Indian cities are now more at the centre of debates on urban utopias than ever before. Whether for their entrepreneurial spirit, modernist planning, contested heritage claims, or ‘smart’ visions, the Indian city has time and again narrated the story of India’s postcolonial coming of age. The future of the Indian city is shaped by its own history – where utopian visions of urban planning are continually reassembled by grassroots articulations of urban citizenship. Each of these grassroots imaginations of citizenship can be seen as a vision for a new alternative utopia. This international network brings together scholars, policy makers, planners and civil society members from India and the UK to explore alternative histories of the utopian city in India.
Alternative utopias of the future
Taking four contrasting cities – Varanasi, Chandigarh, Navi Mumbai and Nashik – this project explores how alternative utopias to top-down planning visions are envisioned at the grassroots. Grassroots imaginations of urban futures are often silenced as illegal, illegitimate, dissenting and anti-developmental. Yet at the same time, they can radically transform the rationalist planning visions that are often out of sync with everyday life at street level. Grassroots visions of urban futures are not necessarily against the city – they have different visions of urban utopias based on citizenship rights, justice and democracy. These visions are shaped by their historic, social and political engagement with city spaces and urban environments. We call these ‘alternative utopias’. We argue that these alternative utopias are key to the planning of future cities in India, at a time when it stands poised towards a radical shift to smart urbanism.
The project will develop and exchange knowledge on India’s alternative utopias through a series of inter-connected city workshops between scholars, policy makers, planners and grassroots organisations. The workshops will use a range of dynamic methods including oral histories, photographs, sketches, music, dance, and mental maps to elucidate a range of parallel histories and futures.
The project will mark its end and discuss future research through an end of project conference in Leeds.The conference will also showcase a photo exhibition on utopian cities in India. These will be free and open to the public.