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Cities, Urban Planning, Urban Renewal

Jane Jacobs Walk Comes to India

Jane Jacobs Walk Q & A with Vidhya Mohankumar, Founder of Urban Design Collective in India

 Vidyha Mohankumar from Urban Design Collective

 I am an architect and urban designer with a focus on creating livable streets and great public spaces and a decade of work experience in India, Ireland and the United States.

More specifically, my work is geared towards people-oriented development centered around transit as part of a sustainable development agenda that I am passionate about. My urban design projects exhibit a wide variety in the name of master plans for cities, towns, station areas, harbour areas and their environs as well as redevelopment plans for town centres, city public spaces and brownfield sites. I have also worked on several strategic planning projects, local area plans and urban design studies for existing developments. 

 Apart from this, I have also been associated with various academic and research institutions through teaching, guest critiques, charettes and publications. Though I find travel and particularly, the buzz of a big city to be a constant source of exhilaration, over the years my interests have oscillated between photography, installation art and films.

I received a Master’s degree in urban design with distinction from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA and a baccalaureate degree in architecture from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirapalli, India.

We are excited to announce two Jane Jacobs Walks to be hosted in Chennai and Pondicherry for the 2013 season! For information about the walks please check out these event pages: Jane Jacobs comes to Chennai India and  Jane Jacobs comes to Pondicherry

1. Why are you interested in hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk in India?

I have been familiar with Jane Jacobs’ work for a decade now and her seminal piece ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ was the first book I had to read and summarize as part of my masters program in Urban design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  I remember being so enthralled with the idea of the ‘street ballet’ and how it was the perfect way the describe the streets of India! I can’t remember how I stumbled upon the Jane Jacobs Walk website but the opportunity to host a Jane Jacobs Walk in the very streets that came alive in front of my eyes as I read the book was not to be passed!

2. What are your main goals to accomplish with your events?

I think the Jane Jacobs Walk is a simple yet delightful way to get people to engage with the city. Our walks in the two cities – Chennai and Pondicherry are set in their respective historic cores. It would be a good event if we can get a diverse cross section of people to come together and participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of the city with the historic core as a backdrop.

3. What are your Jane Jacobs Walks focused on?

Our Jane Jacobs Walks will be focused on stories. Stories are how every city’s culture and heritage thrive and everyone loves a good story! For both Chennai and Pondicherry, we are researching stories that bring alive their historic cores for the people on our walks.

Urban Design Collective community engagement

4. What are some of your visions for the future in your city?

My ‘City Utopia’ has amazing architecture, charming public spaces for everyone alike, great streets for people to walk, cycle, linger and schmooze and a super-efficient underground mass transit network that will get you from A to B in the blink of an eye! Sounds almost a bit like NYC right? Well, I am definitely a huge fan!

But truth be told, I was born in India, grew up in Saudi Arabia and since then have lived in and travelled to over a dozen countries across four continents… and this has allowed me to see first hand, various experiments in urbanism in over 50 cities and trust me, India is like none other. Since returning to India in 2008, I have been working with various cities and the challenges are both unique and numerous particularly when it comes to the issue of inclusiveness. My ‘City Utopia’ is therefore both my strength as well as my weakness… it keeps me going and yet keeps me grounded to the realities that need attention. And as much as it is a challenge to bring together so many people towards a vision for a better city, I am beginning to believe more and more that participatory planning is the only way to do it.

5. Tell us about your organization, the Urban Design Collective. How does hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk integrate with the work of your organization?

Urban Design Collective (UDC) is a non-profit organization that works as a collaborative platform for professionals from the fields of Architecture, Urban Design and Planning who are passionate about cities and urbanism. UDC works to improve understanding and learning of what makes good cities/ urban spaces through a sustained dialogue on pertinent issues with a focus on participatory approaches to planning.

DSC_4317 Hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk aligns with UDC’s objectives in more than one-way. To start with, it offers us an opportunity to improve our own understanding of a part of the two cities we are conducting the walks in. It then allows us to meet and interact with a cross section of the city’s residents who have chosen to be part of the walks for what it can offer to them. Such interactions always offer a possibility of being converted into more meaningful relationships in a city building process. And finally, UDC being a collaborative platform, it gives us great pleasure to be associated with Jane Jacobs Walk as a like-minded partner organization to promote dialogue on the design of cities.

This interview was cross-posted from the Jane Jacobs Walk blog at http://www.janejacobswalk.org/.

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