Commoning of Governance: Students Suggest How to Make Streets more Inclusive

Over the last six months, we have published articles written by our Master’s students that sought to examine the existing processes of governing the street. What kind of a social space is the street? Is it an urban commons? Who does it belong to? What kind of negotiations and everyday contestations define the nature of the street as a social space? The stories we heard were varied, and rich in information and detail. They spoke of how the street can be a space to practise religion and spirituality, but also a space for entrepreneurship, for earning a livelihood, for relaxing, and for celebrating. Other articles critiqued the idea of the Smart Street that turns an open, multi-use street into a homogeneous, structured space that displaces the marginalised, increases and legitimises surveillance and allows fewer negotiations. We wrap up the series with a recap of the methods used and sites visited during the institute, and suggestions from the students on ways to make the process of governing street more inclusive and participatory in nature.

What is the Winter Institute?

The stories were written as a part of the Winter Institute,  a full-fledged three credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program at the School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai. The institute is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. This year, the Winter Institute was held in collaboration with Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Pune, an organisation that is actively involved in urban issues in Pune. Through immersive and intense fieldwork, this exercise was designed to develop a critical understanding of how urban streets are perceived and used by multiple stakeholders through formal and informal mechanisms of governance (codes, rules, regulations and practices) and to indicate spaces and mechanisms that support “commoning of governance” of the street – i.e., spaces/ mechanisms/ institutions that enable collaboration, facilitate sharing and cooperation for collective action to co-manage and co-create the street as urban commons. The exercise was seen as particularly significant in light of the radical socio-spatial transformations that certain streets were undergoing in Pune as a result of the Smart City projects.

How did we go about it?

The exercise took place in the residential cum commercial Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area in Pune where the idea of a world class city is being pushed through a slew of physical infrastructure projects that seek to reconfigure the space of the streets and uses of streets as part of the area-based proposal of the Smart City Mission in the city. The fieldwork was done over a period of ten days by 20 students, divided into 6 groups analyzing 9 streets which were to be developed under the Smart City pilot project. The students conducted detailed transects of the streets in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area. They also interviewed a variety of stakeholders from residents, shopkeepers, vendors, cyclists, motorists, etc and interacted with the street design consultants, engineers from PMC, vendor’s union etc. Interviews with city officials and consultants were facilitated by CEE. as part of the exercise. Finally, CEE also organised a mini public, bringing multiple-stakeholders onto a participatory discussion table with the help of the students and their work in the area. With the overarching theme, ‘commoning of governance’, the idea was to identify uses of the street and its users, identify the stakeholders and conduct a stakeholder analysis of the area and understand the role and needs of various groups of the society.

What did the students study?

The Smart City Mission was launched in June 2015 by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development as an urban renewal and retrofitting programme with the stated aim of making the cities sustainable, inclusive and citizen friendly. Pune was selected as a part of the Smart City Project in the country to receive funds from the Central Government in the first round itself after performing well in the 2-stage selection process (Smart Cities Mission, MoUD). In consonance with the guidelines of the Mission, the PSCDCL has come with its mission proposals. The first point in the proposal document states: “A smart city constantly adapts its strategies incorporating views of its citizens to bring maximum benefit for all”. The Mission therefore intended to plan and implement the projects through participatory processes.  However, in 2016, a Special Purpose Vehicle – the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) was formed to implement the Mission in Pune bypassing the urban local body.

New guidelines for street re-design for the city were drawn up by experts and consultants, building upon a certain conception of “Complete Streets”. These interventions were spatially concentrated in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area – the designated location for the Area Based Development aimed at reclaiming streets as vibrant public spaces accommodating multiple uses and users and prioritising people over cars. The effort to redesign streets was underlined by a process of multi-stakeholder consultations and citizen engagement which unfortunately did not fully specify whether stakeholders such as the street vendors were included in this vision and if so, how. At the same time, Pune created a space to foster mechanisms and dialogues amongst various stakeholders of the urban street, including the vendors themselves by proactively forming a Town Vending Committee to protect the livelihoods of street vendors and secure their right to the use of the city’s footpaths and road sides. The Winter Institute was designed to explore the existing governance structures on the street, including conflicts, alliances and negotiations between various stakeholders – both formal and informal, and to look for further perspectives on how these structures would function in the context of the interventions and transformations brought about by the Smart City.

Recommendations and Suggestions

Based on two weeks of research the students reached the following conclusion and suggestions:

It is clear that the participatory process claimed in the Smart Cities vision document, as well as the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment are missing on the ground. If the commoning of governance is to be the metric of judging the 9 streets project, there is precious little to celebrate. While the design established the “Streets for All” concept in consonance with central policy, it failed at the implementation stage due to the conflicts between the residents and the street vendors. The inability of the institutions that surround them to bring them onto the same platform meant that only the voice of the powerful was heard. As the report demonstrates, in the absence of formal, open fora for the voicing of issues and necessities by the people, alternative methodologies of applying the change one wants to see has resulted. The stakeholders, as analysed, have precipitated into pressure groups – each with its own agenda and more importantly, no equal platform to communicate with the other pressure groups. Thus the alliances made are tenuous at best, and the conflicts remain unresolved.

Citizen’s meaningful engagement in the envisioning process of their city is important not only in terms of the law and policy documentations, but also for the proper functioning of the city. It is an important step towards instilling a sense of ownership amongst the citizens, effectively resulting in better maintenance and design. This will reduce sunk costs as well.

The major challenges that face the project and city are largely behavioural and will require immense political will to surmount. The citizens’ participation is immensely important for the same, and therefore civil society organisations that negotiate the space of educating the public and laying down various opinions in front of them become immensely important.

As the process of the mini-public shows, this is not the only way. The stakeholders, if brought onto an equal platform, are well aware of each other’s stands and if given the opportunity do not let go of the possibility of a consensus. Therefore, to build such platforms within the institutional framework of local governance is key to solving the conflicts of interest within the various stakeholders in the city.

Four Socio-Political Initiatives that can augment the commoning of physical space:

  1. Encouraging inclusive citizen forums that promote the culture of interaction between citizen groups.
  1. Fixing accountability on a single point and spread awareness about the same. 
  1. Identifying of possible alliances between citizen groups and formation of forums for mediation over conflicts.
  1. Developing a localised street vendors’ policy and working towards its implementation in the city in an inclusive manner.

The above article is an edited excerpt from the Winter Institute report produced by the students. To know more about the Winter Institute click on the link below:

http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

 

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