Design solutions for a sustainable Bengaluru

Creative economy is a major contributor to overall GDP, and can be leveraged into business, investment, sustainable development, built environment and overall attractiveness of a city if nurtured and allowed to grow

Updated - January 04, 2024 05:31 pm IST

Published - January 04, 2024 08:30 am IST - Bengaluru

Folkluru Festival as part of Bengaluru Design Week.

Folkluru Festival as part of Bengaluru Design Week. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

I was recently in Panaji at the Serendipity Arts Festival, that has changed the perception of the city internationally. Through the involvement of the creative community, Goa and Panaji in particular, have an arts festival and a film festival that are counted as world-class. Goa over the years has encouraged an influx of creative professionals making Goa a creative hotspot from its earlier reputation as a cheap holiday destination for backpackers.

Jacob Mathew

Jacob Mathew | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

There is a clear link between the creative industries and the economy. The British Council India, in a recently released study, showed Durga Puja’s contribution to West Bengal ‘s economy to be 2.5% of the state’s GDP. Generated by a festival that has religious, artistic and creative-cultural overtones, the festival is now a major earner for the state. 

The creative economy is a major contributor to overall GDP, and can be leveraged into business, investment, sustainable development, built environment and overall attractiveness of a city if nurtured and allowed to grow.

During the  Bengaluru Design Week 2023, which was held to coincide with the Unbox BLR Habba, Bengaluru’s equivalent to the Kochi Biennale or Goa’s Serendipity Festival, two major initiatives were launched by the design community.

First, the World Design Protopolis, a nomination from the World Design Organisation that recognised Bengaluru as the world’s First Design Protopolis, (Prototype + Megalopolis), uses design to shape government and private sector spending using design processes to make the city more livable and responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizens. Bengaluru hosted the first Protopolis Conclave from December 7 to December 9, 2023. The conclave focused on some of the pressing issues the city faces.

Artists performing at the Folkluru folk festival.

Artists performing at the Folkluru folk festival. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Second, the start of several pilots and prototypes that are aimed at changing the experience of the city over the next five years. The first of them was the Folkluru Folk Festival, a combination of folk music, folk performance arts and folk arts that have been influenced by designers to have contemporary meaning and relevance. Performances and music were curated by Vasu Dixit a contemporary musician whose music is very much shaped by folk and the vernacular, and folk arts curated by Rashmi Singh an experienced designer and crafts practitioner. The projects that the World Design Protopolis introduces make possible for an integrated and systems design approach to solving some of the complex issues the city faces.

Design, citizens and the city

Design has always been seen as a problem-solving activity, but for a city’s managers, design is an engineering process for the implementation of solutions, very rarely stopping to seek the right questions as to what problems need to be solved.

Several cities in the world now have a chief design officer attached to the municipal government whose job very often is to see that solutions proposed are what citizens need and to have the citizens’ voices heard and responded to in planning and implementation.

It’s a two-way flow in that as the citizen realises she has a voice, an equal demand can be made for her participation in the city, moving from being a passive consumer of its services, to being an active participant with responsibilities and accountability equally being part of a citizens’ rights and contribution.

Change at scale can only happen if the citizens as well as the government is involved. 

Change at scale can only happen if the citizens as well as the government is involved.  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Change at scale can only happen if the government is involved and while working with the government isn’t easy, it is perhaps the only way that lasting change can be made. Citizens increasingly complain that Bengaluru has lost its charm and is becoming unlivable, but the experience of a city to a large extent is defined by the behaviour of its citizens. Here then is an opportunity for the city government, citizens, professionals and the organizations and institutions in the city to make a concerted change for the future.

Design systems and urban planning

Design can help shape a city and today it’s of utmost importance that we shape a city sustainably.

Cities would find it very difficult to be net zero contributors of carbon but can effectively reduce their footprint, whilst improving the quality of life for its inhabitants. Providing infrastructure such as roads, flyovers and metro systems without the added infra of publicly accessible last-mile connectivity very often exacerbates congestion.

Bengaluru has a very active sustainability movement championed by individuals, citizens groups and civil society organisations, further, several start-ups work in the circular economy space and continue to spring up through Bengaluru’s robust start-up ecosystem. The tipping point will come if there is coordinated and collaborative action across public, private, plural and people’s groups.

Design and consequence

Our cities needIntegrated planning that looks at the consequences of our design and policies examined before making them.

Take for example the numerous metro projects that have been undertaken across the country with much less than projected ridership. Working in departmental silos that haven’t planned last-mile and first-mile connectivity with Metro nodes, and without the simultaneous development of public road transport has meant that metros cannot be standalone solutions.

Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRTS) that have worked well in other global south cities haven’t worked in India without the level of interdepartmental coordination and collaboration required, though BRTS coupled with Metro can bring down the overall costs of public mass transportation and make it more flexible.

The DULT- (Directorate of Urban Land Transport ) coordinating with BMRCL (Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation), BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation, KSRTC (Karnataka Road Transport Corporation), The SWR (South Western Railways) and the K-Ride (Karnataka Rail Infrastructure Development project will all come together under the Protopolis program for cocreation of coordinated solutions.

Frugal Design

The cities of the Global South can’t opt for the same model of development as that of the cities in the Global North or even Southeast Asia. The planet certainly does not have the resources for it.

Frugal, effective, adaptable solutions have to be built that use minimal resources. Frugal design for instance might focus on local decentralised solutions for everything from water to waste management.

Rainwater harvesting to improve the water table, and revival of open wells (not bore wells) in localities may prove less expensive than pumping water over great distances and heights. Bengaluru is today dependent on water from the Cauvery River that has a horizontal transit of 100 km and a vertical lift of close to 1000 metres.

Small nature-based sewage treatment plants may work better than large, centralized sewage treatment plants and return treated water back into the local ecosystem. Bengaluru has several experts and institutions in this area such as Biome, MOD Foundation, IISC, IIHS, Srishti Manipal Institute, Ayala Aquatech, and countless individuals. Their work needs to be recognised and scaled for impact.

Human capital

In India, given our biggest resource is human capital, how might we leverage it to progress?

The demographic advantage we have currently has to be provided with the right skills and opportunities. Bengaluru’s development as a premier education capital started more than 100 years ago with the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. The IT sector owes its existence in Bengaluru to that magnanimous act by the Maharaja of Mysore and the Tatas.

The nature of cities

At the recent Protopolis Conclave, Professor Chhaya, the UNESCO Chair for Culture and Sustainable Habitat at SMI (Srishti Manipal Institute of Art Design and Technology) proposed a “GENTLE MANIFESTO” for city planning using a nature-inspired way of design.

Professor Chhaya proposing a ‘Gentle Manifesto’ for city planning at the recent Protopolis Conclave in Bengaluru.

Professor Chhaya proposing a ‘Gentle Manifesto’ for city planning at the recent Protopolis Conclave in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A city has to respect its geography and topography. Large-scale terraforming or altering of topography will have disastrous consequences. When you consider the old quarter of any old city in India vs its newer parts, floods rarely occur in the older regions.

Traditional planners and builders respected the lay of the land. The community was involved in the planning of habitats and due respect was paid to the commons, the interstitial spaces that are badly needed for nature’s regenerative effect on the city and its inhabitants.

The World Design Protopolis will work through six interconnected thematic areas of sustainability, infrastructure, enterprise, creativity, safety and new skills and pedagogy.

The five-year project in its first year launches about 30 projects from building a digital commons to integrated lake rejuvenation, using shadow spaces, last mile connectivity for mobility, decentralised wastewater remediation and many more that will transform the lived experience of the citizens and visitors alike.

The author is Senior Design Principal at Srishti Manipal Institute of Art Design and Technology and President of Association of Designers of India - Bengaluru chapter

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