Monday, October 31, 2011


as seen through the perspective of urban process management

(I had written this for the Souvenir published at the seminar on the subject at Thrissur!)
To begin with, let us assume that “landscape” stands for urban landscape as in this context of discussion. Urban Landscape would include the primary layer of the ecology and the overlaid human activities in all its diversity. Transition is an inevitable process and let us encourage the idea of transition with the fervent hope that we have the power to lead it to goodness.

On transition, our concern would invariably be about the lack of wholesomeness that is being brought about by various energies that operate in this realm. We lament the lack of direction, and the resultant loss and erosion of values. The fact that these energies seem to work at cross-purpose depress us and make us throw up our hands in despair due to our inability to handle this complexity in its totality.

Each little change seen in the physical urban context is a product of our social process and its urban governance mechanisms. If we need to lead the transition towards betterment, we need to learn to tweak the processes that run the show from within. We must get into the system or get the system to absorb and reflect our concerns through reforms in governance. Participatory urban planning process is a step in the right direction. With a lot of Urban Design input, our city spaces can be articulated to perform as good physical settings for quality social life.

With the available tools of the internet and GIS, we could bring about a mechanism where public opinion on development issues get reflected on LIVE MAPS. Networked and live-updated urban information system has the potential to be a primary base of urban governance. This is such a powerful political idea. It is also about high quality urban information networks. Such networks even have the potential to create self governing urban areas. A new form of Life itself!

On a far less complex scale, Building Rules could be modified to bring about more street life. The soul of being in an urban context is to experience a qualified street life. Roads have always prioritized the vehicle. Street prioritizes the pedestrian. A good network of such active streets are good PLACES. We need PLACES! Networks of pedestrian streets! Roads are only meant to connect such places. Unfortunately, we now have just roads that lead us to no places!

Consumption drives urbanization. Localizing consumption can create streets, whereas globalized consumption creates roads, highways, large airports and seaports and kills street life! Localizing would mean sourcing goods, materials, skills and energy locally as against bringing in finished products manufactured in far away lands using energy consuming transport/logistic facilities. Citizens need to balance their consumption patterns cleverly if they need to enhance the quality of their own city.

Open spaces are crucial for the success of an urban area. Our city management process is unable to deliver good open spaces in our cities. Let us adopt new mechanisms and financial instruments like TDR (Transfer of Development Rights), AR (Accommodation Reservation) etc to liberate land for public purposes without infringing on the livelihood options of the land provider. Let all these forces act on our urban landscape and encourage a transition that can provide more open spaces, parks, urban places and enhance the value of our social life.

We, as individuals, are creatures of choice. Each and every single choice we take, reflects on our city. What we eat, what we choose as its ingredients, where we buy it from, what we wear, how we travel, everything links us up to our city. So, let us choose carefully and feel responsible for each of our choices. After all, we are leading our 'landscape in transition' through each of our little decisions!

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