Chennai is growing; Chennai wants to grow. But, Chennai is also grappling with growth, with the phenomenon of ‘urban sprawl’, with more development that too, unregulated.

Four panellists from diverse backgrounds and standpoints on urban planning channelled their expertise at the Indo-German Urban Mela, on a fundamental question – how to make our city liveable.

Julian Petrin, from the organisation NEXTHamburg opened the forum with thoughts on how public participation and opinion can be used constructively. Referring to the protests surrounding the Stuttgart 21 project in Germany, he said rebellion and opposition is something city planners have to take into consideration. Effective online and offline crowdsourcing, he suggested, was one of the ways in which the public could be involved. “At our organisation, we collect ideas from the community, filter them, evaluate and skim out the best ideas, and incorporate them into our vision for the city,” he said.

In order for a city to be sustainable, the key factor is how it is designed rather than what it has in terms of material and matter, said Nagendran R., National Green Tribunal.

Mano Kumarasuriyar, planner, MARG Limited, suggested that a geo-spatial approach be used, whereby there is comprehensive development of one geographical space at one time.

Focussing on the OMR stretch, he highlighted problems such as pedestrian-vehicle conflicts, conflict between public and private transport and unregulated parking, and suggested measures such as the setting up of a Therukadai Chavadi – enclaves off the expressway where shops would be set up, and parking space would be provided.

For something of this scale to work, there needs to be a system in place, said Raj Cherubal, Chennai City Connect Foundation, taking off from where Mr. Mano left. He said that we needed indigenous solutions for indigenous problems, and that emulating systems followed in other cities was not a solution. “When you talk about expanding a city, and providing a road from Chennai up to Kancheepuram, for instance, you have to analyse what the efficiency of the road will be if there is nobody to use it. When systems are not efficient, they will not make money. It is a vicious circle,” he said, stressing on the need for comprehensive micro-level area plans.

Even the best of individuals, he said cannot deliver, under a flawed or underdeveloped system.

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