UNpacking Indian Urbanism – Need for Enquiry

Need for Enquiry

The city has long been a key site of inquiry for urbanists, architects, designers, planners, and social scientists across disciplines. Much of the research produced in the field of urban studies have been centered on Europe and North America and has viewed urbanisation within the wider context of modernisation. However, a dramatic transformation is taking place within regions across the Global South and in South Asia in particular where, despite the presence of several of the world’s mega-cities, the process of urbanisation is in many ways just beginning to be explored. Not only are older cities expanding and evolving; there is also a rapid increase in small and medium-sized cities along with the development of new urban forms such as ‘urban corridors’ along with attempts to adopt the ‘world class’ and ‘smart’ city as models of development.

Urban Centers in India
Urban Centers in India | Source: Indian Urban Atlas

The expansion of neoliberal forms of accumulation and the growing flows of goods, ideas, and human beings between and within global networks is having profound effects on the urban experience in South Asia, creating new possibilities as well as challenges, particularly for marginalised citizens. While power-holders struggle to create ‘world-class’ and ‘smart’ cities in order to attract capital, the vast majority of urban inhabitants experience multiple forms of insecurity. For those surviving on the margins, the city is both a site of promise as well as precarity. There is an urgent need for scholars of South Asia to reflect on the impacts of these profound changes on the lives of citizens and on our understanding of processes of urbanisation in general.

India’s cities, which are expected to become some of the largest urban conglomerates of the twenty-first century, incorporate both physical and visual contradictions to coalesce in a landscape of pluralism.

Enormous waves of distressed rural migration during the latter half of the 1900s triggered the convergence of these worlds into a singular, but multifaceted entity. Coupled with the inadequate supply of urban land and the lack of new urban centers, this resulted in extremely high densities in existing cities. Furthermore, with the emergence of a post-industrial, service-based economy, these worlds became even more intertwined within the same space.

Contrasting densities in city of Delhi
Contrasting densities in city of Delhi

In this post-industrial scenario, cities in India have become critical sites for negotiation between elite and subaltern cultures. The new relationships between social classes in a post-industrial economy are quite different from those that existed in state-controlled economies. The fragmentation of service and production locations has resulted in a new, bazaar-like urbanism weaving itself throughout the entire urban landscape.

Half of Delhi lives in ramshackle slums and shabby unauthorized colonies. This state of affairs is a serious blot on the face of the city which has great historical monuments and aspires to be a world class city. The centre of New Delhi is lined with leafy trees and can boast of superb example of contemporary architecture but its growth under exploding population has disintegrated into shanty towns.

High density urban fabric of Delhi
High density urban fabric of Delhi

Unauthorized or Illegal to authorized and legal, built fabric remains the same, so does the problems but off course the opportunities increased. Vacant plots are now parking or multistory apartments, single storey house has tuned into two, and two into four. Density is almost doubled since the last decade. Areas like Lakshmi Nagar the authorized ones or the Sangam Vihar, the illegal ones, have developed and transformed in a big way in the last 30 years. And over the time, just like the high aspirations of the people living here, that space also has an aspiration to become something it has never been before.

Residential-Unit-at-Khirkee Village
Residential-Unit-at-Khirkee Village

So, there’s some conflict, between That Space and the rest of space, between Lutyen’s Delhi and Delhi, between the authorized & legal and unauthorized and illegal, between low rise low density or high rise high density and low rise high density, between urban villages and urban centers or can say the Urban – Rural conflict.

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