Design and the Future of the City: Small Ideas, Big Impact (Delhi Dialogue 4)

Recently, I wrote an n Article for ‘Delhi Dialogues’, which is a series of articles in the monthly publication, Indian Architect and Builder Magazine. Delhi Dialogues explores contemporary cities, their challenges and solutions, as a part of the larger Delhi 2050 process. The articles are curated by the Arch-I platform. Previous articles were:

May issue; "The Sustainable Multi-polis" authored by Ton Venhoeven.
June issue; ”Delhi (Re-)generates” authored by Ashok B. Lall.
July issue; "Shaping Delhi" authored by Tanvi Maheshwari.

For Delhi Dialogues 4, I was asked to address the subject — ‘Design is needed for better cities’ — of how small-scale design interventions impact the larger picture.

Design and the Future of the City: Small Ideas, Big Impact
We are living in an urban age, where cities are expanding in size and scale as well as density of population. This growth worsens the problems of alienation, selfishness and crime as well as the environmental degradation. In a workshop that I held a few months ago, for Delhi-2050, organized by Arch-I, one of the major issues people had with Delhi was the lack of compassion among people. People tend to be self-centered and have no patience.

I think Delhites don’t have enough public places to understand each as they do have in Rome or Paris. In a city like Delhi, where crime is already rampant, the future currently doesn’t look that bright. Small changes sparked by design thinking can however, change the course of a large city. I suggest some ways of bringing Delhites together.

I. Making the Yamuna, the ground zero of Delhi
Unlike most urban areas in the world today, that are based around a lake, sea or river, Delhi has turned its back on its river, the Yamuna. It is a place no one wants to visit, its filthy and you only pass it if you have to go to the state of UP. When I was in Lyon recently, I noticed how amazing a riverside can be — it can be full of life and activity and in fact the ‘center’ of the city. What if we cleaned the Yamuna, and transformed the riverside into an area where people from all ages and all walks of life come to hang out? We could have areas for kids to roller blade, barges converted to bars and cafes. Have concerts and performances. It could become a place where all Delhites could hang out as one. It would reduce some of the alienation one feels in Delhi and connect Delhites from all backgrounds in one place.

II. Design can make you belong to a city
In the 1970s when New York was going through its worst phase of crime, filth and selfishness, eminent designer, Milton Glaser came up with a simple phrase, “I (Heart) New York”. In the next 5 years, crime and filth reduced as the people of NY become more proud of their city and till today that symbol unites the city especially after tough times like 9-11. I propose creating city pride in every Delhite through a symbol, a phrase and a color that represents Delhi. This will lead to greater connectedness, compassion and greater opportunities to work together as Delhites.

III. SimpliCity: Bringing the Village to the City
The simplicity of Indian village life can teach us all about how to live in a community and to produce and consume less — to live a more simple and wholesome life in a less materialistic society. I call this SimpliCity. This thinking can change the way we plan our cities and design our buildings. The glass and steel structures that reach for the sky are a far cry from community living where everyone is on the same level, literally and metaphorically.

IV. Delhi Online
I suggest creating an online version of our city — a multi-lingual website that is a microcosm of the city. People can share their grievances and solutions as well as innovative ideas for the future of Delhi. One could moderate projects to members such as recording the amount of trash one throws out daily and suggest resources to recycle. The impact could be large as more members join in. The site would also help building a sense of community and belonging to the city.

Corollary: Including Design in School Curricula
Design is a powerful tool to bring about positive change through critical thinking, reasoning, logic and technical knowledge. What if every school going child in India had this knowledge? We could really transform society since everyone would have knowledge of design just as they do of mathematics or language. Design has a very wide-application, so whatever career path they take they would also take these skills with them there.

In conclusion, small solutions through Design is an important method to tackle the big issues of a city because design is one of a few fields that is driven by thought, innovation and action. However we designers need to work in conjunction with people in other fields to create a more holistic view of the present issues so that we can solve these issues effectively.

About Indian Architect & Builder
‘Indian Architect & Builder’ (IA&B) magazine, India’s leading AEC publication and one of the premier publications by ‘Jasubhai Media’ on architecture and design in India offers a comprehensive update on design trends along with a critique on related issues.  Over the last 25 years in publication, it has continuously evolved, catering to the changing ideations and needs of the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

3 thoughts on “Design and the Future of the City: Small Ideas, Big Impact (Delhi Dialogue 4)

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  1. Very good article. I am a colombian, leaving in Mumbai and I have seen drastic transformations in my own country. It requires time, effort and commitment!
    I share an article from The New York Times By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN, Published: May 18, 2012.
    It talks about how over the past decade the second largest city in the country, Medellín, has transformed thanks to design, architecture & innovation. Before it was only known as nest of drug cartels and hometown of the biggest drug-lord Pablo Escobar. Today, Medellín is proud to be recognized as the most innovative city in the world by Urban Land Institute, Wall Street Journal Magazine and Citigroup. The final competitors were Tel Aviv and New York.
    Anyway, I hope this inspires you and others to believe change is possible! Cheers.

    1. Thanks Ana for sharing your views and also for the link. That’s quite amazing how a city manager to transform itself in a short period of time through design and planning! I think one needs a lot of local support and action also for this to happen. The question is how does one manage to create local support and pride in one’s own city?

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