South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Indian Cities: Of Utopias, Dystopias and Something in Between

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Tamarind, New Building

This paper recognizes the power of utopias in animating actions and hence takes them seriously. They have particular significance for cities, bringing in deliberate actions and application of resources to particular projects as well influencing a larger ecosystem that shapes the making, and governance of cities. The imaginations of Indian cities have oscillated between series of utopias, threats of dystopias and an actually produced reality of states in between. At the time of independence, imaginations of the city ranged from the promise of inclusion (e.g., Ambedkar) to producing oases of planned cities as symbols of modern development to an overall non-worthiness of urbanization as a project. These imaginations intertwined with several sub-projects such as that of the enhanced power of the state in relation to land and housing markets, the strengthening of expert bureaucratic bodies and state governments in governing cities and a disregard for local politics and government. Currently, urbanization per se is thought of as a growth engine and thus calls for a high utopia. Instead, the ambition of planned cities creating opportunities for all is being forsaken to advance a project of smart cities which is, in fact, a project of fragmented and partial development of few cities. Simultaneously, however, there is a rise in utopias that are more bottom-up making claims on cities and the larger urbanization process — an example of what Nigam calls heterotopias. The paper traces these shifts in utopias in relation to Indian urbanization and their meanings and possibilities. 

Amita Bhide

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India


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1 - Indian Cities: Of Utopias, Dystopias and Something in Between

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