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conference: towards an alternative urban vision

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Discussion Themes

I. URBANISATION AS A DEVELOPMENT POLICY: INDIA, CHINA AND THE WORLD
Compared to China, India is a predominantly rural society. Urbanisation in India has been slow, and characterized by a rural push and a concentration of population and activities primarily in large cities. On the other hand, China’s urbanisation has been much more uniform across smaller and larger cities. This session presents the experience and consequences of rapid urbanisation in China. It uses the China example to highlight the relationship between urbanisation, investment, labour, production and consumption. It underscores the role of infrastructure development in planned urbanisation. Recognising the differences in the political systems and decision making processes of India and China, the session draws on the experiences of both nations to present a vision for India's urban future.

II. BEYOND THE MEGACITIES: SHAPING NEXT GENERATION CITIES IN INDIA
Mega cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have tended to dominate the urban agenda in India. Consequently, the potential of smaller cities to contribute to India's economy, culture and society has largely been ignored, despite the fact that they form a majority of India's urban centers. The private sector seems to have taken cognizance of this, with companies in the Information Technology sector vying for smaller cities where they are promised better infrastructure and cheap skilled labour as compared to the metropolises. However, the revitalization of small towns needs concerted government-led action. Recent developments under the JNNURM suggest that there is recognition of this fact. This session outlines the role of smaller cities in shaping the future urbanization trends in India, and how they can contribute to India's economy with assistance from the public, private and civil-society sectors.

III. LINKING THE SUSTAINABILITY AND URBANISATION AGENDAS: TOWARDS GREEN CITIES
Cities are hubs of production, consumption, and waste generation. As cities grow, so does their environmental footprint. Evidence suggests that urban density plays the most important role in determining a city's environmental impact. Density enables the re-use and recycling of water and waste, and allows for the provision of better public transport infrastructure which has a direct positive impact on the environment through reduced emissions and fuel use. The scale of the impending urbanisation in India and inherent energy crisis mandates a fundamental and drastic change in the DNA of India's cities. Recognising that strategic interventions and innovative policy decisions are possible at the current stage of India's urbanisation trajectory, this session argues for the urgent need for the mainstreaming of environmental sustainability into the urbanisation agendas of Indian planners, developers and citizens.

IV. FACILITATING AN URBAN RENAISSANCE: ROLE OF EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN CITYMAKING
Urban centres of learning and education have the potential to lead urban renewal in India in at least two distinct ways. First by being training grounds for urban professionals. Archaic regulations and curriculum have thus far discouraged innovative and multi-disciplinary approaches to urbanisation. Second, by the virtue of their location, typically in key urban areas, many educational institutions can act as cultural and social catalysts in a city, as seen in the case of the London School of Economics & Political Science, or Harvard University and MIT in Boston. Centres of higher learning in India tend to be fenced in and disengaged from the city which they inhabit. This session deliberates the best way to mobilise these institutions and get them to become more involved in the process of citymaking.

V. THE POLITICS OF MOBILITY: EVOLVING A NATIONAL URBAN TRANSPORT STRATEGY
India faces numerous challenges in its urban transport network. Unresolved contests for scarce resources and a continued inability to expand modal choice have resulted in congested roads, increased pollution levels and a looming energy crisis. Additionally, poor connectivity between cities across India hampers the growth potential of India’s smaller towns. City planners need to alternative and creative transportation models in the intra-city context, to improve mobility and liveability. This session highlights the need for a coordinated effort to improve transportation networks, so as to contribute towards the goal of attaining sustainable cities, and robust local economies. It also explores the potential of efficient transport systems to serve as drivers of urban development in small and mid-sized cities.

VI. SOCIAL INCLUSION FOR URBAN REVITALISATION IN INDIA: LINKING HERITAGE CONSERVATION AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Many Indian cities experience extremes of wealth and poverty. Despite an impressive annual economic growth rate of over 7%, a large part of the country’s population continues to exist in conditions of depravity, many of whom constitute the urban poor. A vital labour pool for the economic survival of any city, the urban poor are often excluded and marginalised as stakeholders in a city. A socially conscious urban revitalisation strategy demands that the relationship between livelihoods and place of residence be adequately recognised. This session explores how built heritage conservation in historic districts can act as an enabling tool for social inclusion and development of vibrant communities.

VII. AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN INDIA: BUILDING A NEW PARADIGM
This session deliberates on the importance of implementing viable models for affordable housing in Indian cities. The Planning Commission estimates an urban housing shortage of 26.5 million by 2012. Ninety-nine per cent of this shortfall affects economically weaker sections and low-income groups, which contributes to squatting and slum formation. There is an urgent need to provide for adequate, suitable and affordable housing for these groups, especially near employment centres. The session will see practitioners draw from their experiences to highlight real and workable solutions towards providing affordable housing in Indian cities. Speakers will also discuss the role of affordable housing in the larger context of social inclusion, city revitalisation, and economic development.

VIII. CITY MANAGEMENT: RETHINKING URBAN GOVERNANCE
Since independence, most governments have been somewhat ambivalent about how to build our cities, and how much to invest in shaping them. It was believed that the 74th Amendment to the Constitution would provide the framework for governing our cities. After many years of trying to implement the provisions of the 74th amendment in letter and spirit, experts now agree that there needs to be more clarity in the form of policy/ legislative framework to have better governance in urban areas. The government now proposes to introduce a Nagara Raj Bill which seeks to bring some of the desired clarity. But will this step be a sufficient condition in re-energising our cities, or will this be a case of too little too late? What structural changes are necessary in our urban governance system to ensure that our cities are governed better? This session seeks to analyse the importance of getting the thinking right on some core governance issues, what the government has done so far, and what it needs to do in the not too distant future.

IX. DRIVERS FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA: LEARNING FROM DIVERSITY
India's diverse and multi-layered social, economic, and cultural realities make it impossible to have a homogenous model of urban development. Replicating the megacities of India is clearly an unviable and undesirable option, as is the creation of tailor-made cities such as Dongtan in China. India's developmental evolution dictates that disparate stakeholders work towards the creation of unique urbanisation models for India at its current formative stage of urbanisation. Different cities of India can capitalise on various drivers of urban development such as industrialisation, tourism, natural resources, educational institutions, etc. depending on their heritage and characteristics. Revival of smaller towns, preservation of religious cities, regeneration of industrial cities, and planned growth of new State capitals are just a few examples of urban development models that can be adapted to India. This session presents an overview of urban development models that could be employed to enable India's urban centres to become liveable, competitive and environmentally sustainable and the role that can be played by both the public and the private sectors in achieving this.

X. LIVEABILITY IN THE URBAN DESIGN MATRIX: REVISITING PLANNING PARADIGMS
Cities must be pleasant places to live and work in for its constituents. This liveability quotient of a city is dependent on several variables such as urban form, transport systems, economic vibrancy, good governance, social inclusion, environmental quality, and availability of social and cultural infrastructure. The zero sum game of pitting functionality against aesthetics, rather than a focus on liveability, has given rise to ugly developments, contradictory policies, neglected public spaces, civic apathy, and increased stress levels, lower productivity rates as well as a compromise on public health in the modern Indian city. This session focuses on the importance of viewing the city as an interactive, organic and integrated space which must negotiate conflicting demands of its constituents. Speakers will offer an alternative to the way cities are currently being planned.

XI. THE FUTURE CITY: WHOSE CITY IS IT ANYWAY?
A city is inhabited by varied groups of people with competing and often conflicting demands, which leads to contests over resources. Policymakers and citizens are struggling to find sustainable solutions to these contests, which are often divisive and impede development. While successful city management requires necessary and timely institutional reforms, it also needs to be led by people with a vision. The implementation of an urban agenda requires leadership that is capable of effective negotiation and reconciliation of recurring urban contests. This session explores some of these conflicts while also searching for alternative urban solutions. It highlights the need for thoughtful and innovative leadership for developing India’s urban agenda.

XII. CREATING ‘CHAMPION CITIES’: DELIVERING ENDURING URBAN LEGACIES
Cities across continents have leveraged mega events to lead urban renewal, and attract world attention. While Barcelona successfully capitalised on the 1992 Olympics, London’s run-down East End is undergoing a massive regeneration before the 2012 Olympics. The idea of ‘Champion Cities’ is an acknowledgement of the criticality of sports, and culture to the development of urban form. Hosting mega events offers the city an opportunity to transform its built environment, economy, and social landscape. Given the fact that tourism is increasingly becoming an important revenue source, an increased emphasis on and investment in the ‘software’ of the city gives it an enhanced competitive edge. This session will employ the example of Delhi, given the pending 2010 Commonwealth Games, to deliberate on how best to maximise the opportunities presented by mega events to create lasting legacies that meet the larger aims of urban renewal and development.

 

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