citizen participation. He suggests that we need a process that promotes interaction between the planners and the citizens.

So, what are the ways to make this interaction happen? In December 2013, Hyderabad Urban Labs (HUL) planned Do-Din – a series of discussions, walks and exhibitions that were designed to bring about such interaction between the people and the city of Hyderabad. It was an effort to understand the city better through engaging with the local community. HUL is involved in multi-disciplinary research on urbanisation and the community-driven urban techno-arts event is a part of their on-going mission to study and understand cities. Anant Maringanti, Director, HUL suggests in Unravelling the Indian City that we may need to rethink our extant systems of knowledge and infrastructure for an urban scenario that is constantly changing from what we know it to be.

Are there other similar examples of citizen participation that we can learn from to make BETTER CITIES? 

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