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Tag: urbanization

I have no idea what a smart city means: Rahul Mehrotra

Mehrotra says the problem with smart cities is that they are founded on capital and investment, but don’t consider the human being as part of this equation. Photo: S. Kumar/Mint

This article was published originally in Livemint.

By Dhamini Ratnam

Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art will host a series of talks, events and exhibitions on contemporary architecture in India and South Asia early next year, organized by Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), an independent think tank based in the city. The exhibition has been co-curated by architect Rahul Mehrotra, cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote and architecture critic Kaiwan Mehta, with the objective of bringing the discussion on architecture back to the centre stage.

Mehrotra juggles many roles—he is the founder of Mumbai-based RMA Architects, a trustee of UDRI, and over the past decade, professor of urban design and planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He is also on the steering committee of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University. His latest collaboration with a team of researchers and students from the institute led to the book Kumbh Mela: Mapping The Ephemeral Mega City, which was released in New Delhi earlier this week. The book looks at the way the Kumbh Mela operates quite successfully as a temporary city.

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Kumbh Mela book and exhibition launch in Delhi

Kumbh Mela launch, Delhi

Rahul Mehrotra, right, shows the exhibit to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, center

On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people at the Oberoi Hotel.

Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.

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Faculty Q+A: Temporary religious landscapes in Latin America and South Asia

The Research Project on the Ephemeral City, led by Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Planning and Design and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, GSD, and SAI Steering Committee Member, has been engaged in documenting and systematically compiling different forms of temporary urbanism in South Asia, Latin America and worldwide.

The exhibition, which will be on display at Harvard from February 9 to July 15, 2015, focuses primarily on religion, one of the seven taxonomies identified for the ephemeral city.

It presents ten cases of temporary occupation of urban space for religious events and celebration that demonstrate powerful ways in which the public realm is appropriated temporally to create sacred spaces.

On Wednesday, April 22, SAI and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies  will host an opening reception and panel discussion on the project, ‘The Ephemeral City: Looking at Temporary Landscape of Religion in South Asia and Latin America.’ 

Rahul Mehrotra will give a personal tour of the exhibition at 5:30, followed by a panel discussion at 6:30pm. Exhibition curators include Felipe Vera, Universidad Adolfo Ibañez, Chile, and Jose Mayoral, GSD.

SAI spoke to Mehrotra recently about the research project, and the commonalities between South Asia and Latin America:

SAI: What did you find were some of the commonalities between religious temporary landscapes in Latin America and South Asia? Why were these 2 regions chosen?

Rahul Mehrotra: These regions were chosen for two main reasons. Firstly because we felt that creating a dialogue between two incredibly important regions in the global south was critical. More so because little conversation occurs between these regions.

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Virtual tour: Temporary Landscapes of Religion in South Asia and Latin America

The exhibition Temporary Landscapes of Religion in South Asia and Latin America, which is now on display at Harvard, looks at ephemeral urbanism of various religious festivals in Latin America and South Asia.

In partnership with the Harvard David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the project is led by Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Planning and Design and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, GSD, and curated by Felipe Vera, Universidad Adolfo Ibañez, Chile, and Jose Mayoral, GSD.

SAI, in partnership with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies is hosting a seminar on Wednesday, April 22, 2015: The Ephemeral City: Looking at Temporary Landscape of Religion in South Asia and Latin America.


About the exhibit:

Religion, a taxonomy of the ephemeral city, is constituted by cases in which the urban space is modified, totally transformed or even created in order to facilitate the practice of faith. These cases present thoughtful strategies for ephemeral configurations deployed to celebrate religious beliefs. Some of the cases in this exhibition go as far as generating temporary megacities from almost nothing, such as the ephemeral constructions set up for the Qayllur Rit’I and the Kumbh Mela.

Others convert streets into open temples, such as the light constructions made annually to host the Durga Puja in Calcutta, while others transform massive regional infrastructure into a procession path, as in Lo Vázquez, Chile. Among others, the cases shown in this exhibition help us challenge the pace at which the generic city is progressively constructed, showing us how the intensity of the events stretches the physical and symbolic boundaries of the everyday functional spaces.

The exhibit will be on display until July 2015 in CGIS South, Second and Fourth floors, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA, open to the public Mondays through Thursdays 7am to 9pm, and Fridays 7am to 7pm.


Lo Vázquez, Chile

Every year during the first week of December, tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims from Santiago, Chile and Viña del Mar begin a journey to the small town of Lo Vázquez to visit the shrine of the Virgin, a site where multiple apparitions have occurred. The major highway connecting both metropolitan areas to Lo Vázquez loses its functional role and gets reinterpreted as a religious path for pilgrimage.


Lo Vazquez





























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The City and South Asia Podcast: The Season of Migration in the City

How should we plan and perceive the urban?

In this podcast, Namita Dharia, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, and Graduate Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, talks about the life of a migrant worker in urban India and how the construction industry is addressing issues of child labor and women’s safety.

Namita spent over a year at a construction site in India working on an ethnography of the real estate and construction industry in India’s National Capital Region, and is the author of “The Season of Migration in the City” in SAI’s publication The City and South Asia.

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The City and South Asia Podcast: Floating on Waste Islands

The City and South Asia Podcast: Floating on Waste Islands

Malé, the capital of the Maldives

For many, the Maldives is a tropical paradise, offering a peaceful getaway for tourists from all over the world. However, on a deeper level, the processes of urbanization, globalization, and climate change have made traditional methods of waste management difficult for this pristine island nation.

The situation has gotten so bad that some villages have begun to create new islands with the waste. For example, waste from Malé, the capital of the Maldives, is transferred to the waste island of Thilafushi, an island created entirely by dumping garbage in the ocean.

In this podcast, SAI talks with Krishna Matturi, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Executive lead and cofounder of FEEDBACK in Boston, and author of ‘Floating on Waste Islands’ in SAI’s publication The City and South Asia. Matturi spent time in the Maldives as a researcher looking at the “unique culture of waste” in the country, and its possible solutions.

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-Meghan Smith

The City and South Asia

In SAI’s second annual publication, The City and South Asia, experts from a variety of fields, at both Harvard and elsewhere, have come together to hold up a cross-disciplinary lens to urban centers in South Asia. This volume aims to shed light on planning and architecture, and other existing elements of urban development, and provide a sense of the new forms of urbanism emerging in contemporary South Asia.


Archaeology and the Ancient City
By Nayanjot Lahiri

The Season of Migration to the City
By Namita Dharia

Housing in Karachi Today
By Arif Hasan

The Beautification of Postwar Colombo
Harini Amarasuriya and Jonathan Spencer

Modern Chandigarh
By Maristella Casciato

Urban Planning in Bangladesh
By Fuad H. Mallick, Aminur Rahman, and A. K. M. Sirajuddin

The Changing Urban Space of Colombo
By Jagath Munasinghe

Decoding Dhaka
By Farooq Ameen

Impatient Capital and the Indian City
By Rahul Mehrotra

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Expert Pushes for Cost-Effective Design in India

This article originally appeared in the Harvard Crimson.

By Caleb O. Shelburne, Crimson Contributing Writer

Photo courtesy of the Crimson / Jennifer Yao

Drawing from first-hand research, professor Vikram C. Bhatt discussed urbanization in India on Monday evening at the Center for Government and International Studies, advocating for a more innovative, cost-effective design strategy.

The lecture, sponsored by the South Asia Institute and India GSD, focused on concerns about urban design and the suggestion that certain aspects of the design of slums can be more efficient than planned housing.

Bhatt cited growing urban populations in India as a serious problem that has necessitated a unique design approach.“Governments must understand [that] the broad urban landscape of India has turned into slums,” he said.

A professor of architecture at McGill University, Bhatt argued that the traditional approach to low-income housing projects is too theoretical and overlooks the basic question of how inhabitants actually use space. In offering an alternative solution, Bhatt introduced the concept of a “jugaad” city. The term refers to innovative design hacks that solve technical problems with limited resources.

“They are very nimble, these groups of people,” Bhatt said. “An urban landscape is a mix of all these strands.”

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Exploring a city’s narrative

By Abhishek Rahman, MDiv Candidate, Harvard Divinity School

Mehta speaks to the crowd at the Graduate School of Design

Suketu Mehta, a journalist and fiction writer, visited Harvard University last week to deliver three lectures to sold-out audiences at the Graduate School of Design, all on the topic of ‘The Secret Life of Cities.’ Mehta’s lectures were part of SAI’s Urbanization Lecture Series that brings renowned academics whose work explores the contours of urban life in South Asia to Harvard. The lectures were cosponsored by the Graduate School of Design.

Mehta is an Associate Professor at the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, introduced Mehta to the crowd as someone who is known to live in the cities about which he writes, often weaving his personal narratives within the histories of the cities that serve as his subjects.

In his first lecture on Oct. 21 titled ‘Migration: Storytelling the City,’ Mehta discussed the various reasons migrants gravitate to cities and how spatial dislocations in the cities compel a recollection of memories.

“The story of my family’s journey from the village to the city began a little over a hundred years ago, first to Calcutta and then to Kenya,” Mehta said. “Recollection became the antidote to alienation amidst our various migrations. Therefore, I don’t have the luxury of that French existential angst. I have a large extended family and we bicker and fight.”

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Contemporary South Asia Student Blog: Understanding urbanism in megacities

This is the first blog post in a series from students enrolled in the course ‘Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems’ taught by SAI Director Tarun Khanna. The course features several modules on issues facing South Asia, each taught by a different faculty member. 

This week’s focus: Urbanism with Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Planning and Design and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Graduate School of Design.

By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

Are the protection of culture through urban conservation and the pursuit of positive change through development mutually exclusive? Certain traditional schools of thought in urban planning seem to promote that view.

Yet as Professor Rahul Mehrotra conveyed to us in his fascinating lectures this week, even in rapidly growing megacities dominated by a prevailing mindset that equates redevelopment and new construction with economic growth and reform, on can still protect culturally significant spaces and change how we understand urban conservation.

Urban conservation is rarely seen as a public priority by developing nations’ policymakers or the citizens whom they represent. Many regard projects geared towards conservation or heritage tourism to be strange preoccupations of elites, academics and foreigners that are obstructive to economic progress.

For urban conservation initiatives to be more prevalent and successful in Mumbai, there must be a shift in how residents perceive conservation as a concept and as an applied behavior within the context of their city.

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