Prathima Manohar, a social entrepreneur, urbanist, and the founder and president of The Urban Vision, a think-do-tank on cities, has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind.
In this short interview, she tell us about improving cities, reinventing public spaces, and, in particular, the future of cities in India. What they’re doing wrong. And what they should be doing to properly position itself for the future.
1) Tell us a little about yourself
As a young architect, envisioning future places used to be one of my favourite things to do. I remember dreaming up flying transport and robots who dealt with our boring daily chores.
But today as a more grounded urbanist, I recognize that the answers to great cities is not rocket science. We need to focus on developing strategies to create better soft infrastructure that can make cities great places to live in, where you have access to nature, culture, arts and leisure.
2) What does Urban Vision do?
We focus on the quality of life, health and culture in Indian cities.
Over the last few years, Urban Vision has created a platform for public dialogue on policy choices and often bring together warring actors like government, business, and civil society to engage with each other.
This has paid off especially in our public space program. We are building footpaths and small social plazas in various parts of the city in Mumbai, through collaborations between various stakeholders like creative groups, businesses, citizens, experts and academic groups. It has been very rewarding.
3) What, according to you, are the major challenges that are faced by India right now with respect to urban planning?
It is really unfortunate that Indian cities are choosing to pick some of the worst ideas of urban development that is being rejected by the more urbanized parts of the world, and are implementing policies that aid small private interest over the larger community good.
For instance, 55% of Mumbaikers walk rather than drive, but we have no decent footpath infrastructure. Instead, we spend on flyovers that only benefit a tiny elite minority. I wonder, is our democracy undemocratic by default?
Also, India has recently announced that we will build 100 new ‘smart cities’ but we are still trying to figure out what that means. A smart city can be incredibly stupid when leaders start to focus on technology at the centre of a city instead of people. Smart cities that will succeed will be the ones that are people-centric.
4) How would you rank Bangalore in respect to quality of space and liveability?
I grew up in Bangalore and I am sad about the way the city has deteriorated over the last two decades. For instance, a study claims that a whopping 36% of children in Bangalore had poor lung capacity. This is obviously due to the toxicity in air and water in the cities.
We need to focus on clean air strategies, detoxify our existing water network and invest in recharging our ground water. We must reclaim the garden city and invest into greener infrastructure that will allow all of us to be engaged in active lifestyles and give us access to nature.
5) What motivates you to do what you do?
Love and passion. I love my work and really enjoy everything I have to do each day. Entrepreneurship is not all glamour. Actually mostly it is the exact opposite. So you need passion and love for what you do to get you through the tough days and keep at it.
6) Final question! What does the future hold for Urban Vision?
We would like to shape urban communities that are healthier and more alive with culture. In terms of planning strategies: we will continue to advocate on building cities that focus on compact, high density, walkable, mass–transit driven, mixed use and mixed income communities.