Urban spaces must showcase cultural footprint

Ved Parkash Dudeja | Updated on August 13, 2021

Culturally conscious urban development fosters inclusiveness and innovation and strengthens social capital

Urban spaces are dynamic entities shaped by a combination of cultural, economic, social, political, environmental, geospatial and technological factors of which cultural heritage is an intrinsic component. Cultural heritage refers to tangible assets such as architecture, historical monuments, artefacts, etc., along with intangible elements such as festivals and observances, languages, and customs passed through generations.

Urban development interventions that are responsive to cultural context lead to a series of positive outcomes such as fostering inclusiveness, innovation, resilience, entrepreneurship, etc. Further, inculcation of local resources, skills, and institutions for tackling ecological threats such as deforestation and climate change are long term upshots of culturally conscious urban development.

Incorporating cultural concerns into the urban development process builds trust in public institutions and strengthens social capital. It also augments the tourism potential, thereby leading to commercial and economic development.

Hence, mainstreaming of cultural heritage is of vital importance to reap the benefits of sustainable development, in line with several Sustainable Development Goals. .

In the Constitution, the 74th Amendment Act empowers local bodies to oversee urban conservation and rejuvenation programmes. In the past few years, the government has undertaken several initiatives such as Smart Cities, Atal Mission for Urban Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) to rejuvenate the urban landscape in India.

Rapid degradation

India is blessed to possess a treasure of heritage resources. However, some of them are witnessing a rapid degradation due to lacunae in policy framework, awareness and funding avenues. The process of integration of cultural factors into urban development programme involves a few steps, the first critical step being identification of heritage sites and their significance for the local populace.

The next step is to familiarise with the rules, regulations and bye-laws under the State laws that govern land use. It is vital to assess if the proposed development is in sync with the laws and does not infringe upon the rights of any community. Simultaneously, it is crucial to convince the relevant stakeholders of the benefits of culture-responsive development.

The process of mainstreaming cultural concerns into urban development is also fraught with some challenges. It calls for seamless collaboration between urban planning and heritage conservation regulatory bodies to keep the cultural significance of buildings and public spaces intact.

The risk of displacement and the possibility of damage of tangible and intangible heritage, and ambiguous regulatory frameworks are formidable challenges for developers. Any such urban development process must secure the involvement and participation of local communities and foster intensive engagement with relevant stakeholders.

Finally, community sensitisation is a must to promote a harmonious balance between natural and built environment.

Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is the first local body in India to set up a dedicated Heritage Cell with staff and budgetary allocation to oversee that the development process does not threaten heritage projects and involves the participation of the local community.

Similarly, the Jaipur local administration has integrated the Heritage Management Plan with the Master Plan. The Muzuris project is the best example of integrating a conservation-based approach with the development that is responsive to traditional industries and artisans. It has generated many positive outcomes such as employment generation, stimulating a revival of traditional art and boosting the local economy.

It is heartening that several non-governmental organisations and civil society groups have also played an instrumental role in disseminating awareness and knowledge-sharing of Indian heritage and involving children to be a part of these heritage conservation awareness projects. Additionally, several start-ups have also demonstrated innovative practices to revive Indian traditional heritage and culture.

The redevelopment of railway stations across India is the key project of the government of India. RLDA, a statutory body under the Ministry of Railways, is currently working on 60 stations that will be redeveloped on a PPP model as a part of Smart City projects launched by the Central Government.

Since most of these railway stations have historical significance, special attention is being given to ensure that the development does not dilute the heritage and architecture of these railway stations. The redeveloped stations will be equipped with state-of-the-art food courts and restrooms, an elevated concourse with segregation of arriving and departing passengers, green building provisions, etc. However, the basic objective remains setting a benchmark for excellence in urban rejuvenation while improving upon the cultural footprint.

Any development process should take into account the protection of cultural assets and support traditional industries that are a unique capital and can be harnessed to generate employment, foster entrepreneurship and incorporate the participation of the local community.

The writer is Vice-Chairman, RLDA

Published on August 13, 2021

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