THE OTHER SIDE
A neuropsychologist who is also one of the guest columnists in this newspaper recently observed that in the colony of flats where she lives, no one smiles or talks to each other. The residents also let their “rowdy kids out to scream and play even when others are working”, she observed. This scenario exhibits insensitivity and negligent parenting. However the most alarming aspect which is being consistently ignored by the government, town planners and also citizens in general is the impact of urbanisation sans planning on the behaviour, health and lives of the people.
A couple of years ago evidence was found to establish how buildings and urban landscapes influence our mood and health. It was ascertained that specialised cells in the hippocampal region of the human brain are adjusted to the geometry and arrangement of the spaces we occupy. This region of the brain is where the emotions of a person are regulated. It is not as if this is something that was not known before. While it is known that green spaces can be restorative and improve health, there are findings of various studies which claim that growing up in a city doubles the chances of someone developing schizophrenia while also increasing the risk of other mental disorders like depression and chronic anxiety –especially in bustling cities. Such conditions could be attributed to localities afflicted by what is termed as social stress which basically defines the effect of scarce social bonding and cohesion in communities.
In his book The Hidden Dimension, anthropologist Edward T Hall states, “To solve formidable urban problems, there is the need not only for the usual coterie of experts- city planners, architects, engineers of all types, economists, law enforcement specialists, traffic and transportation experts, educators, lawyers, social workers and political scientists- but for a number of new experts. Psychologists, anthropologists, and ethologists are seldom, if ever, prominently featured as permanent members of city planning departments but they should be. Research budgets must not be whimsically turned on and off as has happened in the past. When good, workable plans are developed, planners must not be forced to witness a breakdown in implementation which is so often excused on the grounds of politics or expediency. Also, planning and renewal must not be separated; instead, renewal must be an integral part of planning.”
Let us consider the situation in Uttarakhand. Since the creation of the state 20 years ago, construction has been the most prominent activity. Construction of residential, commercial and industrial buildings along with infrastructure has radically altered Dehradun and many parts of the state. However, there is a lot more to come as existing cities expand to meet requirements of growing population and human activities. When one considers the authorities established to ensure planned urban development, the common opinion is that such authorities have facilitated the opposite of planned development. The provisional state capital Dehradun is a prime example of such unplanned development despite there being no dearth of talent and resources. Green spaces have shrunk, grounds and parks for children and adults to indulge in sports and similar activities have become fewer and open spaces have been covered by closely packed constructions. It is no secret that while some builders exploit loopholes and follow existing trends to make profits, others face unprofessionalism and corruption in trying to get their projects executed. In such a scenario, the type of planned development that is desirable will never be achieved.
Uttarakhand is a young state with its own share of challenges and strengths. The State is bound to witness rise in varied human activities, income generation and expenditure along with all types of constructions in addition to the ambitious infrastructural projects already underway or planned. Considering this, it would be suicidal to continue ignoring aspects of urban planning which the authorities have not really even acknowledged yet. However, it is not yet too late. Actual sensible planning and effective execution can not only prevent further damage but also ensure that constructions actually enhance life of the people and the environment they live in. It remains to be seen whether the needful is done before it is too late.
Saturday, 05 December 2020 | Paritosh Kimothi | Dehradun