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An introduction to time-space planning: Re-thinking the role of planning in the making of cities in India

Debayan Chatterjee28 January 2021

Planning temporariness

“Given the overwhelming evidence that cities are a complex overlay of buildings and activities that are in one way or another, temporary, why have urbanists been so focused on permanence?” (Bishop et al., 2012: 3)

Indian cities today are changing physically slower than the rate demanded by the pace of activities within. And the emerging trend of ‘temporary urbanism’ signifies a shift from traditional physical city-making paradigm to one which interprets the city as a backdrop for activities. Therefore, the contemporary urban practitioners need to revisit their conceptual association with urban permanence and explore possibilities of de-constructing the current mainstream planning narrative which is grounded in a dichotomy where space stood for fixity and time for dynamism, novelty and becoming (Massey, 1999). In this context, the introduction of Time-Space planning as an alternative narrative cherishes ‘seductive flexibility’ and openness by re-conceptualizing urban time-spaces as ‘multiple, relational, and co-produced’ (Ferreri, 2015; May et al., 2001).

Mainstream planning and its dilemmas (Source: Author)

 

Historically, cities in India have always celebrated temporariness in various ways. Religious festivals, periodic cultural events, and street markets are a few examples of such ‘embedded’ practices that have been an integral part of people’s everyday lives for years. After independence, it was the modernist city planning that tried to separate the time and space aspects of everyday practices, generated the thrust for fixity across the country, and created binary distinctions such as permanent versus temporary. However, the deliberate practice of Time-Space planning (at the local level) allows planning professionals and communities to learn from deeply ‘embedded’ temporariness, experiments with ‘intentional’/’experiential’ temporariness (Madanipour, 2017) and therefore, helps in the new imagination of urban places/ societies. These contemporary urban practices reinstate Lefebvre’s understandings of time that is something inseparable from space (1992) and validate that cities are ‘four-dimensional’ (Bishop et al., 2012). Thus, the above-mentioned changes demonstrate a clear shift from ‘solid’ modernity to ‘fluid’ modernity (Bauman, 2000) where, the urban is “…understood as a living pulse, assembling and disassembling itself in a reversible manner according to needs and opportunities, market demands and supply of resources, restrictions, and aspirations of inhabitants” (Mehrotra, 2016).

In my viewpoint, Time-Space planning emphasizes on the alternative conceptualization of cities “…by questioning the very assumptions, norms, values, and ideals” (Miraftab, 2009) that shape mainstream planning practices in India. The new planning narrative refuses to picture permanent ‘destinations’ for people and therefore, unleashes the possibilities of imagining ever-transforming environments that can sustain through the processes of ‘improvisations’ and ‘indeterminacies’ (Simone, 2019). This is a major analytical shift because planning here is neither obsessed with finding out the ‘ultimate solution’ for a given urban context nor dependent on the long-term projecting and forecasting. Such refusals lead to the much-needed liberation of current planning imaginations by provoking enough willingness “…to risk, to try different things, without necessarily needing for the results to come, in some sense, right away” (Simone, 2019). Such ‘incompleteness’ embedded within the Time-Space planning narrative allows the planners and the people to collectively experiment with the moments of ‘provisionality’ (Simone, 2019) and to maneuver rooms for future improvisations in India.

 

Formal imaginaries v/s local possibilities (Source: Author)


Unpacking time-space planning & its principles

In my opinion, the conceptual formulation of the Time-Space approach stresses on a few urban trajectories as follows;

– The alternative planning practices challenge the foundations of modernist planning and its obsession with permanence and imposing order;

– New urban imaginaries celebrate flexibility and fluidity; deliberate planning for temporariness sits within a mix of time-scales;

– Active involvement of a range of actors and recognition of their power relations are necessary for inviting necessary improvisations in the urban-making process. The actors’ collective roles/ responsibilities change with the context. It liberates ‘planning’ from the ‘professional planners’;

– Transformative local practices use a palette of (time-based) strategies and tactics to fulfil the need of marginalized communities. Here, planning refuses its mainstream norms and discipline, follows unorthodox processes, and therefore celebrates incompleteness;

 

Conceptual framework for Time-Space Planning (Source: Author)

 

Thus, contours of Time-Space planning can be distilled into four key principles;

Principle 1: Liberating planning imagination

“Cities are subject to continuous change and restructuring. There arises, inter alia, a fundamental tension between the rigidity of the urban built environment and the relative fluidity of the socio-economic processes that produce and are accommodated by it” (Henneberry, 2017: 1). Unlike the top-down planning approaches, Time-Space planning improves the relations between the former and the latter and allows smooth urban transformations. The new adaptive planning practices enforce alternative imagination of cities by amplifying ‘reversibility’ and ‘openness’ in the space production processes. In short, these careful measures assert a new consciousness that “…aims at decolonizing the planning imagination by taking a fresh look at subaltern cities to understand them by their own rules of the game and values rather than by the planning prescriptions and fantasies of the West” (Miraftab, 2009: 45).

Principle 2: Embracing a hybrid/ in-between development approach

Temporary urban interventions “…may arise completely spontaneously or be supported wholly or partly by the state or established private actors” (Henneberry, 2017: 256). The long-term sustenance of these time-bound interventions neither solely dependent on the support from the state nor the communities. Rather, the collective efforts from both the government and the people decide the fate of alternative place-making practices. Time-Space planning goes beyond the binary of the state-led and citizen-led practices and develops a ‘third way’ of development that ensures active participation of all mainstream and marginalized actors in the urbanization process. Understanding the negotiations involved in the process is crucial to produce social innovations.

Principle 3: Amplifying socio-spatial justice

“Temporary activities can provide a vehicle for local consultation” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 35), and help to build a bridge among state, developers, and (marginalized) communities. Such collaborations are essential to enable the marginalized communities to actively take part in their city-making process. Time-Space planning protects these weak actors and facilitates them to address various forms of injustices by re-using available city structure; re-adjusting structural forces; and reinforcing strategic temporary-use regulations. Thus, temporary urban interventions are capable of producing socially just built-environments in cities (Klanten and Hübner, 2010; Oswalt et al.,2013). The new imagination of cities not only focuses on minimizing harm (/inequalities) but on doing measurable good.

Principle 4: Triggering experiment-driven planning practices

Time-Space planning is “…experiment driven development, not planning led” (Lehtovuori et al., 2012: 36), and therefore, it involves a range of decision-makers and users, and aims “…to foster change by producing alternative visions and projects whose aim is not to be sustained but to evolve with space and its users” (Andres n.d.). These practices follow the conceptual architecture of Insurgent Planning and hence, shift the theoretical objectives from ‘planner to planning’ (Miraftab, 2009). As a result, the alternative urban-making processes democratize planning practices and re-define the planning limits by allowing various community activists, professional planners, city councilors, employed/ unemployed residents, etc. to decide the necessary planning measures focusing on conditions and not on the action itself (Miraftab, 2009; Lehtovuori et al., 2012).

Liberating planning imaginations (Source: Author)


Mainstreaming time-space planning

It is important to understand that mainstreaming the Time-Space approach won’t be an easy task for the new-age urban planners. And failing to do so, the future will be “…less open and more predetermined as persistence and perpetuation of the present” (Miraftab, 2017: 284). So, they can ‘imagine’ the ‘unimaginable’ only when; (a) Place-making practices identify ‘impermanence’ as a ‘potential’ and not a ‘failure’; (b) Planning becomes reflexive and not prescriptive. Hence, the focus shifts from top-down forecasting, projections, and improvements to grassroots improvisations; (c) The interested communities/ planners/ government officials have the appropriate technical knowledge/skills related to time-bound planning, construction, maintenance, and demolition/ transferal of temporary urban interventions; (d) Government is willing to modify its rigid administrations and reduce bureaucratic obstacles that hinder ‘spontaneous’ and ‘unorthodox’ practices; (e) All the actors stress on just collaborations and the newly formed alliances have enough courage to experiment with ‘non-linearity’, ‘fuzziness’ and ‘openness’ in planning; Without satisfying these prerequisites, planning will be always afraid to celebrate its ‘incompleteness’ in true sense.

The purpose of this article is not to stress on replacing the long-term interventions with time-bound interventions. Rather, it celebrates the notion of adaptability and openness in planning, and discusses how embracing ‘temporariness’ in urban planning allows new-age urban planners to explore appropriate possibilities to ‘improvise’ urban lives in India.

 

References

  • Bauman, Z. (2004) Liquid ModernityANSE-conference. Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • Bauman, Z. (2006). Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Bishop, P., and Williams, L. (2012). The Temporary City. London: Routledge.
  • Ferreri, M. (2015). ‘The seductions of temporary urbanism’. ephemerajournal, 15(1), pp. 181-191.
  • Henneberry, J. ed. (2017). Transience and Permanence in Urban Development. UK: Willey Blackwell.
  • Klanten, R. and Hübner, M. ed. (2010). Urban interventions: personal projects in public spaces. Berlin: Gestalten.
  • Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: Space. Time and Everyday Life. Translated by S. Elden and G.Moore. London: continuum.
  • Lehtovuori, P. and Ruoppila, S. (2012). ‘Temporary uses as a means of experimental urban planning’. SAJ Serbian Architectural Journal, 4, pp.29-54.
  • Madanipour, A. (2017). Cities in Time: Temporary Urbanism and the Future of City. UK: Bloomsbury.
  • Madanipour, A. (2017). ‘Temporary use of space: Urban processes between flexibility, opportunity and precarity’. Urban Studies, 1-17.
  • Massey, D. (1999). ‘Space-time, “science” and the relationship between physical geography and human geography’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 24(3), pp.261-276.
  • Massey, D. (2004). ‘Geographies of responsibility’. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 86, pp. 5–18.
  • May, J. and N. Thrift (eds.) (2001). TimeSpace: Geographies of temporality. NewYork: Routledge.
  • Mehrotra, R. and Vera, F. (2015). Kumbhmela: Mapping the Ephemeral MEGACITY. India: Niyogi Books.
  • Mehrotra, R., Vera, F. and Mayoral, J. (2017). Ephemeral Urbanism. London: Listlab.
  • Mehrotra, R. and Vera, F. (2015). The Indian city kinetic: consuming, reinterpreting and recycling spaces. [online]. Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/the-indian-city-kinetic-consuming-reinterpreting-and-recycling-spaces/10030442.article. [Accessed 03 August 2020]
  • Miraftab, F. (2009). ‘Insurgent planning: Situating radical planning in the Global South’. Planning Theory, 8, pp.32–50.
  • Miraftab, F. (2017). ‘Insurgent practices and decolonization of future (s)’. In M. Gunder, A. Madanipour, & V. Watson (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of planning theory, pp. 276–288. London: Routledge.
  • Oswalt, P., Overmeyer, K. and Misselwitz, P. ed. (2013). Urban catalyst: the power of temporary use. Berlin: DOM Publishers.
  • Simone, A.M. (2019). Improvised Lives. Cambridge: Polity Press.

 

Mr. Debayan Chatterjee is a Commonwealth Scholar from India, who has finished his MSc in Urban Development Planning at University College London with distinction in 2020. He also earned a Master of Urban Design degree from SPA-Delhi and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is an academician and artist too. Currently, he is working as an urban designer at Jacobs India.

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Sierra Leone and Indonesia

Ignacia Ossul Vermehren3 December 2020

By Ignacia Ossul Vermehren (DPU), Nina Asterina (Kota Kita) and Hawanatu Bangura (SLURC)

Abu on the football pitch at Thompson Bay (Sierra Leone). Photo Credit: Angus Stewart

The 3rd of December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We reflect on this year’s theme “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World” through DPU’s research “AT2030: Community led solutions” in informal settlements Sierra Leone and Indonesia.

While we know that 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, there is no global data specifically on informal settlements. After conducting the rATA WHO survey last year, we found that 26% of people surveyed across four informal settlements in Indonesia and Sierra Leone experienced at least ‘some difficulty’ in seeing, walking, hearing, remembering and/or communicating. One third lacked the assistive products they needed. Despite being a major issue, disability tends to be overlooked in urban and development research.


The impact of COVID-19 on disabled people in informal settlements

 Between April and August this year, we conducted a research on the impact of COVID-19 on older people and disabled residents in Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Distinct effects emerged, including loss of livelihoods, reduced educational opportunities, unequal access to government support, limited social life and poorer access to information. Moreover, COVID-19 recovery narratives emphasising the importance of ‘healthy bodies’ have exacerbated these difficulties and increased stigma towards disabled people (see video with stories from Indonesia here).

However, the research also highlighted how community-based organisations in the global South are stepping in to provide support, whether through life-saving resources, accessible information, new spaces for disabled people’s participation, or innovative collaborations in the city. As has been the case across the world, the pandemic has brought into focus the experiences of those more vulnerable members of the community.

Making disability visible in communities

 While research in informal settlements has tended to overlook or co-opt the voices of disabled people, making disability more ‘visible’ has its tensions. A first step that challenges rather than reinforces stigma has been to engage with the specific lived experiences and priorities of disabled residents.

 An important output of Phase 1 of the research has shown that the methods, implemented through grassroots organisations with a participatory approach in the communities, can facilitate an emerging collective and positive identity around ‘disability’. Many participants who did not initially want to refer to themselves as disabled, started to see disability as a more positive, political, group identity.  Providing spaces for disabled residents to participate in the wider decision-making process of low-income communities, can further foster solidarity between disabled and non-disabled members of the community.

The leadership of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) have themselves felt influenced in the way they approach disabled residents. As FEDURP’s country head said in a speech during last year’s Celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities: “We knew that disability was a big issue, but we hadn’t engaged with it, neither including disability in the discussion nor working with disabled residents specially. FEDURP is now committed to working with people with disabilities.”

Coming together to foster a political identity around disability

Mural Painting in Pelambuan (Indonesia). Photo credit: Kaki Kota

International Day of Persons with Disabilities has become an important event in giving visibility to disability in the two communities in Sierra Leone. This year, Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, FEDURP and Dr. Abdulaya Dumbaya (a disability activist and Head of the Springer Trust Fund) will be reflecting on how COVID has affected disabled people, discussing disability rights and sharing stories of resilience in the communities.

In Pelambuan, a low-income neighbourhood in Banjarmasin, Indonesia, the celebrations this year led by NGO Kota Kita will be marked with the painting of a mural on the theme of “Community participation towards an inclusive neighbourhood (kampung)”. The mural aims to translate community voices and aspirations — particularly those with disabilities — and build collective identity through an inclusive approach.

As a physically impaired male participant in Pelambuan said, “I am really happy to participate in this mural project. I like the idea of turning our aspirations into images on the wall. I hope this activity can inspire other neighbourhoods to strengthen their community participation.”

Through making disability more visible, and engaging with tensions that may arise, the research has been able to create space for disabled people to take a shaping role in the community. Recognizing days such as this is an important step in continuing to do so.

 

The action research project “AT2030 Community Led Solutions” is led by DPU’s Julian Walker as part Global Disability Innovation Hub’s programme and funded by UK Aid.