Street scene, Chennai
The spirit of ’Let’s do it’ emanates from all the decisionmakers, Jeff Risom and I have met and made presentations to during our 10 day long trip to India.
Beforehand I had been told by my good Indian friend, architect Sanjay Prakash, that Indian city and government officials were hard to impress. And certainly Mr. Asheesh Sharma, the municipal commissioner (IAS) of the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, Maharashtra, seemed less than impressed during my whole presentation on 21st century housing based on the best practice case of Bo01 in Malmö. And yet, his first reaction afterwards were the words: “How can we take this forward?”
- Left to right: Henning Thomsen, Gehl Architects, mayor of Chennai M. Subramanian, Jeff Risom, Gehl Architects, and Rajesh Lakhoni, Chennai City Corporation Commissioner
Jeff and I receiving gifts from Chennai mayor Subramanian
The same happened in Chennai (former Madras) some days earlier. Initiated with the playing of the Tamil Nadu state anthem, Jeff and I gave a presentation on Copenhagen cycling best practice to the mayor of this 8 million people city, Mr. M. Subramanian, the City Corporation Commissioner, Mr. Rajesh Lakhoni, and a host of city councillors. After our presentation the very lively and empathic mayor gave a talk (in tamil) about his reflections on cycling in Chennai and referring to his own trips to Europe, where he had had the opportunity first hand to witness the potential of cycling in cities, he boldly stated, that Chennai would have its first dedicated cycle tracks in nothing less than 20 days.
Audience at the Gehl Architects lecture at Anna University, School of Architecture and Planning, which included professor Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi as well as professor and dean of the Department of Architecture, Anna University, Dr. Suresh Kuppuswamy.
Check out some of the news clips on Gehl Architects visit to Chennai:
New India Press
The Times of India
ITDP India staff working in their office in Pimpri
Gehl Architects are visiting India on request of the Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP). In the case of Chennai also Chennai City Connect, a Chennai based non-profit organization, have been responsible for the invitation and for the many presentations and meetings, we have been part of while in Chennai.
See below a list of the activities we have been performing since entering India on the 17th august:
17th august: Meeting with professor Dinesh Mohan and M. Muthaia on Chennai history and urban development in India
17th august: Lecture at Anna University, School of Architecture and Planning
18th august: Presentation to the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Foundation (TNUDF)
19th august: Presentation to the Chennai Metro Rail Limited
20th august: Lecture for the Mayor M. Subramanian, the City Corporation Commissioner, Mr. Rajesh Lakhoni, and city councillors
20th august: Presentation to the Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu State, Mr. K. Sripathy
20th august: Lecture for Executive Committee members of Chennai City Connect and Marg representatives at the Sheraton, sponsored by Marg Limited
21st august: Workshop with Tamil Nadu Urban Development Foundation (TNUDF) and Jones Lang LaSalle on pedestrianisation of T. Nagar
23rd august: Presentation to the Chief Commissioner Asheesh Sharma, of the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Maharashtra and the CEO Suhas Diwase, Pimpri Chinchwad New Town Development Authority (PCNTDA) and other city officials
23rd august: Lecture to ITDP staff at local office in Pimpri
24th august: Two presentations at seminar with delegates from Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pimpri Chinchwad New Town Development Authority (PCNTDA), builders, architects and planners
Street in the main shopping area of Chennai, T. Nagar, after rainfall.
The reception of the thoughts and practices we have shown in all of these lectures and presentations has been very welcoming. The notion of people-friendly development and the need for the introduction of new planning principles to succeed the traditional modernistic planning principles is warmly welcomed by the Indians.
At the same time we on our side have to acknowledge that the urban context, societal circumstances and even the economic structures are indeed very different from the context, circumstances and structures, we rely on when dealing with cities in both Denmark, Europe and most anywhere else. India seems to be a case of its own.
Street scene, Chennai
The little we have seen granted, we still are left with an impression of a country and of cities where growth is staggering, be it in numbers of people, numbers of vehicles and even kind and type of vehicles, and be it in pressure on the land and on its ressources, and on the structures that try to keep this extraordinary country together.
Slum settlements in front of new housing development in Pimpri
Even understanding the importance and scale of the so-called informal economy is mindblowing to a person coming from the US, as Jeff, and from Denmark, as myself. Poverty, as we have witnessed in slum developments in both Chennai and Pimpri, is evident. The relation of the informal economy and the informal settlements to the larger urban context is, to say the least, complicated. That the lifestyles of some, cannot be maintained without the help of cheap labour supplied by the others, the slumdwellers, is openly accepted. But it is also evidently hard to deal with for planners as well as politicians and city officials when redeveloping existing cities or even planning and building new cities and towns.
Informal economy - street vendors in the main shopping area in Chennai, T. Nagar
Informal economy - hawkers to the left and shops to the right co-existing and both relying on the business that the other brings to a section of the sidewalk
During our visit we have been discussing pedestrianization, improving conditions for cyclists and implementation of better cycling infrastructure as well as raising awareness on cycling as a healthy, sustainable and effective mobility form, and also how to develop people-friendly housing developments for the 21st century.
New urban development around a BRT streetcorridor in Pimpri - these streetcorridors will be between 45 and 75 meters wide!
Recycling garbage forms an integrated part of the informal economy and of the slum settlements
And also during our visit we have been exposed to many issues that seem to be particular for the growing megacities of the developing world, issues that call for their own context-based solutions to be developed and where the example of Copenhagen as a livable city, sometimes falls short of the realities that people are dealing with in a society such as the Indian. Thus even if we think we still have a point in pushing the issue of a more people-friendly planning in a context such as India, we must also make it a point to learn more about the megacity context in order to find ways in which the principles of people-friendly planning become more applicable in for example an Indian context.
Traffic - It is all over the place!!!
That said, I must say that the visit in general and the people in particular have been an extraordinary experience. The entrepreneurial, warm-hearted and extremely humoristic Indians have been a joy to get to know.
A special thanks for organizing the whole trip and for taking such good care of us goes to Shreya Gadepalli and the staff of ITDP India, that we have met, as well as to Raj Cherubal and Balchand Parayath of Chennai City Connect.
Children in the streets of a low-income housing development in Pimpri
Not only the food was hot!
We were kept busy! Jeff adjusting slideshows in the cab between presentations