Nature and the Future of Cities
PUKAR’s Third Annual Lecture convened on August 25, 2006, under the title, “Nature and the Future of Cities: Reflections on Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Orleans,” bringing together four panelists who are trained architects and consultants who discussed innovative ways to view the landscape of the city. The evening lecture was held at the NCPA, and the panelists included: Dilip da Cunha, Anuradha Mathur, Rahul Mehrotra, and Aromar Revi.
Rahul Mehrotra, a Professor, and Trustee of PUKAR and UDRI, opened the discussion with a call for rethinking the concept of ‘landscape’ in terms of the city, and for more strategic planning from city officials, so that their work moves away from mere post-crisis management. He also discussed the new focus of Mumbai’s administration on developing the city along the Shanghai model. He related that the problem with Mumbai being ‘Shanghaied’ is that this kind of development is blind to nature and to the dynamic relationship that the citizen could have with his/her landscape.
Following these introductory comments, Dilip da Cunha, began his presentation ‘Traversing Bangalore’. Dilip da Cunha, also a Professor and practicing Architect, renewed the call for a change in the perception of what is considered ‘landscape.’ Much of his presentation invited the audience to consider that our perception of landscape derives from an inherited British concept of map making, which had as its goal the idea of ‘fixing the land’ in order to better govern it. Using Bangalore to illustrate this, he showed how the early mapping of the city’s water bodies has framed ecological and planning policies to the present. What were once fluid bundhs, are now referred to as fixed ‘lakes.’ Da Cunha ended his talk with a call to get beyond the spatial fixities and ‘read’ the land again.
Shifting her analysis westward, Anuradha Mathur presented a parallel examination of the mapping and management of the American Mississippi River. Anuradha Mathur, also a trained architect and Professor, began by dispelling the popularly held concept of a natural disaster in favor a ‘design disaster.’
One of the key points of her presentation was that many urban catastrophes actually stem from the ‘successful management’ of ecological processes. From engineering efforts to control the water around New Orleans, came the loss of the dynamism and flexibility of the local ecology in times of flooding. She ended her presentation by recommending the dual approach of both continuing with current policies of strengthening levees while searching for new ones that better incorporate the inseparable characteristics of the shifting nature of land and water.
In perhaps the most policy-oriented presentation of the evening, Aromar Revi, founding Director of the consultation firm, TARU, also echoed the earlier speakers with several historical examples of, what he termed, the city-nature conflict. Beginning in ancient Dholavira and ending with the present problems of Surat, he noted that most patterns of urban development are based on the misunderstanding of the local ecology. Aromar Revi’s recommendations of sustainable Rurbanism include a balanced and co-evolutive development of both the urban and the rural, and acknowledges that most constraints are not technical but stem from socio-cultural and institutional factors. In his conclusion, he called for a more realistic look at what he called Mumbai’s ‘unsustainable’ development that for now has mostly focused on projects that benefit very few of its citizens.
The panel was concluded by an open dialogue in which several questions and requests for further discussion were voiced by the audience.