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Towards better urban planning

Walk through any metropolitan city in India and the first thing apparent is the chaotic planning of its urban spaces, be it public areas or the building structures themselves. Even individual public spaces invariably lack sensitivity in planning, be it in terms of design, functionality, or even material use.

The question then veers towards role of architects, urban designers as well as organisations addressing architects and the designer community. What role have they played in addressing the needs of urban areas and public spaces; how effective have they been in voicing concerns and having rules implemented?

How many of our cities have witnessed active intervention by urban planners and architects? Interestingly we are far behind in comparison to cities abroad. This indicates the need for a more sensitive governing body, active public participation, or better still, greater involvement of urban planners and architects.

Collective responsibility

Architect Kirtee Shah, KSA Design Planning Services, says, “Not many architects recognise the service aspect of their profession as they are preoccupied with the business side of it. The question then arises, is an architect’s work restricted to merely putting up one well-designed structure amidst hundred ugly ones? This question has become even more pertinent today: What are we doing about it as designers?”

Stating that cities are currently facing a losing battle with metros like Mumbai having half the population living in slums, Delhi having its air so polluted as to prompt the High Court to refer to it as a ‘gas chamber’, Shah asks, “what are urban designers and architects doing to address these, both individually and collectively?”

Calling well-planned urban spaces as the lifeline of a city, Urban Designer and Architect Vidyadhar S. Wodeyar, Arch Plan, says, “The Government should be the role model for development. Be it streets, playgrounds, or cultural hubs, care should be taken during the designing and approval stage as well. Well-designed spaces should be flexible to accommodate changes in character as well as increase in traffic, be it pedestrian or vehicular.

Curtailing damage

Similar to the practice in European and other developed countries, all major projects of architects, urban designers, with an area over 1000 sq. m. should be on the public domain before granting them an approval. Such public participation would curtail damage to public spaces and life.

Referring to storm water drain networks in our cities, Wodeyar adds, “If urban planners had planned well, we wouldn’t be facing the issues we see our cities grappling with. Unfortunately, architects and urban planners look at the project in isolation and not as part of the total urban system. As urban planners, we need to study the impact of every structure on the area and environment, especially in terms of energy consumption, solid waste management, water use, and impact on pedestrian and vehicular traffic before coming up with the design.” He adds, “A larger role needs to be played by architects, urban planners and landscape architects in developing our urban spaces, making our cities green, sustainable, with low carbon emissions.”

Space identity

Architect and Urban Planner Anu Natarajan, member of the planning department in the City of Palo Alto, USA, has explored the various ways in which urban spaces can be designed to offer the right experience to the urban dweller. “Planning urban spaces is about building for the community, but we have lost this sense of large community,” she says.

“It is important to identify and understand what makes a great place: The social, political links, the psychology, the urban design reflecting these, the comfort, and accessibility together with a sense of belongingness and interaction that is exuded in the social spaces that it contains.”

Context specific

Natrajan further adds that planning needs to be community-driven and needs to be inclusive, adaptable, context specific as well as dynamic in its design sensitivities. “The design and planning of an urban space should be people-focused and not project-focused, where the spaces invite active public participation.”

It is time our planners created such dialogue between communities, designers, and governing bodies before addressing the future transformation of our urban spaces.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 10:35:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/Towards-better-urban-planning/article14578676.ece

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