Indian Architect & Builder
Special Issue – August 2007

Contemporary Urbanism: The South Asian Experience

Concept:

Cities have been studied and ideas for its growth and development have
been proposed continuously. Urban culture and geography have also been
documented and theorised to a good extent. One of the problems with
urban studies is the assumption of a historical continuity in the
imagination and planning of cities. This we feel has resulted in the
short sightedness of our methods and approaches in trying to comprehend
or resolve urban situations (read problems). There is a popular method
with which we approach the city as an object of study – every problem is
a larger and bigger version of a previous problem, every situation is a
metamorphosed form of an older or previous situation.

Is it possible that some times we are facing completely new problems? If
we ask old questions to new problems, we may not be working with right
answers. Are our tools for understanding urbanism today, adequate? Do we
need new methods, systems and frameworks to understand our urbanism
today, in a way that we can address its situations (do not read
problems) comprehensively? Is every urban situation, essentially a
problem? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ we have not moved far
from the late medieval imagination of urbanism, which modernism also
followed. It is actually primitive, but even today we still talk about
ghettoising slums by dislocating them to urban peripheries, or even
eradicating them. Organisation of cities under strong planning systems,
including citizen-participation models are models that focus more on
control mechanisms, rather than facilitating evolving models or situations.

The question is do we need to consider urbanisation and its trends in
India (or even South – South-East Asia) today as a completely new
organism/event? Do we need to discover new lenses to understand and deal
with our cities today? For this we not only have to review current urban
conditions and how we are intervening in them, but also try and develop
fresher approaches to documenting or analysing the urban situation.

The August 2007 issue of IA&B will precisely do this. We offer this
issue, as a platform where all kinds of professionals and all kinds of
institutions/organisations, concerned with the ‘city’ and its
urbanisation today, will explore the potential for new readings, new
meanings, new ideas and new tools to deal with the situation.

The proposed Themes and Issues for the special issue on Contemporary
Urbanism in South Asia are listed below as indicators of the problems we
have identified to address. The articles/essays may not be comprehensive
and conclusive on any issue they would attempt to address however they
should be springboards for future discussions and outline a framework or
range that the issue needs to confront or be assessed within.

PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT

This section should take head on the role of Master Plans and
Development Plans as instruments of urban/municipal policy making. It
would address the process by which these Plans are designed and made
available in public sphere as instruments of legality and space
consciousness. It would be interesting to see how the Plans have worked
or failed historically under changing economic regimes.

URBAN POLITICAL SOCIETIES

The last ten years has seen hectic activities by various organisations,
who call themselves NGOs. These organisations have ranged from being
professional groups who claim to represent the ‘underprivileged’, to
citizen groups who have created the urban ‘illegal’ citizen, often with
the help of professionals, to groups that represent themselves as being
the ‘uncared for’ or ‘discriminated’ citizens. These NGOs have often
worked in very close relationship with government or municipality
officials. Professional structures and class hierarchies have contested
to define our understandings of urbanity. Are these political societies
the new planning frameworks that citizens will now have to negotiate?

ARE MODELS USEFULL?

Comparative studies across the globe and sharing knowledge across
institutions have by default become a part of the process of
globalisation. At the same time certain phenomena like Globalisation,
Liberalisation, etc are used as explanations/justifications for claims
to urban agendas and policy. Are these phenomena operating as we claim
to understand? How are we documenting such practices and influences? And
what is their role?

THE ILLEGAL CITIZEN

The urban space no doubt is the site for heavy contestations. Economic
classes, ethnic communities, religious groups, professional and job
stratification, are some of the hierarchies and categories that are
playing games with real estate and urban geography. How does policy and
planning that operates under ‘social democratic’ definitions by word of
law, manifest itself in practice and application? What are the processes
by which policies are framed and executed?

PRIVATIZING THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

Just as citizenship is categorised between claims of legality and
illegality, spaces in the city are defined and controlled under demands
from socio-cultural groups. Socio-cultural groups are heavily backed
with economic and political affiliations. This complex web determines
how different parts and plots in the city get used and accessed. How do
citizens claim spaces in a city? How do these claims get negotiated at
the level of policy or legislation? How does the urban social fabric
react to such hierarchies?

ISLANDS OF DESIGN

Architecture and its language of form and materials define the symbols
and images that cities and their urbanity are identified with. Since new
architectural programmes like shopping malls and multiplexes, or walled
housing societies have now lived a life in our cities, it is time to
understand how these apparently public spaces and functions are
ghettoised in their form and culture, yet sites where the city sees
itself ‘flourishing’. What are the new cultural modes with which
citizens of different hierarchies negotiate with and use these spaces?
How has the design profession affected our understanding of our cities?

EDUCATION AND MEDIA

The professional media and education space are sites where cultures are
created or debated. The new city form is embraced or rejected, critiqued
or romanticised in these spaces. What is the role of educational
institutions and the professional media in creating the planning and
design professionals that influence urban culture, image and geography?
Are these sites for resolution of any urban crises?

Schedules:

Submission of abstract: 25 May 2007
Submission of final story
and images: 25 June 2007

Content Form:

Title: Please suggest a title, however the IA&B editorial team may
suggest and carry out changes for layout or thematic reasons.

Text length: 1200 – 1500 words only

Images: Minimum 5 to maximum 15 photographs should be submitted, with
photo-captions. Image resolution – 600 dpi for image size 5” X 7”

The IA&B editorial and design team will select the images for layout,
however preferences can be conveyed to us in advance.

Author introduction: A 2-line introduction explaining the author’s
current professional associations and interests in the concerned subject
should be provided.

Correspondence:

Email: [email protected] / [email protected] /
[email protected]

Courier: Kaiwan Mehta

Assistant Editor

Indian Architect & Builder magazine

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