EFFECTIVE URBANISM

ISSUE 6

March 2023

The Power of Community-led Initiatives in Building Social Cohesion in Urban India

Eshanpreet Kaur, a dedicated architect with over 6 years of experience in the field. She is passionate for architecture and urban research, theory, and sustainability. Eshanpreet completed her bachelor’s degree in 2016 and pursued her post-graduation in urban planning, followed by PG in sustainable science. Her expertise and education have earned her many accolades throughout her career, including award-winning poet recognition from IGBC for her sustainable poetry, appreciation for conducting workshops for college students. She has already authored several research papers, showcasing her talent and dedication to the field of research and writing. Aside from her professional pursuits, Eshanpreet is a tie-loathing adventurer who currently resides in Bangalore. She enjoys exploring and advancing in the field, always looking for new challenges and opportunities to learn and grow.

Introduction:

India’s cities are diverse and dynamic, with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and economic strata living and working together. However, this diversity can also lead to social divisions and exclusion, which can create tensions and undermine the sense of community and belonging in urban areas. To address these challenges, there is a growing recognition of the need to build stronger social cohesion in India’s cities, with a focus on community-led initiatives and interventions.

Community-led initiatives can play a critical role in promoting social cohesion by creating opportunities for people to come together, build relationships, and work towards common goals. These initiatives can range from neighborhood-level projects to city-wide campaigns, and can focus on a variety of issues, from environmental sustainability to social inclusion and economic empowerment.

 

FIGURE 1 City nature is being Co-Created by children. 

India’s initiative:

One example of a community-led initiative that is promoting social cohesion in India is the “Street Smart” project in Mumbai. This project was launched in 2017 by a group of local residents who wanted to create a safer and more welcoming environment in their neighborhood. They began by cleaning up the streets and public spaces, and then organized a series of community events, including street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural performances. The Street-Smart project has created a sense of ownership and pride among local residents, who are now more invested in the well-being of their neighborhood.

Another example of a community-led initiative that is promoting social cohesion in India is the “Waste Warriors” project in Dehradun. This project was launched in 2012 by a group of local volunteers who were concerned about the environmental and social impact of waste in their city. They began by organizing community clean-up drives and then expanded their efforts to include waste segregation and recycling programs. Through this initiative, the Waste Warriors project has created a sense of community and shared responsibility among local residents, who are now working together to create a more sustainable and equitable city.

The street-smart project helped to break down social barriers and promote inclusivity, with people from different backgrounds and communities coming together to participate in the events and activities, whereas the waste warriors project has helped to promote social inclusion, with marginalized communities and low-income residents benefiting from the improved waste management services.

These examples highlight the importance of community-led initiatives in promoting social cohesion in India’s cities. By empowering local residents to take ownership of their neighborhoods and work towards common goals, these initiatives can help to build stronger and more inclusive communities. However, there is still much work to be done to scale up and replicate these initiatives in other cities and neighborhoods, and to ensure that they are sustainable and effective over the long term.

FIGURE 2 Waste warriors post-project in Himachal, India.

Paragon of Social cohesion Plan:

Nørrebro is a diverse neighborhood in Copenhagen, with a mix of ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the neighborhood has also experienced social divisions and tensions in the past, particularly between Danish residents and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

FIGURE 3 The social cycle of Norrebo, Copenhagen.

To address these challenges, the local government and community organizations in Nørrebro have implemented a range of initiatives to promote social cohesion and inclusivity. These initiatives include community festivals, public art projects, and programs that provide opportunities for youth from different backgrounds to interact and build relationships.

One example of a community-led initiative in Nørrebro is the “Loppemarked” flea market, which is organized by local residents and attracts people from across the city. The flea market provides a space for people to socialize, exchange goods, and build relationships, breaking down social barriers and promoting inclusivity in the neighborhood.

FIGURE 4  Superkilen, CPH,Denmark| BIG

Another example of a community-led initiative in Nørrebro is the “Superkilen” park, which was designed with input from local residents and features elements that reflect the diverse cultures and histories of the neighborhood. The park includes a Moroccan fountain, a Thai boxing ring, and benches from Brazil, among other features, creating a space that is both inclusive and representative of the neighborhood’s diverse communities.

 

Both the physical and visual links between Hans Tavsens Park, Korsgade and their context will be improved so that the area is made more accessible, both physically and mentally.

 

FIGURE 5 Area map showing links in Norrebo.

In conclusion, the case examples of Nørrebro and Mumbai illustrate the important role that community-led initiatives can play in promoting social cohesion and inclusivity in urban areas. By providing opportunities for people to come together, build relationships, and work towards common goals, these initiatives can create stronger, more resilient communities that are better equipped to address the challenges of urban living.

Practical Approach:

Implementing the Nørrebro social cohesion plan in India:

  1. Community-led initiatives: Encourage the formation of community-led initiatives in Indian cities, where residents can take an active role in shaping the development of their neighborhoods and the city as a whole. These initiatives could focus on issues like community building, improving public spaces, or environmental sustainability.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     FIGURE 6 Pocket parks & Green roofs, Norrebo.
  2. Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure: Develop more pedestrian-friendly and cycling-friendly infrastructure in Indian cities, as Nørrebro has done. This could include initiatives like bike lanes, pedestrian zones, and traffic-calmed areas.
  3. Green spaces: Encourage the development of green spaces in Indian cities, like parks, community gardens, and urban forests. These spaces could be used for recreational activities, community events, and environmental education.
  4. Diversity and inclusion: Emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in urban planning and design. This could include initiatives like promoting mixed income housing developments, ensuring access to public spaces for all residents, and prioritizing the needs of marginalized communities.
  5. Participatory budgeting: Implement participatory budgeting in Indian cities, where residents have a direct say in how public funds are spent. This could help ensure that resources are allocated in a way that reflects the needs and priorities of the community.
  6. Collaborative decision-making: Encourage collaborative decision-making between residents, local government, and other stakeholders in urban planning and design. This could include initiatives like citizen juries or participatory design workshops.

Implications:

Potential merits and demerits of implementing the Nørrebro case study model in Indian cities:

Merits:

  1. Improved social cohesion and community building: Implementing community-led initiatives in Indian cities can help create stronger, more inclusive communities and build trust between different groups.
  2. Enhanced public participation: Community-led initiatives can encourage residents to take an active role in shaping the development of their neighbourhoods and cities.
  3. Greater sense of ownership: By involving residents in the design and implementation of urban space initiatives, they can develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their communities and spaces.
  4. More sustainable and environmentally-friendly spaces: Nørrebro’s focus on sustainability and green spaces could be adapted to Indian cities, which are facing increasing environmental challenges.

Demerits:

  1. Resistance to change: Implementing community-led initiatives may face resistance from existing power structures and entrenched interests.
  2. Limited resources: Many community-led initiatives require significant resources, which may be difficult to secure in the context of limited budgets and competing priorities.
  3. Difficulties in scaling up: Community-led initiatives may be successful on a small scale, but it can be challenging to scale them up to the city or regional level.
  4. Cultural differences: The success of the Nørrebro model may be partly due to cultural factors unique to Denmark, which may not translate perfectly to Indian contexts.

India’s paragon of Social Cohesion- Auroville and ODOP

Auroville- One example of a successful urban space in India is Auroville, a planned town located near Pondicherry in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Auroville was founded in 1968 with the vision of creating a harmonious and sustainable community that transcends national, cultural, and religious boundaries.

FIGURE 7 Basic zoning concept of Aurovilla, India

In terms of safety, Auroville has a low crime rate and a strong sense of community, with residents working together to maintain a safe and secure environment. The town also has a green belt area surrounding it, which provides a buffer zone between the town and the surrounding rural areas and helps to maintain a peaceful and secure environment.

ODOP- India’s One District, One Product (ODOP) initiative aims to promote the traditional industries and crafts of each district in the country, to create jobs and economic opportunities, and preserve the cultural heritage of the regions. This initiative is seen as a way to contribute to social cohesion, as it can help to empower local communities and preserve local identities.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, while implementing the Nørrebro case study model in Indian cities could offer many benefits in terms of building social cohesion and inclusive communities, it is important to be aware of the potential challenges and limitations of this approach. Any implementation should be adapted to the specific cultural and social context of the city, and a collaborative and participatory approach should be taken to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders. By emphasizing community-led initiatives, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, green spaces, diversity and inclusion, participatory budgeting, and collaborative decision-making, Indian cities can work towards building stronger social cohesion and more inclusive communities.

References:

  1. “Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Urban Development in India: A Review of Best Practices and Lessons Learned” by P. Narain, published in the Journal of Urban Regeneration and Renewal in 2018.
  2. “Inclusive Urban Development in India: An Analysis of the Role of Community-Based Organizations” by K. Nair and S. Mohanty, published in the Journal of International Development in 2019.
  3. “Building Sustainable and Inclusive Cities in India: The Role of Green Infrastructure” by S. Patel and A. Kaul, published in the Journal of Sustainable Development in 2018.
  4. Urban structures and Mobility A Case-study in Copenhagen by JOSÉ PEDRO DE FREITAS FALCÃO DOS REIS submitted to Univesidade de porto, 2008.
  5. Urban planning in Copenhagen – Towards a Sustainable Future by Mrs. Anne Skovbro

Credits:

Figure 1: John M. Maternoski, Urban Growth in Copenhagen

Figure 2: www. waste warriors .org

Figure 3 & 6:  digitalcommons.colby.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1852&context=clas

Figure 4: Creator: Iwan Baan, Source: Bjarke Ingels Group: BIG

Figure 5: worldbank.org/archive/website01419/WEB/IMAGES/050112_U.PDF

Figure 7: auroville.org/page/galaxy-concept-of-the-city

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