'Urban Parallax' sheds scholarly light on the world of urban policy.
... It is only more recently that the city has begun to emerge fully, as an object of enquiry – experienced through novels and films, analysed by academics and shaped by policy. This is also the promise of Urban Parallax, a wonderful collection of essays that sheds scholarly light on the world of urban policy – evaluating policy discourse through parallel reflections on the trajectories of India’s urban transformation.
Much of urban policy that has emerged in recent decades is driven by the twin ideas of cities as the locus of economic growth and of India as a rapidly urbanising country – the appropriate trajectory of which must be guided by policy. Not surprisingly, therefore, that Urban Parallax also opens with essays by some of India’s leading urban economists offering differing perspectives on these issues.
[fresh] insights are on offer too, as several authors relate these differently situated urban spaces to the ‘local’ of policy domain through a granular description of the political. Himanshu Burte offers a conceptual argument about how the relationship between past and the present may be drawn, both within policy and in our understandings of urban processes. Lalitha Kamath draws attention to the ‘tribal’ governance culture of Mizoram that leads to the municipal council acquiring a hybrid and distinctive character in Aizawl, while Bhide counters the ‘Delhi-centred’ narrative of policy through a close reading of the slum policies initiated in Bombay through municipal and state-level agencies.
However, there remain two critical aspects to be addressed by future scholarship. The first is the role of other institutions in shaping urban outcomes. To state the most obvious – the increasing role of the judiciary in shaping urban discourse and policy options, which goes unaddressed in this collection. The second is the question of scale. The editors and several authors display their sensitivity to this question, but for the most part, conflate the urban with the city or the metropolitan, with the exception of an essay by M. Vijayabaskar and Radha Varadarajan on peri-urban spaces.
If one considers that cities draw upon water, food and energy from much wider geographies, while expelling waste to other spaces – on landfills, into rivers and seas – it is imperative to consider the urban even at sites that are not necessarily cities. Given global warming and climate change, a rethink of the urban from an environmental perspective is critical, even as we continue to engage with it as from the perspective of society and economy.