Placemaking India, Pune, India, 7-9 December, 2019

Placemaking India: Exploring & Rethinking Public Spaces of India
written by Mahak Agrawal, ISOCARP member and participant at the PlacemakingIndia

India, as an emerging & one of the fastest-growing economies, is known across the world for various reasons- pollution, unsanitary conditions, population size, poverty, the largest democracy, architecture, heritage, culture, food, dance, music- to various people and nations. One common thread across these perceptions is – diversity!

A few weeks ago, in China, someone asked me to paint a visual picture of ‘public spaces’ in India. Boy, oh boy did I paint one messy picture depicting waterfront used for leisure (Marine Drive in Mumbai) or cultural value (Ghats of Varanasi); a neighborhood or district or city park; a market place or a street space; forts, palaces, and step wells.

Public spaces in India are diverse – like the country – varying in scale, size, shape, activity, function, population it caters to, geography, history, structure, infrastructure. Irrespective of these differences, each public space has a unique identity and value to the city and its citizens.

Yet, these spaces are declining and/or deteriorating in India, for reasons of:

  1. Development over public spaces
  2. The multiplicity of agencies and agents
  3. Limited funding dedicated to public space improvement
  4. Limited follow up from conceptualisation to completion.

Given this diversity, a decline of public spaces in India and lack of realistic statistics on public spaces, the question before us as planners, designers, decision-makers is: how do we improve/manage/build public spaces without losing their identity and value for city and citizens?

Well, the answer lies in PlacemakingPlanning-Design-Management approach that inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces while improving public health, well-being, and happiness of the community.

On December 7, 2019, Placemaking India was launched in Pune, Maharashtra with partnership support of ISOCARP, PlacemakingX and Smart Citizen. Three-days of #PlacemakingIndia hosted by the municipality of Pimpri-Chinchwad brought together 40 practitioners and academics working in diverse fields of urban planning, urban design, architecture, conservation, environmental managers, branding, journalism, social work and geomorphology.

Day 1 commenced with a visit to PVP College of Architecture, Pune, and an exhibit of diverse works of students and faculties and their frugal innovations converting waste to useable products. Following this, the formal part of the day commenced with ISOCARP’s on-going and recently completed public-private-civic partnerships that work for public space improvement.

Representing ISOCARP at Placemaking India, I showcased the global projects led by ISOCARP Institute’s Urban Planning Advisory Team (UPAT) to develop implementable development strategies, provide advisory and research support, build capacities through seminars, workshops, design charettes.

Exhibiting the principle values of ISOCARP Institute and UPATs- to collaborate, co-create with host city/city organizations/ institutes while respecting cultural identity – with Hanzheng District and Riverside Design Charette (led by ISOCARP UPAT at the Wuhan Placemaking Week in December 2018) garnered tremendous intent and eagerness from agents and agencies of action to collaborate, co-create and collectively reimagine future of public spaces in India.

Following the opening session by ISOCARP, context-sensitive street design projects led by architect Prasanna Desai and public talks by architect PK Das, policy advisor Vikash Chandra, highlighted the importance of people-led co-creation of public spaces and collective action in India.

Day 2 at #PlacemakingIndia commenced on a fine Sunday morning with a 1.5-kilometer exploratory walk of Pimpri Chinchwad led by heritage conservationists and urban designers Anjali and Kiran Kalamdani. Along this short walk, diverse public spaces in urban villages- with different users, uses, identity- unraveled.

Day 3  started with a flowery note and concluded with ways forward! Traditional welcome with marigold laden Chaphekar Wada (a historical museum dedicated to four Indian freedom fighters) and tea kickstarted the day. Interactive sessions highlighted the role of placemaking in the economy, combating air pollution, as well as branding for place identity and buy-in strategies for placemaking. The day ended with deliberations and discussions paving way for the BEGINNING of #PlacemakingIndia.

The momentum generated for public space improvement with Government of India’s urban programmes of Smart Cities Mission, AMRUT, HRIDAY, provide opportunities of collaboration action, all we require is public-private-civic partnerships (ISOCARP) that work.

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