Nonstatic Urban Planning

"Why can’t the enormous resources in developing countries… produce value beyond their ‘natural’ state?

[B]ecause we have forgotten…that converting a physical asset to generate capital…requires a very complex process. It is not unlike the process that Albert Einstein taught us whereby a single brick can be made to release a huge amount of energy in the form of an atomic explosion. By analogy, capital is the result of discovering and unleashing potential energy from the trillions of bricks that the poor have accumulated in their buildings.”

Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital
A SLUM is a shame and a disgrace, not to those who live in it, but first to those in authority, then to planners and builders and then to all of us who pass by on the other side of the road and pretend that no slum exists.
Laurie Baker, “What can we do with a slum?” 1997

Women-run micro-enterprises in Thrissur.  The Talikulam Vikas Trust aids the women of the Thrissur Panchayat to form Self Help Groups, get free vocational training while their children are at school, and get microfinance and microinsurance for small self- or group-run businesses and social security.  100% of loans are repaid within a 3 year period and businesses have a 56% success rate (that is, success at raising the women’s personal income).  Disproportionately, the women of the Thrissur Panchayat are left to run their households 9 months out of the year while their husbands work in the Middle East. They are the ones running the country while the men are away, as in World War era United States. 

Talikulam Vikas Trust is a non-profit-making public trust actively improving housing availablility, employment opportunities, education, public health, and social security in the Thrissur Panchayat through people’s participation and public-private-panchayat strategies.  The Noon Meal program ensures that all children have access to a hearty lunch on school days, regardless of family income.  The program also serves as an incentive for parents to make sure their children consistently attend school.  Education and food security in the panchayat are both aided through this program. 

How could governments improve the driving experience in Trivandrum?

Governments could improve the driving experience in Trivandrum by using infrastructure, paint, and signage to distinguish space for different modes.  Officials should plan transportation for the future by prioritizing sustainable transportation modes in new infrastructure. 

In Still Stuck in Traffic chapter “Traffic Congestion around the World,” Anthony Downs asserts that as countries develop and income levels rise, people will opt to improve their lot by rising in the hierarchy of modes.  The greater the distance that can be traveled within an average daily travel allowance (an hour to an hour and a half for most people in the world), choice of route, and carrying capacity, the higher the mode ranks in the hierarchy.  The theory is that as a person’s income increases, he or she will climb up in the hierarchy: a pedestrian buys a bike; a cyclist buys a bus pass; a bus-rider buys a motorcycle; a biker buys a car; a car owner buys a bigger, faster car.  On the macro scale, we have witnessed the phenomenal rise of automobile infrastructure, ownership, and congestion with the rise of national GDP the world over.  The nations who take exception to this rule have done so by prioritizing more sustainable modes at a policy and planning level in government. 

Walking when we consider travel by wheelchair or some other assistance in the same modal category is the most democratic form of transportation, because it excludes no one.  Walking is also beneficial to community, general safety, the environment, health, and commerce.  Therefore, prioritizing the construction, maintenance, and improvement of pedestrian infrastructure supports the interest of the largest and broadest umbrella of stakeholders. 

Specific suggestions include building sidewalks where they do not exist, broadening existing sidewalks where possible, repairing existing sidewalks where needed, installing street furniture, such as benches, tables, and chairs where possible, install lighting on the sidewalk, planting street trees wherever possible and including street trees in the design of new or widened sidewalks.  Street trees serve to give shade, improve air quality, calm traffic, and encourage walking by giving pedestrians a sense of enclosure.  Street furniture and lighting also encourage walking by improving the pedestrian experience. 

As Trivandrum develops, it need not follow the path to auto-centrism.  Capacity on the roads will need to increase, but road-widening is not the only way to do this.  Any road-widening should be kept to a minimum and stringently avoid the displacement of existing homes and businesses.  Keeping roads narrow will keep traffic calm and pedestrian-friendly.  Enforcing a speed limit of 30 mph (approximately 50 km/hour) on local roads will statistically reduce the number of fatal crashes (as per a New York City Department of Transportation study).  Capacity can be increased by dedicating lanes to bicycles and improving bus stops with covers and benches to encourage efficient space utilization on the roadway.  Cycling, which is space-efficient, environment-freindly, and supports good health, can be encouraged by providing infrastructure for it, including bike racks, painted lanes, and signage.  Where the width of the road permits demarcating dedicated bus lanes can improve the capacity, speed, and reliability of public transportation.  On narrower roads, but wide enough to permit it, lanes for rickshaws and motorcycles could improve traffic flow as well. 

Now I feel like I’m in India.

Now I feel like I’m in India.

Bus shelters in Kerala.  Drawings and notes by Laurie Baker. 

Organic farming in the Aryanad Panchayat.  Microloans for small farmers and entrepreneurs are available through micro lending backed by the panchayat and government subsidies—positive results enabled by the bottom up and participatory budgeting approaches of the decentralized Kerala governance. 

A talk with Dr. Reghu, founder of Mithraniketan. 
“I am for globalization,” Dr. Reghu says, “but not in the exploitive spirit.”  His life’s work has been the development of Mithraniketan, a nonprofit organization and vocational school for students from the tribes and lower castes that were discriminated against for millennia before the caste system was abolished in the constitution of independent India.  The lower castes, especially, still suffer discrimination despite affirmative action.  Students learn agriculture, horticulture, science and technology with application in rural areas.  The objectives are twofold: to protect the ecosystems by restoring and preserving traditional eco-sensitive practices; and supporting education, skill-development, and job opportunities for poor and disadvantaged families.  

“Book learning alone will not help a man be complete.”  —Dr. Reghu

The People’s College hosts approximately 50 students per year (100 students before government reduced funding), ages 18+.  Besides rural knowledge and skills, students learn character development and community service, because, as Dr. Reghu warns, “the nuclear family system is very dangerous, because we are social animals, not individualists.”  Education is open for all and funded through the government agencies and other sources, but students contribute to the physical plant of the school according to Gandhiji’s principles of self-employment and “earn while learning.”  For example, students learning carpentry will do all the carpentry work needed to maintain the campus, working alongside their instructors. 

A talk with Dr. Reghu, founder of Mithraniketan. 

“I am for globalization,” Dr. Reghu says, “but not in the exploitive spirit.”  His life’s work has been the development of Mithraniketan, a nonprofit organization and vocational school for students from the tribes and lower castes that were discriminated against for millennia before the caste system was abolished in the constitution of independent India.  The lower castes, especially, still suffer discrimination despite affirmative action.  Students learn agriculture, horticulture, science and technology with application in rural areas.  The objectives are twofold: to protect the ecosystems by restoring and preserving traditional eco-sensitive practices; and supporting education, skill-development, and job opportunities for poor and disadvantaged families. 

“Book learning alone will not help a man be complete.”  —Dr. Reghu

The People’s College hosts approximately 50 students per year (100 students before government reduced funding), ages 18+.  Besides rural knowledge and skills, students learn character development and community service, because, as Dr. Reghu warns, “the nuclear family system is very dangerous, because we are social animals, not individualists.”  Education is open for all and funded through the government agencies and other sources, but students contribute to the physical plant of the school according to Gandhiji’s principles of self-employment and “earn while learning.”  For example, students learning carpentry will do all the carpentry work needed to maintain the campus, working alongside their instructors. 

Water Conflict and Sustainable Progress in Kerala, India

Kerala’s 12th Five Year Plan Approach Paper gives top priority to improving public health “since the shine of the Kerala model has been diminishing as of late.”  Improving waste management and the provision of drinking water will be prioritized in a strategy to improve public health through improving hygiene state-wide. 

Currently, the water issue in Kerala surrounds the controversy over the dam at Mullaperiyar, which was built within the borders of Kerala in the 1880s, but 80 percent of the water impounded there is exported to Tamil Nadu.  While Kerala is the greenest state in India thanks to the bi-yearly monsoon and the characteristics of the geography, Tamil Nadu is a desert by contrast.  Although other dams built in the same era are still functioning mostly without an end in sight to the infrastructures’ useful life, this dam is situated in an active seismic zone, causing fear in Kerala that the structural integrity of the damn has been compromised over time.  If the dam breaks, four million Kerala homes will be under threat of flooding and destruction; the projected loss of life is half a million. 

The bylaws written in the 1880s prevent Kerala from replacing this dam without approval from Tamil Nadu.  Kerala is in the process of fighting for a new dam at the Central Government level, as the people of Tamil Nadu have resisted approval for a new dam up to this point because they mistrust Kerala’s intent in building a new damn—fearing an reduction in their supply of this vital resource.  The irony is that the structural integrity of the dam, if compromised, poses a large risk to the livelihood of Tamil Nadu as well, since the state is so reliant on this water source.  The process of approval at the Central Government level could take as long as four or five years—too long, Kerala fears. 

In the meantime, Kerala is moving away from reliance on municipal water and towards decentralized local or household systems sustained by rainwater harvesting.