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The democratic design
Bangalore of the coming decades should be the city its residents dream of, say planners.
Re-imagining cities cannot be done through a top-down approach, believes Naresh V Narasimhan, principal architect at leading Bangalore architecture and urban design firm Venkataramanan Associates. Narasimhan should know. He has been a part of thinktanks such as the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), a collective headed by Nandan Nilekani that acted as a conduit of ideas between citizens, corporates and civic agencies in the early Noughties. Today, Narasimhan is using experience gathered in working for the BATF and other urban planning think-tanks to imagine the next Bangalore, literally.
He is spearheading a crowd-sourced project called Next Bangalore (nextbangalore. com), which aims at collecting people's knowledge about places, challenges and opportunities in the city. Through a website developed and maintained by the MOD Institute, the research arm of his firm, work is on to build a 'Bangalore change map' - both as a knowledge resource and an impulse for urban development.
"Solutions that only look at one aspect of the city's development are band-aid solutions, " says Narasimhan. "All the city's problems are completely interlinked. If you think in terms of solutions like 'create more public spaces', 'build cycling tracks' etc, you are just looking at the tip of tip of the iceberg, " says Narasimhan. "The vision of a city cannot be decided by bureaucrats and politicians alone. We want it to be a democratic process, and Bangalore Next is just a piece of the puzzle. "
The MOD Institute has created an interactive map of Bangalore that asks users to imagine one place they would like to change in the city. Using a drop-down menu, users can give suggestions about how they would like to change a certain aspect of the city and give suggestions on topics like 'traffic', 'housing', 'environment' and 'culture'. Whether users are bothered about a dangerous street crossing, too much noise at a particular location, lack of public transport, absence of pedestrian paths or lack of greenery, they can indicate locations on the interactive map that they would like to see changed.
The posts will be collected on the Nextbangalore Change Map and the ideas collated are being timed for submission to the government panel that will draft the next iteration of Bangalore's Comprehensive Development Plan, a 10-year city plan that is up for revision in 2015.
The basic idea came from projects in other cities like Hamburg, Sydney and Melbourne. The Digital Sydney programme run by the local government, for instance, crowdsourced the visual identity of the city and offered prizes for best ideas.
Narasimhan is just one among the many individuals working towards Bangalore's rejuvenation. Ashwin Mahesh, an urban development expert credited with creating a unique unidirectional bus system in the city and the Bangalore Transport Information System (BTIS) which is now used by the traffic police department, works for Imagine Bangalore. This is a collective of like-minded citizens with experience in solving urban problems.
"Citizens have to become problemsolvers and participants, " says Mahesh. On the BTIS website, for instance, users routinely post problems related to traffic and other issues giving specific locations. These messages are noted by the traffic police and suitably actioned.
Mahesh has also created B City, a 'governance observatory', which monitors the work of eight civic agencies - among them the municipality, the electricity board, the water and sanitation board, the transport department and traffic police. Again, citizens are free to provide feedback and register complaints. Mahesh's current dream mission is the 'Praja Factory' - a Khan Academy-like public education project that will teach citizens lessons in civics - not as it is taught in dry school textbooks but as it is applied in society. "You will get more people to solve problems if they know how to solve problems, " says Mahesh.
The aim is to create an ecosystem of people who can bring about change, says Mahesh. "Each of us - individuals, corporates, technologists, urban planners and architects - has our own areas of competence. If corporate entities focus their CSR activities on their own areas of competence, that's great. Why should a technology company be building schools?" Imagine Bangalore, is working to engage the private sector in public causes. For instance, it asked a cycle manufacturer to donate vehicles for a pilot project inside the IISc campus. It also got two city malls to fund additional cameras for the traffic police to use in enforcement work. "Just with that idea, the traffic police generated lakhs of rupees in enforcement, " says Mahesh.
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