Class, Conflict and Collaboration in Greening Indian Cities
PUKAR’s 5th Annual Lecture on “Class, Conflict and Collaboration in Greening Indian Cities” was held on the 5th of September 2008 at The Hall of Culture, Nehru Center after a year long break. The evening saw two proficient speakers; Amita Bhaviskar, Associate Professor from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi and Karen Coelho, Associate Professor from the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, coming together to discourse public space and the common man. The lecture was moderated by Nikhil Anand, PUKAR Associate and PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University.
Amita Bhaviskar commenced the lecture with her paper on bourgeois environmentalism and the battle for city streets. Her talk was based on the changing landscapes and livelihoods of Delhi which has come about due to three facets; economic liberalization of markets, increase in judicial activism in urban matters and empowerment of the middle classes in terms of economics and ideologies. With the quest of making Delhi a world class city for the Common Wealth Games 2010, planners have looked at streets from an aerial perspective almost disregarding the city’s intrinsic working on its streets. Cows, cars and cycle rickshaws contend with each other in a battle of rights. Cows and cycles being the livelihood of the poor and cars being the means of the affluent. Bourgeois environmentalism, a term used to describe environmental pursuits of the middle class, focuses on eliminating ‘unwanted’ elements of society, to provide for a ‘cleaner’, more ‘progressive’ looking city. The argument in Ms. Bhaviskar’s talk mirrored the much debated topic of development and its costs.
Karen Coelho’s paper focused on reclaiming public space, to which pedestrians, street vendors and hawkers all have an equal stake. Using Chennai as her point of reference, she presented the trials of pedestrians asserting their rights to street space. She emphasized the Government’s plans which now increasingly lean towards a more ‘Singapore’ look, ignoring the basic needs of special classes of citizens. So much so, the word ‘Beautification’ has now taken on a negative connotation for the common man.
Ms. Coelho stated that while two very good policies do exist on public space and its accessibility, they each ignore the other’s stakeholder, thus also ignoring that ‘street space’ is ‘public space’. Citing progress and modernization as the rationale, many public work’s projects disregard the needs of the specially challenged. While on the one hand hawkers are asserting their rights to a livelihood, the pedestrians are left out of the bigger picture. The need of the hour therefore, is to increase public pressure on policy makers to take cognizance of all stakeholders’ rights to public space and to devise effective policies.
Nikhil Anand then summarized by drawing on the similarities in situations talked about by both speakers of their respective cities and that of Mumbai. The floor was then thrown open to the audience who participated in well lead discussion. The evening ended with Dr. Anita Patil Deshmukh, Executive Director of PUKAR, giving a short vote of thanks.