Tag Archives: urban

The Attractive Metro – not so attractive for women!

By Nidhi Batra

We assume that as a woman you have equal right to the city as your male counterpart. We assume that the city is ours as much as his. We assume that we can also do our normal chores with the city, use its infrastructure, walk, traverse and interact with the city with equal pleasure. But, we all know we assume wrong. Indian cities (and villages) are now synonymous with rapes. These are places not meant for us; these are places where we are ‘justified victims’. Our complaints fall on deaf ears of politicians, horror of civic planning and horrendous urban management.

Anyone familiar with urban literature is well traversed with the concept of ‘Eyes on the sidewalk’ by Jane Jacobs. But in many Indian situations, there are just too many eyes – fixed right at you, piercing through you, making you uncomfortable to the level that it is you and not those eyes that choose to look away.

Metro stations in Delhi and Gurgaon are one such pool of leering eyes. All metro stations were to be equipped for intermodal change. They are to permit a user jump off the metro and take a rickshaw, auto or your own parked vehicle for that last mile connection. Most metro stations have all of this. Autos that are parked right till the entrance of the metro station, rickshaws right behind them and insufficient car parking areas. Metros are being planned and constructed, however no planning and urban design is instituted in the design of these metro stations. Sitting bang on the road, most metro stations have no allocated space for these rickshaws and autos. These vehicles hover up on the street and the resultant is a traffic mess due to ill – managed transport. But it doesn’t really stop there. These autowallas and rickshaw wallas in their full attempt to ‘grab’ a ‘savari’ conglomerate right at the entry/exit of the station and pounce on every single user descending the metro station. This pouncing becomes even greater if it’s a woman user. And if unfortunately you are a user trying to enter the metro station – bad luck! You would have to fight through this wall of ambushing crowd and find your way in. Oh and if you are disabled or pregnant like I was last year, the struggle gets double! How dare then can we assume that this city is ‘also’ for us!


The picture above is at Sikanderpur metro station in Gurgaon, at 1 pm (not even office hours!)

On the other side of how further the metro is limiting to women passengers is the case example of Gurgaon Rapid Metro. The ingenious move of the Gurgaon Rapid Metro to earn revenue and avail some of its construction cost is to brand their coaches. As a result the entire coach brands a commercial commodity. Skoda and 3Cs are some of the brands endorsing the Rapid Metro. These endorsements wrap the entire coach so perfectly that, in the day time, the dark film doesn’t even let you see inside the coaches. I remember standing at the station wondering whether I should step in the coach – with no idea who or what could be going on inside. Once again, how dare, I even imagine that I could quickly take this metro and meet my friend at cyber hub for that afternoon coffee! Of-course branding is more important than me!

Skoda Rapid-Gurgaon Metro ad campaign

Source: http://www.motortrend.in/autonews/09122013/skoda-teams-up-with-gurgaon-rapid-metro.htm

Design, planning, governance and urban management – all together, need to play a role to make our cities safe for women. Metro is an exemplar for infrastructural development in NCR, but sadly even this successful intervention did not plan for its women passengers. A simple urban design exercise could have saved these transport nodes from turning into such havoc and would have given us the right to the city, we still believe and hope we deserve!


Terra urban monthly digest -May 2014


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Yeh mera shaher , ya ‘unka’ shaher – the new urban India

By Nidhi Batra

Modi Sarkar is here. It is set to transform ‘urban India’. 100 smart cities, massive infrastructure, boast to real estate, affordable housing through developers, integrated technology and clean Ganga are few of its aims.

On paper, these visions seem all glossy and attractive, however my concern lies in the fact that how much of the ground reality to these top down proclaims really incorporate. Just after the announcement of victory from Varanasi – came the declaration that 60 flyover shall be built in the city. What backed that decision? Was an integrated transport study ever conducted? Are flyovers really a solution to solve traffic woes? Haven’t we still learnt from various other cities across the globe? Developed nations are busy tearing off their flyovers and India shall build 60 flyovers in just one city! Thoughts like these scare me – urban India is set for transformation but are the citizens directing that transformation?!

And then comes the idea of 100 new smart cities, like Dholera in Gujarat – bigger than even ‘Shanghai’. But then do we really want Shanghais in India?! Are Greenfield developments a solution for India? The concept of smart city is welcoming, sustainability is welcomed, transit oriented development is welcomed. But are we taking far too quick and impulsive decisions to make 100 new cities – without assessing the existing potential of these sites to carry these new cities. As highlighted by Ayona Datta in her recent article India’s smart city craze: big, green and doomed from the start?  , Dholera doesn’t have a ‘water source’ to hold the population it is envisioned to host. Twice the size of Mumbai, the ‘smart city’ of Dholera the critics say will be built in a flood zone and will dispossess farmers. And to make Dholera happen; a new Special Investment Region (SIR) Act was passed in March 2009. The act gives more power to the state to acquire land bypassing mandatory requirements of consent and compensation of the land acquisition act. Locals of course are revolting, but their plea reaches only deaf ears.

BJP manifesto also promotes the idea of twin and satellite cities. But what about all the small and medium towns, which are really the hub of urbanisation? Migration is rapid in these cities and the rate at which they urbanise is much more than the first class cities. Instead of focusing on new cities shouldn’t the attention be now given to these small and medium towns and equipping them in infrastructure, facility, services and governance to be the new urban centres? BJP has already made plans to scrap flagship program of JnNURM in light of developing ‘new cities’ and directing all investment towards them. According to our newly appointed Urban Development and Urban poverty alleviation minister, Venkaiah Naidu ; “if we want moderately livable cities, we need new cities, not old ones with crumbling infrastructure and sprawling slums where land costs are simply unviable (Mumbai, for example, is simply unaffordable even to the upper middle-classes). The additional 300 million people who will head for cities over the next 20 years can either cram the Mumbais and Delhis and Bhopals of the world, or be diverted to new, planned cities with better amenities – like Lavasa in Maharashtra, which got into a controversy over legal issues, or Dholera in Gujarat. Assuming one million to be a good size for viable new cities, we need 300 new cities over 20 years. This means we need 15 new Lavasas with one million capacity every year.” Did the new minister forget that Lavasa has not even included a ‘space’ for the poor and the fact that it breaks many environmental norms.

The next comes the idea of affordable housing through help of developers. India needs about 19 million low-cost homes—roughly defined as costing a million rupees ($16,700) and below—to shelter an urban population expected to nearly double to 600 million by 2030 from 2011. The strategy to be adopted is to make land more easily available to developers, and to provide them with incentives to build cheaper homes. Mumbai and Gujarat have already toyed with this strategy. Mumbai is overhauling its slum redevelopment authority (SRA) projects due to its failure, Gujarat is building on. To entice developers into low income housing can be a solution provided the rights of the poor are given and not compromised.

Modi sarkar is full of ideas. Do you and I have a say in those? I think more than ever, we should start voicing our concerns and hopes. Now is the urgency for civil society to collectivise and shape the tomorrow of urban India. And more than ever, now, is the time the government should value our opinion and learnings. Modi sarkar which has huge online presence, may be should immediately come out with its portal for community participation on ‘urban issues’.  The future of urban India should be carved out through a participatory process. Sarkar should listen to what the planners, designers and citizens (and not just those with lots of bucks) have to say for the urban India. Let’s not have top down decisions such as that of 60 flyovers woe away the urban citizens from what really is of importance. Let’s hope, ache din are coming – for all – built by us all, together!

Terra Urban Monthly Digest – January 2014

The first month of the year has gone by! We are offering you a quick review and lesson learnt from our last month’s activities!

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Are ‘Slums’ Urban?

By Nidhi Singh nee Batra, Sn. Prog Officer-PRIA

Whenever I have thought of a city – I thought of it as one large urban theatre, where every actor has a role and a place, a stage which has the latent characteristics of being democratic. But in my recent visit to the slums of Raipur where PRIA is working towards strengthening voices of civil society on Urban Poverty– that image of a city has become extremely questionable.

Entering a ‘territory’ is difficult. Slums are one such ‘territory’. The moment one enters, there are all eyes that look up at you, stare at you with multiple questions and you know that you have impeached a boundary or a limit.

In ethology the term territory refers to any sociographical area that an animal of a particular species consistently defends against conspecifics (and, occasionally, animals of other species). Animals that defend territories in this way are referred to as territorial.

I have come with an architectural and urban design background where we have romanticized a city, seen it with pink glasses that even in a poverty stricken city, one finds immense beauty – and a joy of living. In all that romance, one tends to see urban- and urbanization as that in some essence blurs various boundaries. Limits of caste/religion/culture all get blurred to together form ‘an urban way of living’.

Lewis Mumford’s definition of the city says:

“The essential physical means of a city’s existence are the fixed site, the durable shelter, the permanent facilities for assembly, interchange, and storage; the essential social means are the social division of labor, which serves not merely the economic life but the cultural process. The city in its complete sense, then, is a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theater of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity. The city fosters art and is art; the city creates the theater and is the theater. It is in the city, the city as theater, that man’s (sic) more purposive activities are focused, and work out, through conflicting and co-operating personalities, events, groups into more significant culminations.”

(Mumford 1937: 185)

The city with its architectural corpus is the theater in which urban life, urban drama unfolds. This urban drama continuously re-makes that architectural complexity, while creating a collectively shared understanding of the past, shared memories that become attached to particular architectural spaces. The city, with its monumentality and architectural poetics “intensifies and underlines the gestures of the actors and the action of the play” (Mumford)

But in a city of such immense soul, there are ‘territories’. What I want to question is whether this act of forming ‘territories’ really urban?! And I am here not saying that it is just the poor who have marked territories, it is also the rich- it just depends where you are an outsider and where are you a resident.

What I am internally questioning is how do we define/ rather ‘imagine’ and perceive ‘urban’? Cities have a very explicit imagery- and these images flash in your mind when you think of ‘urban’. Are enclosed territories- formed because of location, background, economic status, work profile – a feature that ‘I’ relate to as urban?

One thing is for sure, these enclaves of the urban poor, have a social order of their own – their urbanity might differ from your urbanity. And it is this very reason – distinguished urbanity- that makes ‘slums’ a contested space.

Humans probably just keep seeking order, uniformity and want the other to follow the more ‘accepted’ norm. And this is in so much contrast to our initial understanding of ‘City as a theatre’ were social drama unfolds…The fact that there are contesting urbanities – all having a role in one collective locale – is what exactly makes all these actors ‘urbane’. Even though lifestyles/ life practices may differ – it is ‘how’ to understand the ‘differences’ that is important. Most SRA/ Rehabilitation schemes fail – because they ‘fail’ to understand these ‘differences’. I was an intruder in the slums of Raipur- at least let’s not make the dwellers be intruders in their own city.