Bimal Patel – How to make urban planning work

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Bimal Patel - How to make urban planning work
Bimal Patel says the big task now is to figure out how urban planning can be made to work with markets instead of against them. // Photo © Mint

“Since the late sixties, when Soviet-style central economic planning gripped the imagination of India’s policymakers, Indian urban planning has been all about replacing markets by planning. Urban planners have attempted to ‘design’ cities instead of enabling their growth. And in that style of planning, what is crucial is that planners try to figure out where we are going, which is a folly,” he emphasizes, going on to say that, according to this approach, urban planners make assumptions “about the size of population of a given town or city in the future, and specify the types of homes they should live in, the standards they should adopt as well as the type of industries that should come up. Planners believe they can accumulate all the information that is necessary to be able to project this future and then make a plan that everybody had to follow.”

Patel finds this approach deeply problematic, because “planners are no better at judging where we are going or where we ought to go than anybody else. Usually, we have to accept the limits to our capacity to anticipate the future. The simple test of it is, to think back 10 years, and think of what we knew about today’s society and today’s economy 10 years ago. We knew very little about where we are now. Therefore, to believe that now, 10 years from now, I will know what’s going to happen, where to take this city, is illiberal planning. ….

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