Planning and Politics

Most planners disdain playing politics. Yet political astuteness is a predominant characteristic of the field’s pioneers and is a prerequisite for achieving change (Carson, 2002). Planning and politics often define city development models. The successful planning objectives have always been the election manifestos across the world. Consider the case of Amsterdam where a planning objective to create a bike-friendly city was addressed by a vision to reclaim parking lots for public use. Or the case of Singapore where Lee Kuan yew’s vision for public housing has benefited the city and the government is focusing the future visions. Politics and Planning always had a symbiotic relationship to growth.

In India for a long-time planner have been dissuasive of considering politics as a growth model. Since independence, the social economic and political processes in the country have been effectively shaped by 3 major ideological influences which are colonialism, nationalism, and democracy. Although post-independence there was political vision being backed up by the development model, for example, The Nehru’s dream of a modern city like Chandigarh that was eventually realized. Was it for the greater good or was it a statement showcasing power, the contrasting views towards political planning models always exist one needs to choose either side? Politics has often considered planning & development as a tangible imprint of growth in cities over time. Talking about stamping cities, the throne marks the permanence. The Colonial cities & towns during British raj were always built to show power and stability. One such city that was considered as a synonym to the colonial power, was the capital of Delhi. It was referred to as a city rival to Paris and Washington and was formally inaugurated in 1931. Within 16 year’s British rule in India came to an end and India’s political class moved in and completely took over what’s still today a bureaucratic city. Thus, when one considers the case of redeveloping the Central Vista in Delhi, it is not only a celebration of symbolism but of political rituals being dealt with design and planning in urbanism.

Role of Politics in placemaking - Sheet1
Google earth view of Rajpath, New Delhi. ©www.alwaysunderconstruction.tumblr.com

Identity and Power

Regional identities can be perceived at various scales i.e. local, national, or global, and thus represents a social construct that people relate to as their own. These constructs are an expression of power relations. Thus, Identity as a political construct represents power and ambition. When we refer to Haussmann’s idea of Champs-Élysées in Paris itsymbolizes power, yes it marks an identity but in all certain ways signifies centrality a unilateral vision backed up by the monarchy. One may suggest that it is good for the better good. But politics exists in dualism favors the powerful in the name of national identity.

Role of Politics in placemaking - Sheet2
Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. ©www.transporthistory.files.wordpress.com

The Central Vista is a national identity referred to with a political ambition coated with the functional need of space. Yes, there is an infrastructural need holding a bid of a political objective. The Capital is politically envisioned to wear a new look by 2024 – with a new Parliament, a new residence for the Prime Minister, an arboretum of rare plants, and a spruced up Rajpath (Patel, Lakhani, 2020). The hum bordering the government’s ambitious redevelopment project of the Central Vista is strong which depicts how politics drive power with a baton to redefine Identity. The Idea to remodel old capital cities may be driven by practical reasons. But what is proposed in Delhi neither undermines the spectacle of power nor does it reconfigure publicness of the space. Thus, when one considers planning as a tool for political patronage. The development model often falls in the domain of power.

Role of Politics in placemaking - Sheet3
View of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. ©www.thepatriot.in

Need towards a Radical Placemaking

Democracy is an accepted synonym for transparency in a republic. Therefore, the basic question is a driving necessity that legislatures are built as spaces for the public to engage with politics. An effective and radical place-making process drives accessibility and approach as a key factor for the design of public spaces. The central vista revitalization project promises to be in line with the original plan created by Lutyens. And aims at consolidating, rationalizing, and synergizing the government functions by providing the needed infrastructural support. But the question of accessibility exists. To what degree do the legislative spaces are thought of as a public space. Although the new parliament addresses the concern for the involvement of a wider public in the legislative procedure. But how this redeveloped space that functions for the nation supports its city and people and can the project be framed in a perspective of modest proposals is still a question that one should ask. People-oriented designs in India are still in the phase of neglect which in a way is a disappointment for the citizens. The government as mentioned by Lincoln is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Thus public life in a public building is a primordial vision that one should aim for. Architecture and urbanism undoubtedly cater to need and functional objectives but what is important is to instill a sense of association and ownership within people for a successful planning & design approach. The central vista project is a successful attempt in understanding the need to revisit places of national interest but the approach needs to be people friendly and sensitive in the public domain.

References

Carson, R. (2002). The Art of Planning and Politics.

Chakrabarty, B. (2008). Indian politics and society since independence. London: Routledge.

Patel, S., Lakhani, S. (2020). Diversity, efficiency, flexibility: The brief for redeveloping New Delhi’s Central Vista.

Dutta, A. (2020). New PM house, PMO & Parliament before 2024; ministries along central vista.

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Himachal

Yash Siroliya is a Masters in Urban Design student at the Planning Department in CEPT. In an award winning bachelor's thesis, Yash focused on the restoration of the artistic and cultural legacy of a Himachal village. These days he spends his time thinking about public spaces for the next billion.

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