In the previous decade, India has witnessed a steadily growing urban population: with over 32% of the country’s people living in urban areas, largely due to migrant workers settling in urban landscapes and the dissolution and urbanization of villages around the cityscape. However, the growth of an urban population does not necessarily imply the empowerment of all citizens equally. In fact, a large proportion of our urban residents are from low-income, disadvantaged backgrounds, with limited access to educational and professional opportunities.
How does this translate into unequal representation in the process of urban development? Ironically, the people who spend most of their time and talent in the building of our cities, from the laying of bricks to the running of factories, often belong to backgrounds that deprive them of the opportunities that their upper caste, middle and upper-class counterparts get, which means that their opinion is not accounted for in the process.
Urban development is for the urban population, one that excludes those who do not share the same educational backgrounds and histories. Socioeconomic barriers restrain the ability of development to take place in a multidimensional manner, taking care of the needs of all citizens regardless of where they are from.
India has a rich, diverse, complex history – one that is constantly evolving and adapting to the systems that build structure into the way peoples’ lives are shaped, lived, and influenced. The government places emphasis on the importance of developing smart cities, accessing increasingly novel technologies, and focusing, overall, not only on the quality of life of individuals but also on the economic growth of the country.
Because this emphasis is divided, the range of opinions that go into city planning and landscaping are also divided, which creates a gap between what the people truly need in order to have safer, healthier, and happier lives, and what experts deem necessary for India’s advancement as a nation. What happens in the process is that development and advancement of India seems to be something that gets credited to the upper caste, upper and middle-class populations, who also reap the benefits of this development.
Meanwhile, the lower castes, EWS, and underserved communities across the country continue to be overlooked and neglected. To put it simply, the development of urban areas seems to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
To bridge this gap, architects and urban planners must work towards incorporating indigenous and rural practices into the creation of new cityscapes, keeping in mind the best interest of the population first, and the economy second.
A fundamental shift in the conception of an urban space is vital. Instead of being thought of as centres that coldly and mechanically drive economic activity, cities should be understood to be habitats of diverse populations, all of whom strive to contribute to the development of the society at large.
By empowering individuals to live lives that are not impacted or restricted due to their caste and class backgrounds, we can create a modern word that is not stratified, that does not decentralize communities that have limited resources, and that values the work that goes into building a nation: one stone, one step at a time.