Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Oct 09, 2018
Participatory local area planning: A must for robust city growth

The concept of participatory local area planning has been practiced for years in developed countries and is now being adopted by cities in developing countries as well. This process of planning with the involvement of residents has proved beneficial for the city and its people. Local area planning and participatory planning approaches usually involve multiple stakeholders coming together to ensure that urban development truly meets the needs of the citizens.

This participatory approach to urban planning was adopted for the recently revised Mumbai Development Plan (DP) 2034, which is the city blueprint for the next 20 years. This was a very welcome change to urban planning in Indian cities, where traditionally, city plans are prepared by technical professionals in a closed-door office environment.

The plan was literally brought out on the streets, and the ordinary citizen was involved in preparing the city plan. Suddenly, people realised that the plan matters to them as individuals, groups and citizens and that they must have a say. Communities came together, read about the plan, prepared proposals, and approached the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) with recommendations for what should be implemented. The MCGM too allowed stakeholders to express their opinions and worked with them to plan for the city.

Participatory planning in the Revised Draft Development Plan (RDDP) 2034 was not limited to mere tokenism, but the MCGM and the groups worked together to ensure its physical recognition through reservations and further towards implementation. Let us understand this through the interactions that took place with gender groups.

For the first time, the DP recognized gender as an important aspect in city planning and felt the need to look into the various aspects for its inclusivity. By carrying out consultative research along with the gender group, the need to improve the workforce participation of women in Mumbai was identified. Various gender related reservations to facilitate improved women representation in the economic activities were introduced. The DP introduced the concepts of multipurpose working women’s housing, child care centres, old age homes, student hostels and Aadhar Kendra’s for skill development.

Similar interventions were made in case of Solid Waste Management (SWM) where the DP team identified SWM centres in every ward along with setting public convenience blocks keeping in mind the needs of Differently Abled (DA) groups.

This positive involvement from communities is extremely assuring. There was thus an immense amount of involvement of various individuals, communities, NGOs, institutions and experts during the DP’s revision process. The lesson learnt from having to revise the DP hopefully should force the state to look into the possibility of involving people in the planning process for all City Plans in the future.

While this shift towards to participatory planning for macro city master plans is commendable, the current administrative framework for urban planning is not conducive for more widespread adoption of a participatory approach. Legally, the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act guaranteed the existence of municipalities as institutions of urban local governance. Schedule 12 of the Constitution listed 18 items as the functional domain of the municipality, with urban planning including town planning being one. It specifies that Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) would be responsible for preparing comprehensive development plans and their effective implementation through people’s participation. However, it is up to states to implement these participatory provisions, thus not making it a mandatory exercise.

Furthermore, the Act does not recognise local area planning. For years, our cities have been planning at a macro level and that there is no tool of planning for local areas. This does not convey an understanding of the relationships between the physical, human, political, historical, economic, and socio-cultural factors that affect people and natural environments within smaller city specific areas. In the case of Mumbai – a highly dense and a complex metropolis made up of multiple cities – not planning at smaller levels has led to a waning city fabric and a loss of opportunity to improve the quality of life. Not recognising local area planning also impedes participatory planning, as the smaller the planning area, the better the planning and more inclusive would it be. Local area planning has merits towards sustainability and would also be more sensitive towards specific local area needs. Local area planning can also help create a better sense of place, where place-making initiatives can help to highlight the special characteristics of the community and create the area’s own unique identity.

An ideal planning scenario would be to pursue planning at both the macro and micro level. At the macro level, a Master Plan can be prepared to understand the vision, objectives, policy level decisions to guide the overall growth of the city. At the micro level, smaller local area and short-term plans can be undertaken at smaller intervals of time. This would bring in the opportunity to match the planning proposals with the changing city needs as also look into the individual and community needs.This has been the case in New Delhi, where the Delhi municipal body has amended a section dealing with Improvement Schemes to include guidelines forthe preparation and implementation of Local Area Plans (LAPs). The LAPs consist of a detailed set of recommendations for preparation of Local Area Plans, three-dimensional Urban Design and Landscape Plans, and area specific building regulations. This creates an interface between micro-level neighbourhood plans and the macro-level metropolitan and zonal plans which is widely incorporated around the world.

London is one such example where aspects of both participatory and local area planning have been adopted in city planning. Urban Planning is dealt through a mix of policy, strategy and a hierarchy of interdependent spatial and strategy plans.

At the national level, Planning Policy statements and National Planning Policy Frameworks are determined. This helps in the regional strategy and creation of a regional plan called as the London Plan, which is a broad level strategy and vision plan in coming together.

The 33 local area plans at the Borough level are prepared by the local authorities. These are similar to the ward plans which are the 1st tier of local level planning. Further to this, a second tier of local planning at the neighbourhood level, known as Parish/ Council Action Plans are prepared at the community level concentrating on implementation. The aim of the Council Action plan is to manage existing pressures and shape future growth in a way that benefits the local community, prioritising family homes, providing new schools and community facilities, and improving local shopping and public space. The communities, neighbourhood forum groups, key community groups, faith groups and local Councillors work together. Its main purpose is to ensure that a range of local views are taken into account in the policies and that consultation reaches a wide audience. Various interactive programme of engagement such as, community consultations, public workshops on key planning issues, drop-in events and sessions with local schools are organised. The London Development Plan is fed from strategically and spatially fed from the top as well as from the local and community level from the bottom, which makes it a truly participatory process.

While the participatory approach coupled with local area planning would mean more work, dialogues with the public, and even extend planning timelines, it is time that cities recognise the merits of these processes. The bottom-up approach of planning through community participation should be encouraged. This needs to be taken to the right people through the right channels which would transcend the statutory plan making requirement in an informal way.

Prachi Merchant is a senior planner with the All India Institute of Local Self Government (AILSG) and has worked on the Mumbai Development Plan 2034

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