India needs new cities and experts who can build them

From Economic TImes

Peter Head , chief of Global Planning Practices , Arup, is one of the key figures spearheading the British engineering and design company’s operations across the globe. Most recently, Head has been associated with building China’s first ecocities, Dongtan and Wangzhuan. But lately, he has been increasingly travelling to India.

Though Arup is present in India, Head’s visits have little to do with the company’s operations. Rather, Head is closely associated with developing the Indian Institute for Human Settlements , an upcoming Bangalore-based private university “focused on creating a new generation of professionals prepared to tackle the unprecedented transformation of India’s urban regions”.

Arup and design counterpart IDEO are partners of the university, established by a group of entrepreneurs and professionals such as Rakesh Mohan, Keshub Mahindra, Deepak Parekh and Jamshyd Godrej, among others. The institution, Head says, will teach urbanism as a holistic subject so that people can study a core discipline and branch out to special subjects such as architecture, urban design, energy and waste management. 

For India, he says, the university is timely. Indian universities churn out 450 urban planners a year for a country of more than a billion people. Experts say that is a measly turnout, given an estimated 500 million people are expected to migrate to cities in the next half-century. Put another way, India needs new cities and experts who can build them.

“The aim is to teach up to a million ‘urbanists’ in India by 2040,” says Head. At the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Head will help with the curriculum and partake in demonstration projects and consultancy that showcases the paradigm shift in urban planning. “Some profits from consultancy will be put back into the university to subsidise teaching.”

Arup, Head says, will look to create an e-learning platform so that even people in villages across India can learn urban planning. Though the construction for the campus is still underway, Head has already met the first batch of 50 students – “from different backgrounds and undergraduate and masters students” – in Bangalore in the first week of January. The batch was a mix of engineers, architects and urban designers.

Head tasked the students with “re-imagining world class cities in India”. He also asked them to develop a new financial centre in Bangalore, which would entail investments worth $25 billion. Students had to decide if there was an alternative to creating a million jobs in Bangalore by building 45-storey buildings.

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