City Wrap: Maharashtra’s new planning body, Jane Jacobs and Carolina’s bathrooms

Maharashtra to set up authority for urban infra projects; North Carolina draws flak for bathroom bill; and the world honours Jane Jacobs on her 100th birthday


Maharashtra’s new authority will be much like the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, and will function as a planning, coordinating and executing body for urban centres other than the city. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Maharashtra’s new authority will be much like the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, and will function as a planning, coordinating and executing body for urban centres other than the city. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The Mint City Wrap is a curation of the most compelling stories emerging from our cities today. While the focus is on urban centres, the Mint City Wrap engages with wider geographies in the effort to connect stories with each other across places and borders.

Maharashtra’s new regional development body

The Maharashtra cabinet approved the decision to constitute a separate organization that will oversee infrastructure projects in cities and towns. This authority will be much like the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, and will function as a planning, coordinating and executing body for urban centres other than Mumbai. Such a move could potentially transform urban planning and regional development in India, which currently suffers from fragmented coordination structures.

New bathroom law brings back ‘biology as destiny’ debate

North Carolina has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons . Recently, the North Carolina government put in place House Bill 2 - Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which bans individuals from using bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex, as determined on their birth certificates. So if you’re biologically male but identify as female, you cannot go into the bathroom marked ‘F’. The US justice department has informed North Carolina governor Pat McCrory that his “bathroom bill” violates the Civil Rights Act. In terms of scores, that would be Gender fluidity 1, Transphobia 9000

Affordable housing—affordable for whom?

The trouble with reportage on affordable housing is that affordability seems to have generous proportions. In this report, for instance, an affordable house seems to cost anything between Rs.16 lakh and Rs.25 lakh. A research paper by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements contends with the empirical reality of contemporary urban India and argues that the vast majority of households in India can only afford homes that cost under Rs.10 lakh, of which a significant proportion can barely afford houses that cost Rs.2 lakh.

Planet Abled—enabling inclusion in Delhi

Disability is not so much about personal impairment as it is about a disabling environment that doesn’t allow someone with disabilities to lead a fulfilling life. Everything about the way our cities are designed assumes the user of the space is a healthy, able-bodied adult human. This, as we know, is only half true. A Delhi-based accessible travel company called Planet Abled is encouraging and promoting recreational activities for the disabled. It organizes storytelling gatherings at Dilli Haat, heritage walks in the Qutub Minar and the Taj Mahal. More than anything, this is a wonderful effort to expand the notion of spatial inclusion.

The creation of the Middle East

The 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is coming up, and we must take a moment to consider the unconscionable idiocy that underpins the creation of the modern Middle East. Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot had to draft a map that would divide the vast territory of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire into British and French colonies. As this article in The New Yorker says, “The colonial carve-up was always vulnerable. Its map ignored local identities and political preferences. Borders were determined with a ruler—arbitrarily. At a briefing for Britain’s Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, in 1915, Sykes famously explained, ‘I should like to draw a line from the “E” in Acre to the last “K” in Kirkuk.’ He slid his finger across a map, spread out on a table at No. 10 Downing Street, from what is today a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast to the northern mountains of Iraq.”

An ode to Jane Jacobs

It was Jane Jacobs ’s 100th birthday on 4 May, and Google honoured her with a doodle. Jacobs remains one of the most gutsy, grounded and democratic urban thinkers the world has seen. “The best plans are those that liberate other people’s plans,” she said. In 1955, when the legendary city planner Robert Moses proposed a road through Greenwich Village, he found an indefatigable opponent in Jacobs. The Guardian covered it as the “battle of New York’s urban titans”, which is certainly worth a read. It’s throwback Thursday, and let’s go back to 1958, when Jacobs wrote in Fortune about “smallness of big cities”, in an article titled “Downtown is for People”:

“The remarkable intricacy and liveliness of downtown can never be created by the abstract logic of a few men. Downtown has had the capability of providing something for everybody only because it has been created by everybody. So it should be in the future; planners and architects have a vital contribution to make, but the citizen has a more vital one. It is his city, after all; his job is not merely to sell plans made by others, it is to get into the thick of the planning job himself.”

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