This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How Urban Centres Have Become Joyless Junk Centres That Can’t Afford To Support Themselves

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

‘Bullshit Urbanism’ is a term coined by Dr Leon, who believes that wealth and power have made cities a joyless junk habitat that we can’t afford to support, and of which capitalism is a major cause. To learn more about Dr Leon’s concept and ways to break stratification of cities through material accumulation, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) of Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) organised a talk on ‘BS* Urbanism’ under #LocalGovernance.


Tikender S Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla, and Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, commenced the session with a question on why bullshit urbanism, and contextualised it by talking about the humongous number of inequities that exist in urban centres and the stark difference between rural and urban areas, evident from the Oxfam report on inequality.

tk 2

He then introduces the speaker of the session Dr Leon A Morenas, Associate Professor, School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi. Dr Leon started his presentation by quoting his inspiration for the topic ‘Bullshit Urbanism’ to originate from a term coined by American anthropologist and activist David Graeber in 2013 called ‘Bullshit Jobs’.

pp 1

The term tried entangling the concept of employment as completely pointless, unnecessary and pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case. Dr Leon finds this phenomenon fundamental and intuitive, which allows him to think that it’s not just jobs that are pernicious and unjustifiable, urbanism can be, too.


American writer James Howard Kunstler, in his book The Geography of Nowhere, examines how during the epoch of stupendous wealth and power we managed to ruin our greater cities, throw away small towns, and impose over the countryside a joyless junk habitat that we can’t afford to support. Dr Leon believed this was the beginning of the diagnose of bullshit urbanism.


He saw the vitiation of the public as an uncontrollable force that destroys conventional categories, distinguishing the urban from the rural. The massive hydraulics of the urban system untamable and bullshit jobs, as mentioned by David Graeber, then become life jackets keeping us afloat. However, the central concerns of his talk were not limited to material characteristics of the urban, but more importantly, the mutual construction of human beings and built environment.


He then talks about how during the pandemic, cities were not accommodative of caddies, delivery boys, labourers, loaders, cooks, painters etc. who are part of the same population that helps us run cities, yet, they had to head back to their villages barefoot.

Urbanism: A Fantasy Of Contemporary Capitalism

He then explained how both authors Kunstler and Graeber diagnose contemporary capitalism as the cause of our predicament. They thought capitalism to be too efficient and yet, there was a proliferation of bullshit jobs, which cannot be justified by economics. Thus, Graeber saw the need of studying the moral and political ramifications of the same.


Dr Leon argues that bullshit urbanism is nothing but capitalism perpetuating itself by patenting space, which is not just driven by economic rationale, but also moral and political reasons.

Metropolitan Dystopia

He then discusses his doctoral work that looked at the technological undergirdings of the Delhi Master Plan, devised as a prototype for Indian development aimed at delivering spatial equality to Delhi citizens. However, he observes this spatial fix to have created a metropolitan dystopia of ever-increasing unevenness between the urban poor and metropolitan rich.


He then expanded his doctoral work to look into the social history of the smart city mission in India that examined claims about data being empirical and non-ideological and the premise that algorithms analysing data and smart cities are neutral, and objective demonstrating the fact that such arrangements and assumptions affect the poor disproportionately and deleteriously.

He emphasised how 0.1% of the population controls 50% of the wealth all without addressing any of the factors that people actually object to about such unequal social arrangements. For instance, some manage to turn their wealth into power over others or others ends up being told their needs are not important and their lives have no intrinsic worth. The latter is the inevitable effect of inequality, and inequality is the inevitable result of living in any large, complex urban technologically sophisticated society.


Urbanism From Historical Perspective

To view this problem from a historical lens, he takes us to a period before the invention of inequality. He states that homo-sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago and existed as small mobile units of around 40-80 individuals, who worked for some hours and there was no such formal structure of domination and thus, they existed as equals.

However, around 10,000 years ago, at the close of the last ice age, all changed. Neolithic farmers began cultivating crops as a result first settlement emerged. Then came private ownership of property, sporadic feuds and war ensued. Further, the production of surplus food allowed for the accumulation of wealth and influence beyond kinship groups and large concentrations of people, and the surplus of goods meant the natural emergence of inequality.

Anthropologist Marcel Moss, however, observed that our remote ancestors were behaving in broadly similar ways to the present-day social order, shifting back and forth between alternative social arrangements, permitting the rise of authoritarian structures during certain times of the year on the understanding that no social order was ever fixed or immutable.

He says that early homo-sapiens were not just physically the same as modern humans. They were our intellectual peers who were more conscious of society’s potential than people generally are today, switching back and forth between different forms of organisations every year. Our previous ancestors confined inequality to ritual costume drama constructing gods and kingdoms as they did their monuments, then cheerfully disassembling them once again.


In the city of Mohenjo-Daro, most of its population around 40,000 residents lived in high-quality housing and lasted nearly 700 years. There is evidence that a majority of the city’s residence appears to have lived comfortable lives in brick-built of the lower town with grid-like street arrangements and remarkable infrastructure for drainage and sanitation. With no evidence in the Indus civilisation, we find any accommodation of sharia-type values, no tradition of monumental representation of pictorial narrative celebrating the deeds of charismatic leaders, and so on.

Thus, he concludes his presentation by refuting the myth that slavery, capitalism and inequality were natural and inevitable features of human civilisation earlier and now bullshitisation of urban spaces perpetuates these misconceptions and recast them in benign terms of the planetary ilk.

Questions And Reflections

Dr Tikender remarked how intriguing Dr Leon’s presentation was and posed a question asking how he correlate to SDGs released by the UN that aim at making cities more equitable and what various works of different authors suggest, which is democratisation or making resources accessible to everyone model.

Dr Leons states how the views of Harvey and Graeber are not compatible given their different political leanings. He views Marxism, which is about how you deal with the city without having to deal with the state. He then talks about the mode of production, a concept in Marxism, where if the proletariat were able to control the mode of production, then we could bring about real equitable change. Whereas, Graeber sees it not as a material production of the artifact but more about the social production of people and therefore, he advocates having an anarchist view and reimagine an urban scenario that is different and break the stratification of urban spaces through material accumulation.

Another question that was raised was: what is the role of technology in the new non-bullshit urbanism? And is it suitable and junctural to have a non-hierarchical world at this time and comfort?

Dr Leon answers by disagreeing that a non-hierarchical world is not suitable or attainable, and justifies it with Graeber’s view of how anything that you are able to make, you can unmake them and make them differently. Thus, views that there are no cast stone structures that cannot be remade.

On the role of technology, he takes work of Herbert’s marquis to explain how technology contours a person’s entire existence. He doesn’t see it as a tool or instrument, but something that should be approached with a larger vision and that cannot be pulled out in a cause-effect linear spectrum.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI, asks how Dr Leon looks at the fast-paced urbanisation of Chinese cities and his views on the same. Dr Leon states how Chinese cities are fast-paced due to their capitalist nature and from an architectural standpoint. He argues there to be some formulaic applications and models of urban growth that, if applied with proper economic backup, can be a success.

Concluding Remarks

He concluded his lecture by giving a gender perspective to the topic. He emphasided how urbanism put women behind in some harems and would like to break this inherently possessed inequality.

Acknowledgment: Nikitha Gopi is a Research Intern at IMPRI. 


You must be to comment.

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Similar Posts

By Pradeep Maurya

By India Development Review (IDR)

By Lakshit Kale

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below