India’s urban transition, a once in history opportunity, has the potential to shift the country’s social, environmental, political, and economic trajectory. India’s established and emerging cities could be sites of social mobility, employment generation, and income generation that transforms not only their residents’ lives, but also the opportunities available to the hundreds of millions of other individuals connected to cities through trade, migration, and financial transactions. They could be the locus for new forms of more environmentally sustainable development that not only place India on a stable long-run resource use trajectory, but shape global trends. Urban areas could be epicentres of social and technological innovation with broad benefits for India and beyond.
These are not guaranteed outcomes, however. Concerted, coordinated, and well-informed effort will be required to seize these opportunities while navigating the all-too-obvious challenges posed by governance failures, infrastructure and service gaps, persistent social discrimination, financial weakness, and other obstacles. Research – the act of reflecting on experience and informing the next steps – will play a critical role in enabling India to imagine and implement an urban transition toward more sustainable, inclusive development.
IIHS Research is currently engaged in building an interdisciplinary faculty with strong roots in practice as well as academia. We seek to create an environment that is linked to global intellectual inquiry as well as local, contextual innovation and that encourages proposative action research as much as retrospective and comparative analysis. Our core team and growing global network of research affiliates are working on a number of projects on urban governance, regional planning, urban sustainability and land use in particular among other topics, an agenda that will evolve and expand over time. Our first three research initiatives, the Urban Atlas, Urban Indicators, and Cases Program, are meant to test and refine models for sustained collaboration across disciplines and professions.
Following are the projects that IIHS is currently working on:
- Land and land management:
The management and development of land is a core opportunity for increasing the growth, equity, and sustainability of our cities and surrounding regions. Research in this cluster attempts to unravel some of the roots of the current bottlenecks in land development and explore ways in which India can respond effectively and democratically to the challenges present.
- Sustainable Urbanisation:
Urbanisation offers the potential for new, more sustainable, less resource-intensive economic development. This potential, however, requires strategy and tactics to achieve. Addressing these challenges requires an interdisciplinary mix of natural and social science expertise, information management and engineering, and practical experience in working with urban stakeholders to redirect attention toward sustainability.
- Governance and Institutions:
Urban governance – the collection of relationships, formal institutions, and informal norms that organise the discussion, interactions, and transactions between public and private stakeholders in urban India – will be the key to ensuring a successful urban transformation in India. The country faces significant challenges in altering the present tangle of constitutional, legal, political, and administrative practices that shape urban dynamics. The research in this cluster will thus combine insights from social sciences as well as technology.
The Urban Atlas series seeks to reinforce the spatial nature of India’s urban development by presenting maps and data visualisations on various aspects of India’s cities and their links to rural areas. The series is aimed at a broad audience of urban experts and observers.
We currently have three volumes in progress:
- Social, demographic, and migration trends in Indian cities
- Land use and land cover change
- Economic geography and employment
The data underlying the volumes are publicly available, but the Atlas’ reorganisation and presentation delivers insights that city and national policymakers as well as urban researchers from within and outside India find surprising. The emphasis on maps reinforces a spatial perspective on development that is be useful for displaying the effects of urban planning, the relationships between rural and urban, the disjuncts between administrative boundaries and de facto ecological and economic regions, and other aspects of the urban setting.
The series is supported by the IIHS Geospatial Lab, but each of the volumes is curated by a separate editor. Please contact Jessica Seddon if you are interested in collaborating with us on a volume.
Cases, Consulting and Curriculum Support
Research plays an integral role in enabling IIHS’s teaching and advisory services. Ongoing comparative research and documentation ensures that the engineers, architects, planners, and other professionals engaged with IIHS continuously learn from others. It informs our pedagogy and curriculum, ensuring that professors are engaged in and able to teach about both the Indian context and the latest global practices and discussions.
IIHS will require close to 50 cases to be created for the first year of its Masters in Urban Practice, and many more cases as it builds out the concentrations for students in their second year. These cases are a crucial ingredient in problem-based learning as well as in ensuring that students see (and are motivated by) the relevance of the tools and methods that they will have to learn quickly in the MUP time frame. These cases have the potential to create a product that will shape the way that urban issues can be and are taught around the world, regardless of whether or when IIHS in particular succeeds as a university. They also have the potential to accelerate peer-to-peer learning among city leaders.
Through the case writing process, we will deepen and expand our relationships with policymakers, social entrepreneurs, and other urban practitioners with first-hand knowledge of the events and processes that shape urban India. A majority of the proposed cases concern contemporary issues, around which there is some documentation but much more oral history to be unlocked. The memories and personal records of people who have actually created and managed public programs, formulated master plans, conceptualised and run infrastructure projects, led protests and argued court cases, and otherwise shaped cities are in many cases the only sources of information about key events, and in general are also good guides for helping researchers shape questions and prioritise collection of qualitative and quantitative evidence.
Contact: Jessica Seddon