Location: India

Duration: 3 Months

Advisor: Rahul Mehrotra
Spring 2019 / Harvard Graduate School of Design

Project Team: Individual Thesis Work
Within the history of urban development in India, the emphasis of urban has been recent. The first landmark commission was created in 1976, 30 years after the country gained independence. The National Commission on Urbanization headed by Charles Correa uniquely studied the spatial aspects of urban policy through cartographical analysis as well as embedded values of holistic and balanced urban development within their efforts.

Today, the ‘100 Smart Cities’ mission, piloted by Prime Minister Modi, has emerged as a tremendously ambitious project of urbanization in India, to be realized in five years with a budget of approximately 100 crore INR given to each of the chosen 100 cities every year. In contrast to Correa’s NCU, the smart cities mission has been market-oriented and unbalanced in its approach and yet another manifestation of the status-quo approach in planning as it has existed in the national policies implemented in previous decades. Lacking definition and specificity, the overall impacts of the mission at national, regional and city scales are yet to be determined.

In the nascent phases of its implementation, the paper aims to contextualize the objectives of the mission within the current state of Indian urbanization - to contemplate its implications and redirections and investigate the discrepancy between scales of implementation and governance, interplay between power structures and misplaced priorities that have emerged through the process of implementing the policy.

Correa had studied the growth of towns as a primary parameter to determine the contextual state of the country. Today, the funding towards any scheme could be considered as a primary way of determining the status of urban development. In a much more neoliberal economy now, architecture and cities becoming larger forces in the engines of development. The primary question is then, how -can we reconcile and balance the market forces but still ensure that the goals of equity and livability are distributed equally. In order to do this, the project treats the tender documents submitted by one hundred selected smart cities in India to analyze the quantity and sources of funding for sectors of development to extract emerging patterns of urbanization as projected and propagated by the implementation of this policy. This section of study immerses itself into studying how layers of economic exchanges and power structures are interrelated to societal aspirations and spatial distributions. Key findings in the paper include the finer statistics as well as the overarching ideologies behind distribution of funds driven through market forces that create unequal spatial distributions across the country, an evident need for harder, basic infrastrutcure and the historical continuation of mobility as primary driver for development.

Finally, the project reduces itself to lived scale and juxtaposes the aerial imaginaries to the realities on the ground and inspects the discrepancies between the data on the documents to the everyday life of built infrastructure. Primarily through using the case of the city of Bhubaneshwar, the project traces the underwhelming nature of a promised paradigm shift. The project concludes with a set of reflections on the study and speculates on a possible strategy to shift the balance towards a more coherent vision towards the planning of future urban India.

Reflection include the role of designers and planners in reframing the goals of development through the innovative synergies of conventional modes of development in order to create hybrid infrastructures that transgress the boundaries of hard and soft. Should we incorporate Gandhian values to counter Nehruvian forces that have set up the stage for Indian modernity and reinforced the dialectic between social and aesthetic modernization today? Here, there is a need for speculation – this speculation can happen simply through pulling out layers of important infrastructure projects – industrial corridors, the 100 airports that have been planned. An investigation into the demographic status of the country through the inspection of rural and urban quotas, agricultural labor conditions, population growth and distribution, heritage towns and environmental risk could all serve to inform the potentials. What are the possibilities that lay within the country through the integration of these networks? At what scales can we begin to think – where should we construct territories – and for what purposes?