1st Habitat Summit: Alternative Urban Futures for India

Posted on September 26, 2009

Anshul Tewari

Urbanisation is not a new concept in India. When we talk about development of our cities, urbanisation forms an integral part of this development. Leave aside the metros, there are a number of cities which are not being able to cope up with the challenges posed by the concept of urbanisation. This is what the three day long 1st Habitat Summit, conducted by Urban Habitats Forum and the India Habitat Centre aimed at discussing. From 24th to 26th September, this first of it’s kind initiative brought professionals from varied fields at one platform to discuss the alternative urban futures for India. The event witnessed panel discussions by leaders like Meera Sanyal and Hon. Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory, Sheila Dikshit.

“Urban centres the world over are moving fast. We cannot afford to stay behind, and the focuson our cities is critical in attaining this growth”, said Mr. M. Ramachandran, Secretary,Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India in a special address at the summit.

Mr. Ramachandran lauded the timeliness and relevance of the Summit’s theme, “TowardsAlternative Urban Futures for India”. The Summit, he noted, comes at a time when “urbanIndia is seeing a great transformation.” He pointed out that “in 2007, the world’s urbanpopulation equaled the world rural population signifying a great social, cultural and politicaltransformation.” In India, however, the figure for urbanization is only about 30%. In hisaddress, Mr. Ramachandran outlined a broad framework for managing this process ofurbanization. He underscored the need to bring about active participation of communitieswithin the given time frame; the importance of coordinating various institutions working in thearea of urban development to work together; the need to make master plans more dynamicand requirement centric; improvement of sanitation facilities; creation of knowledge led citiesand benchmarking of service levels; quickening the pace of infrastructure development; and providing reform linked financial assistance.

There were enlightening sessions, panel discussions and public forum discussions on each day of the conference. Day 1 of the event witnessed panel discussions on issues like ‘Urbanisation as a development policy: India, China and the World’, ‘Beyond the megacities: shaping the next generation of cities in India’, ‘Alternative Urban Futures for India’, etc. and a public forum discussion on the issue ‘Will Delhi become walkable?’ Day 2 featured discussions on ‘Making cities work for growth’, policies for urban mobility, ‘Social Inclusion for Urban Revitalisation in India’, ‘Affordable housing in India’, and a public forum discussion on making India’s cities work. Day 3 and the final day of the event witnessed discussions on the issues like liveability in the urban design matrix, future city, creating ‘Champion Cities’, etc.

The experts were amongst the likes of Andrew Tan, CEO, National Environment Agency and Directot, Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore, Ravi Singh, CEO and Secretary General, WWF- India, Gaurav Gupta, Director, The Climate Project- India, Sanjeev Sanyal, Founder, The Sustainable Planet Institute, Pankaj Vir Gupta, Partner, Vir Mueller Architects, Meera Sanyal, Executive Vice President and Country Head, ABN Amro India, Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of National Capital Territory of Delhi, and various other personalities. With over 65 speakers of national and international repute and over 500 delegates – of which 300 of whom are students and young professionals in the age bracket of 18-35 years selected through the UHF Fellows Programme, the Summit is arguably the biggest urban event of itskind to be organized in India

The event also had an Ideas Competition: Delhi Within which invited participants to investigate their city to discover and reveal its hitherto hidden assets and put forward radical ideas to tap potentials, and use existing urban concepts as resources.

Sharing the thought process that shaped the Summit, Mr. Raj Liberhan, Director, India HabitatCentre said that there was a need to begin a process through which hopes of thousands of citizens can be turned into the dream of achieving a livable city – a city that spells mobilitywithout fear, a city that spells the chance to learn and earn, a city that promotes the pursuit of excellence by individuals, and finally a city where people can live without bias and threat tofellow citizens. He said, “Our hope and aim is to use this summit as a discourse, beginning inDelhi, but to be taken to other cities”.

Cities are here to stay, according to Mr. Anupam Yog, Managing Director, Mirabilis Advisory.However, he noted, there exist tensions between the habitat and its inhabitant, which couldlead to a terrible rupture in the megacities that are now taking shape. But there is hope yet. “Itis not hard to see that political changes — perhaps, new city states, perhaps, new forms of city-cum-regional government — may ensue. With luck, the tension can instead be put to workre inventively to create better cities”, he observed.

Urban Expo: Possibilities

Titled “Possibilities”, the Urban Expo component of the Habitat Summit was public facing and featured accessible displays and installations that project the possibilities our cities have for radical improvement through innovative thinking and via the deplyoment of “organic interventions”.

The Expo featured the work of leading architects and urban thinkers engaged with building sustainable built environments.

Green Jobs Fair

The Climate Project India, Sierra Club and SEWA organised the first ever Green Job Fair at India Habitat Centre. The three-day fair was the first project of the Green Livelihoods Centre, a newly formed organization created by The Sierra Club, SEWA and The Climate Project India. The Green Livelihoods Centre is a convening and networking space for grassroots initiatives around India working to promote the emerging green economy. This fair was held in conjunctions with the Urban Habitats Forum.

The fair had a number of outreach partners including UNDP, IYCN, Delhi Greens, 350.org, AIESEC, i-Volunteer, SWECHHA, Centre for Social Markets, Energetica India and was sponsored by Godrej Properties.

The organizations and others had also put up their stalls to display their work and organization info. The Barefoot College of Tilonia, which is the only College in India built by the poor and only for the poor; AIESEC (http://aiesec.org/india), the world’s largest youth run organization spread over 107 countries, 1700 universities and having over 35,000 members were also amongst the exhibitors.

The Green Jobs Fair brought together organizations working on sustainability, ranging from traditional firjms such as steel makers looking for an energy efficiency expert to NGOs working on environmental projects. The fair was a highly public event that helped generate buzz and expose people to wide array of Green job possibilities.

Overall, the 1st Habitat Summit and the related events were one of its kind. The relevance of such events increase all the more in an increasingly competitive global environment. The need of the hour is to have more such events to sensitize more and more people about issues like these and more.

The event was organised in partnership with organisations like BDP., Planning Commission India, The Sustainable Planet Institute, The Climate Project India, Sierra Club, Punj Lloyd and Wolfensohn Center for Development.