A Voyage to India: Reflections on an Intriguing Territory
Report by Ali A. Alraouf
During the first ten days of February 2020, I had the pleasure and honour of representing ISOCARP in several activities and events related to urban and planning issues in colourful India. In addition to such crucial commitments, I used the trip to promote the coming ISOCARP Congress which hopefully would be held in Doha in the period from 8-12 November 2020. Raising awareness about the Congress location in Doha, the Capital of Qatar, was achieved via several presentations and talks interpreting the city and its evolution through the last few decades from a humble town to one of the most developing cities in the world. During my captivating trip, I have visited number of cities, markets, temples and lectured at three universities – Noida, Sharda and Xavier University. The first two are in-greater Noida city, an urban satellite development of New Delhi. The whole area was planned using the principles of Knowledge-based Urban Development (KBUD) where the priority is given to educational, research and cultural activities and amenities to transform the whole territory into a knowledge hub serving Metropolitan Delhi and the whole nation. The third lecture was at Bhubaneswar city. My lectures shed light on contemporary issues in urban design and planning including the post-oil paradigm and planning cities for people. A comparative analysis between Gulf cities including Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi was presented to elucidate the main transformations in the urbanity of such interesting territories within the context of the Middle East. I also delivered the keynote speech at the Fourth Annual Research on Cities Summit (ARCS 4.0) on “Beyond Oil: From Barrel to People Deconstructing Qatar’s Architecture & Urbanity in Post Carbon Paradigm”, which was attended by more than two hundred professors, planners, researchers and graduate students.
The trip shows how the Indian colleagues in both academic and governmental institutions are so excited about accommodating ISOCARP activities, particularly Young Planners Professional Workshops (YPP) and capacity-building alternatives including training and planning workshops. One of our challenges at ISOCARP is to greatly promote membership with Indian urban and city planners as the current statistics suggest that from all of India only around 25 members are registered ISOCARP members. Hence, introducing ISOCARP in the Indian context is fundamentally needed and plans should be articulated to achieve such an important goal. The Indian colleagues are committed for participation in 56th Congress. The proximity of Qatar and the easy visa are factors encouraging them substantially. More significantly, the holistic approach of the Congress theme and sub-themes would allow them to relate Indian challenges and articulate it within the different, but the financial issues are of major concern too particularly for unsponsored planners and newly graduates. ISOCARP can also benefit Indian colleagues via providing publications opportunity specially for academic staff and researches. A huge interest in contribution in ISOCARP publications was clearly traced during the visit. From my observation, I was able to see pressing issues within the Indian context. Primarily, the planning education particularly in developing countries, the challenges of contemporary Indian cities, sustainable urban mobility, making people friendly streets, the notions of walkability, Transit Oriented Development and activating streets and public spaces. Discussing such crucial issues can be accommodated within some of the sessions and panels at the 56th ISOCARP Congress in Doha. Also hosting some of the future ISOCARP Congresses in India seems like an interest particularly among universities and cities managers. Speaking of the ISOCARP Congress, the planning professional communities in India, particularly Indian Planners institute, are also willing to explore the idea of having one of the coming ISOCARP in New Delhi or as a co-host scenario between two cities. I can confirm a major point echoed in all my meetings with the Indian colleagues, deans and professors which is a desire to host one of ISOCARP Congresses soon in 2022 or 2023. The two-city approach that was firstly implemented in Jakarta is discussed as an option for India, too.
The urban scene in India must require the full attention of city and regional planners, urban designers, environmental scientists, heritage conservationists, place makers, local administrators, architects and local community to fully engage and participate in tackling huge challenges Indian cities currently face and create a road map to achieve the aspiration of its citizens. India can provide lessons on the topic of poverty and income distribution and how this affects the city making and development. The vernacular architecture and urbanism have multi-layered depth which, if studied meticulously, would provide valuable insights related to sustainability, green architecture and urbanism, vibrant public places and resilience. Yet, the complexity of social status and the severity of economic factors suggest a necessity for the intervention of global urban designers and city planners to introduce new ideas and localised solutions. Indeed, India is a not a mere country but a great nation with incredible layers of cultural, social, economic and ethnic diversity and should be seen by designers, place-makers and planners as a sort of accumulated challenges and a source of inspiration.