Prioritizing Health in Our Cities

September 17th, 2020 | News


Our USAID-funded Building Healthy Cities project (BHC) has partnered with Anant National University for a series of webinars on topics integral to healthy urban planning. As part of Anant National University’s By Design knowledge-sharing platform, these webinars were planned in collaboration with Ashima Banker, professor and vice-principal of the School of Planning, who noted that “the current pandemic has reiterated the importance of ensuring health for everyone, irrespective of socio-cultural or economic background. India’s rich diversity of people necessitates inclusive solutions to problems.” BHC Project Director Amanda Pomeroy-Stevens added “we really wanted these webinars to go beyond platitudes and problem statements and get into the nitty-gritty of how to integrate health considerations into land use and urban planning. This means bringing in thought leaders from across India who can share municipal solutions to make zoning and tenancy regulations, housing design, and civil engineering support healthier living in urban areas.”

The first webinar, on Land Use Implications of Building a Healthy City, was held on June 24 and featured Dr. Anuradha Jain, USAID India; Rejeet Matthews, Head of Urban Development, World Resources Institute – India; Ms. Pomeroy-Stevens; and Professor Banker. The webinar explored how land-use approaches, design principles, and regulations can lead to more healthy and liveable cities in India. Indore, a Smart City in which BHC works, has taken steps, including bioremediation of legacy waste sites, to improve the health of its citizens. BHC also used systems mapping to create a legalized food-hawking space and design an approach to control pollution. The speakers also highlighted the need for efficient public and non-motorized transport, walkable neighborhoods, affordable housing for lower-income residents, and improved water and sanitation facilities.

To achieve these objectives, they called for change in:

  1. the way that policy is formulated to embrace a bottom-up approach;
  2. updates to legislation to reflect the current dynamics of urbanization; and
  3. institution of a micro-level planning process to ensure that land acquisition, planning, and servicing is conducted in an efficient and equitable manner. 

A second webinar, Designing Cities for Vulnerable Populations, was held on August 26 and featured Renu Khosla, Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence; Rahul Srivastava, URBZ; Dr. Jain; Damodar Bachani, BHC Deputy Project Director; and Professor Banker. The speakers focused on the need to prioritize vulnerable populations, particularly those living in slums, in post-pandemic city planning and management, noting that design interventions to improve housing, access to water and sanitation, and social interaction spaces in these highly dense human habitats have become even more critical. They discussed their work designing with and for the community in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums and located in Mumbai, as well as the value of building community agency through participatory data collection and analysis in Indore. The speakers reinforced the need to democratize the planning process through stories of de-engineering (applying low-tech locally driven solutions) and innovation at the community level.

How the collaboration came about

BHC interviewed Ms. Pomeroy-Stevens and Professor Banker to learn how this collaboration came about, and the effect they hope this webinar series has. According to Ms. Pomeroy-Stevens, “BHC was finding that as we developed multi-sector action plans with our partner cities, there was a gap in planning land use. AnantU is one of the best design schools in India and has a program on urban design and development, so we were eager to collaborate with it. Professor Banker and her team have helped us come up with several joint activities, the first of which is this webinar series.” Professor Banker added that “AnantU strives to develop and train problem-solvers. The academic team also addresses some of the key issues in the field of built environment and helps find solutions. When we heard about BHC, we took the opportunity to collaborate on knowledge enhancement and dissemination.” With nearly 400 people registering for each webinar, it is safe to say that this collaboration has been well received!

This partnership is opening the door for new conversations by inviting experts, academics, and practitioners to the same table. “Beyond the practical benefits of this series to BHC, I have loved learning more about solutions to make even inhospitable neighborhoods livable, healthy, and inviting,” said Ms. Pomeroy-Stevens. “I don’t have a technical background in design or urban planning, but for a short time I was in love with the idea of being an architect and interned at an architecture firm, so this topic and the range of design solutions in this series has fascinated me. I love seeing creative designs that are accessible to people at all income levels.” 

BHC and AnantU look forward to future collaborations and invite you to watch these two webinars on JSI’s YouTube channel!

Written by: Karin Christianson

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