Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Urban nonsense - final post

The last two posts showed the matrix of some of the players in the city master planning, which has led to a completely avoidable misery of poor life quality of citizens. Some of the other critical components would be

Indian master planners: They are either clones of the international planners or socialistic, romantic, incremental designers - without any big vision. Asking them to design a city and they would talk about cobblestoned alleys a-la-Paris or street furniture or small incremental quaint designs rather than serious, large scale, visionary solutions to the HUGE problems of the city. Completely alienated from the people.

People centric planning: This is by far the most critical component that is missing and the real reason why the entire planning is either motorist centric or built structure centric, but not centred on the people who are going to use it. When a colleague went to the second floor house of a heritage structure, the old lady suffering from arthritis living there started crying and saying to hell with heritage and all that...i need a lift to go up and down and see the world. The planning should think of her and not just the maintenance of heritage structures. A win-win solution should be created that would mantain the history of the context as well as take care of the people residing and working.

Institutional mechanism of stakeholder engagement:The 73rd amendment passed in 1991 by Rajiv Gandhi for rural grassroot governance led to the Panchayati Raj Bill, which has improved the quality of governance in villages and given a voice to every rural resident. The 74th amendment passed at the same time for bringing governance in urban areas closer to the citizens is still in a limbo. It is imperative to create a strong "Nagar Raj Bill" which would decentralise the urban governance system ( and allow the people of the country a say in the urban planning of the city. Remember when Bill Clinton was the President of USA and thus the most powerful man in the world, he had to go to his borough to get permission for getting his house facade repaired. And as I mentioned in my earlier post, I have no doubt that the local shopkeeper, paanwala and resident know faaar more about how the road should be, where the parking should be and how the park, school, health center and others should be located than the babus sitting in mantralaya and deciding their fate. Complete lack of democracy and democratic institution is the main reason for failed master planning.

Sthapatya Veda and the Indian knowledge system: Indian knowledge system has been eclipsed by the hundreds of ravaging attacks on the nation. Yoga, Ayurveda, Conflict resolving and inclusive world view, Spirituality are some parts of the Indian knowledge system which is now finding support and recognition all over the globe. The knowledge that India had on metallurgy, construction technology, construction material was outstanding and in some cases, better than even the latest ones. We had a Veda (book of knowledge) on Master Planning called Sthapatya Veda which gridlines, drainage instructions, city planning processes which led to excellent planning in Mohenjodaro and Harappan cities. The use of the five elements of ether (space), air or wind, fire, water and earth were so blended that it minimized the negative impact of heat and cold. Master planners need to revisit some of these successful concepts.

So, what we need for a sensible and workable urban landscape is master planning based on utilization of the best global practices married with local contextual ethos while taking stakeholder engagement from the survey to the planning to the implementation and post-implementation stage.

The final question is - whose plan is it? Mumbai with its vibrant citizens or a few disconnected centralized planners?


  1. Its probably not fair to blame planners for the mess Mumbai is in. Mumbai is not suffering due to bad planning but due to sheer absence of planning! We have never given planning a thought and our BMC has no planners on board! MMRDA is just a broker between government and infra companies and do not have an agreed vision as a guidebook.

    We first need to take a conscious decision to holistically plan mumbai and then decide if our planners are good or bad. But yes, there is a dearth of planners and planning knowledge...Indian or western education is secondary..we need education in this field to start off with.

  2. mayank , where will you utilise this powerful thoughts upon.Rajiv Mishra

  3. A start would be to segregrate the planning functions from the municipal functions in the BMC- BMC should be responsible ONLY for Municipal Services and a separate agency (MMRDA?) for city planning and implementation.
    This would also remove the influence peddling of the builders from the political arena as a tamperproof City Plan would emerge. Local inputs would be advisory in nature, but administrative political interference minimised. Monthly performance audits involving local residents of the implementation of the city plan would keep things on track.

  4. Planning frameworks should be robust enough to operate at all scales. Details (like the cobble-stoned alleys) give the place a unique identity and are important together with the other problems that affect the city. Planning ought not to be an either or proposition but ideally should offer both: serious large-scale vision and detailed implementation. For cities to be successful, we must create great places with local identity that people love.

    Even with good planners and great vision, we still need good tools to carry out the vision. The 1967 Development Controls need to be reexamined and replaced with a transparent and streamlined regulatory framework that produces predictable results and great places.

  5. I am overwhelmed by the depth of Mayanks' info base and expertise. But is it possible to clearly define and design a 'live city' as tho it were a mechano set? Would it not be added to in pieces as in a ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle? Would not the consistent irrational behavior of humans, change the well laid out plans for a 'planned city'? How does one reconcile the planning for a growing city with its ever changing needs and uncertain issues? In short .., I am not expressing myself well ... isn't a planned city more of a dream than a reality? Given that anything would be better than the current scenario of Mumbai, have not all the great global cities gone thru such a mess as Mumbai and gradually changed for the better with greater economic development? Can we as Indians get out of our inferiority complex and accept that some historic-local solutions are still better than what the World can offer?

    All in all ... a great attempt. Keep it up ... Mayank! Be well!

  6. Thanks for your comments. Expecting holistic and integrated planning from a structure which is centralized, sporadic, haphazard and whimsical is funny. Get the institutionalized structure in place and everything will follow. After all, dmocracy with all its warts is still the best governance mechanism - get democracy in urban planning.

  7. I agree with Mayank that most planners in Mumbai think of architectural details rather then people centric approach. But I also disagree that we have scarcity of planners and knowledge here, I feel Mumbai based planner can give more justice to city which only you would know if you are born here and lived for long.
    I would thus urge that rather then getting foreign planners, who will justify the definition of being foreigner, give chance to locals. BMC and MMRDA are just govt. bodies without any planning forte. We need to think what kind of city we would want our children and future generations to live in and have a futurestic 3-dimensional approach towards city planning and evolving.
    Hamir Smart