Indian and Swedish students brainstorm on Sustainability Planning for Pune's pilot area

About two weeks back, a collaborative workshop was conducted between the students of M.Arch Environmental Architecture, Dr B N College of Architecture and post graduate students of Dept of Architecture, Royal University of Fine Arts, Sweden. The idea was to brainstorm on Sustainability Planning measures that can be undertaken for a pilot study area in Pune. The area selected was the J M Road and Narayan Peth stretch on either side of the river Mutha, capturing the commercial newer face of Pune at J M Road and the old, heritage laden character of Pune at Narayan Peth. The experience was amazing!

The exchange of ideas between students of the two countries was great to observe. While Indian students tended to be more realistic and grounded while thinking of proposals, Swedish students opened up a whole basket of options and opportunities for the area. The mix of the two was the outcome, thereby bringing many new and exciting dimensions to Sustainability planning for the pilot area in Pune.

A significant learning that emerged from this cultural and intellectual exchange was the ability to perceive a city through various lenses. We as citizens look towards our own city with a different aspiration, sometime becoming too critical, thus often ignoring the positive aspects of our own city. Through a visitor's perspective, the city looks quite different, surprisingly more humane and vibrant. Jane Jacob's urban vibrancy is a reality in Indian cities today that the Western cities are aiming to recreate in their cities. The maneuvering and jostling through crowds while shopping, the familiarity of food smells that waft from street side eateries, the struggle of getting on an overfull bus, all add to an amazingly rich and vibrant city experience.

While most of the above experience reeks of inconvenience, for visitors it becomes an amazing story to relate and thus a memorable visit. While some of these points were discussed with the faculty and students from Sweden, I thought to myself, are we in India aiming towards structured cities like the West? What are our aspirations from our cities? Would we be happy in having all conveniences and no street life or are we all secretly hoping that cities remain the same inconvenient havens where we all enjoy with abandon?

Somewhere in our discussions, I got a feeling that the homogeneity of people and culture in the West had led to too much structure in the cities. Everything has a place and everything is always in its place! The conveniences that they have achieved are at the cost of vibrancy of urban areas, often causing streets and neighborhoods to become dead. The million dollar question for India would be how to reduce the inconveniences, make our cities more legible and yet retain the vibrancy that we experience today?

Following Kevin Lynch's work, can we make cities that are easy to read, orderly, but not too much or they become monotonous like American suburbs; mysterious to generate interest, but yet safe?

And following Jane Jacob's principles, can we have cities with streets that are planned, but not just for traffic; have mutliple functions for spaces, where streets covert into bazaars and eateries as traffic ebbs; can we have river fronts that encourage rituals and festivals, bringing color and utility to otherwise barren banks?

Well, these are the thoughts that we at M.arch Studio are looking at and I hope that I will have something to report worthwhile in my next post. Till then, keep thinking!

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