When the Advancing world seems to be running on Information Technology and aligned to meet the global demands when the developing cities are trying to catch up with highly sophisticated metropolitan towns, are the people leading the charge forgetting to give importance to the identities of these cities and towns? India, for example, with its wide variety of traditions and cultures, in the name of development and economy is losing the Architectural language or is failing to maintain the heritage aspects of towns while developing into smart cities. 

What does the Identity of a city mean

Are Developing Cities losing their Identity - Sheet1
Charminar Market_©Aman Upadhyay

According to Kevin Lynch, identity meant the distinguishing characteristics of an object for it to be considered a separate unit as compared to others. In terms of cities, it means the characteristics exhibited by the city in terms of cultural and social concepts, its natural and built forms, it’s economic and political systems that give ay to what makes the city as it is. The architecture identity is the expression of its built and unbuilt spaces as developed forms over the years of continued evolution and change that has occurred in the city and its residents. In cities that possessed rich heritage and cultural history, a totalitarian approach would be required in terms of planning the growth of it further and in its architectural expression, making it readable to its residents and designed giving much thought to how the city formed over the years, with each layer one on top of the other. These layers are carefully laid over each other just like how the demographics of the city are foundations for its human nature and interactions, distortion of which could affect its Identity.

Lessons from the West

Are Developing Cities losing their Identity - Sheet2
Times Square_©Florian Wehde

Well sure, the Europeans invaded American soil and created a culture of their own, without having a trace of the nativity or language of architecture that belonged to its geography. It just kept changing over time, from trying to replicate Doric and Greek columns and arches to gothic and renaissance styles, none of which belonged to its soils. It has been an experimental city, but since these experiments happened over a century or two before, the environment and the people habituating themselves have started identifying themselves to it. From checkered box patterned skyscrapers and buildings that wow us with its generous scale, the people in a country like America have gotten accustomed to it. For eg, Manhattan, the densest urban region in New York has been a breeding ground for skyscrapers whose purpose is to house the growing demand of the people without providing any additional value to the city, making it outright mediocre.

What leads to the life of cities

Are Developing Cities losing their Identity - Sheet3
The Ganga and the banks shaping the ghats and its architecture in Varanasi_©Srivatsan

Architect Charles Correa believed that one of the primary factors that lead to the way cities formed was the climate. This in turn determined the culture, source of its economics, the shape that the buildings took, and the spaces it created between. Some common or fundamental growth strategies should focus on walkable, green, sustainable cities that have within themselves elements that tie the users down to their sense of belonging in the space. developed world as soon as one can, we are following nothing but a quick fix to all of our problems

The Great Indian Potential

Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai_©Rishabh Parange

India is a land like no other, with its rich culture that has been looted in the past, and is currently fading away due to negligence. It is probably not too exaggerating to say that the museums in the UK would be mostly empty if they weren’t supposed to keep what belonged to India and other colonial ruled countries. India, with its limbs across all for direction, boasts its rich culture and heritage at every nook and corner. Be it the glorified temples in the south, massive tombs on the north, or white Portuguese churches on the west coast, these marvellous works have survived decades and will probably survive some more. They capture the human minds and imagination in a sense where people start to think how and why it was made, or what its purpose was.

While the radical growth in the western world forced itself to create spaces to accommodate the demand, leading to some lifeless cities, the slower progressive development in India still leaves us to hope to plan cities in a better way forward. Looking at the numbers behind, around 90 percent of Indians did not live in cities, and currently, around 30% do, and by 2050 around 800 million Indians will reside in cities. This rapid urbanization to chase the millennial goals always seem to hamper the life and identity of cities, by the replacement of natural features and those that leave the trait of the roots of the city by bigger corporate establishments. Sometimes, where conservation and alignment of growth with the already present culture and heritage buildings are prioritized, they are boxed in and overshadowed by the frantic, lifeless blocks of buildings. If Urban planning and design do not hold on to the values of the place whilst expanding its opportunities, lifeless, emotion-less habitual spaces will rise that eventually leads to urban decay. It is not the aggressive approach to inhibit growth, but to keep it organic and channel it down.


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Sonal, S. (2014). Reclaiming Urban Identity: Framework for Urban Regeneration of Patna City Area. Journal of Civil Engineering and Environmental Technology Print, [online] 1(2), pp.93–97. Available at: https://krishisanskriti.org/vol_image/03Jul201502073523.pdf [Accessed 23 May 2021].


Darsan Babu, an architect, dreamer and a storyteller who loves to take on challenges and reform perspectives on some days, but sit by the mountain and quote words of Howard Roark on others. Would love to explore all things architecture, educate and shape the Urbanscape soon enough.