Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Aesthetics and Urban Planning: Smart Skin for Cities

From the desk of Vitasta Raina
Time: Irrelevant

This corollary might raise a few eyebrows but it has been a fun idea. First of course, we establish a link between Life Systems and City Systems in our hypothesis to present "cities as living systems". Here, the key biological systems and their corresponding city systems are equated as follows:
  1. Digestive Systems: Digesting and processing Food = Solid Waste Management
  2. Respiratory Systems: Breathing = Environment and Air Quality
  3. Circulation System: Blood vessels = Transporation
  4. Reproduction: Birth = Population (Social Systems)
  5. Urinary System: Waste Water = Water and Wastewater Management (including Drainage)
  6. Lymphatic System: Immune System = Police, Fire Services, Disaster Management
  7. Nervous System: Senses = Power (Electricity), Information Technology (Smart City Infrastructures)
  8. Skeletal System: Bones  = Land and Buildings (Infrastructure)
  9. Muscular System: Muscles, Movement = Economy (City economy, Financial  Institutions)
  10. Endocrine System: Hormones  = Society (Healthcare, Education, Cultural Institution)
  11. Integumentary System: Skin, Hair  = Laws and regulations
You see, if we equate a city with the human body, then the boundaries and limits become the skin (integumentary system) of the city, i.e. the laws of the land or act that constitutes the Municipal body (area limits) becomes the skin of the city. Thus, it's the governance function that gives a city an aesthetic appeal, or beauty, and helps us visualise an otherwise intangible idea.

We are all aware of how Development Control Regulations (DCRs) control the facades of buildings on a plot of land with cities, and are also responsible for land uses including parks and playgrounds, road setbacks and urban design of areas with city limits. The Development Plans also control the number of trees to be planted per square meter area and the density of land parcels. Within the scope of these plans also lie municipal services including solid waste collection and disposal. In certain areas, the regulations can also control the colour and facade treatments of buildings.

Where make-up companies ask you to use a beauty cream for healthy glowing skin, a revamping of city laws and their proper implementation can give a facelift to otherwise deary cities. For example under the MUTP scheme of the MMRDA in Mumbai, large corporate houses (including real estate developers) could adopt certain stretches of road medians for upkeep (Landscaping and Beautification). 

Landscaped Median in BKC. Image Source: MMRDA

However, stipulations about art and culture are often not included in these regulations unfortunately, and land uses such as museums and art galleries are also not very common. Heritage monuments and cultural heritage (festivals, landmarks, occasions related to music and literature) are also out of the scope of DCRs even though they go a long way in improving the image and perception of a city.

The MoHUA recently announced the Ease of Living Index for Indian cities and my hometown, Pune, topped the list. The indicators for the liveability index range from across city systems covering governance as municipal services, water supply, identity and culture, health care and education (details here), etc. However, these don't include the DCRs and City Development Plans as an indicative measure, perhaps because it's not something that can be standardized across cities, since each city as an individual living organism is varying in different degrees on different aspects. Thus perhaps, they can't be equated and their aesthetic appeal or beauty cannot be contested between. 

But do laws and regulations, policies and schemes have an aesthetic appeal? I, for one, don't know. Laws govern a city's limit impacting the city's nature; whether a city remains compact or grows into a megapolis, and eventually an urban sprawl. However, one can argue here that beauty is only skin deep and it is the smooth and healthy functioning of other life systems that keeps the skin healthy to begin with, but we grow into our skin as we mature through life, and perhaps examining and starting with the laws of the land to determine the health and well-being of a city may not be such an odd idea. 

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More on this in another post.
From Mumbai with love.