Monday, January 18, 2016

Why take food pictures ?

Talk statistics, or just open any of your social network apps (instagram/ facebook/ pinterest/ twitter) - every third picture will be of food. 
Either it is spotted at a fancy restaurant, food stall round the corner, experimented at home, eaten at a friend's.

Food is just all over !

So why does one really take food pictures ?
(this one is an excerpt from a pyschology blog with the courtesy mentioned at the bottom)

If you are also like me who takes food photos , join me on

the brand new (and perhaps one of its kind in the world) social network exclusively for food.

Coming back to why food pictures :

1. Check This Out: In the olden days, when you ate a good meal, you'd describe it to your friends on the phone or in person--"You wouldn't believe the steak I had last night." But, a picture is worth a thousand words. Posting your plate may be a quick, easy way to share the fine details of an incredible meal or a memorable dining experience.
2. Look How Good I Am: Ever post a plate of fresh veggies or a bowl of oatmeal? You may be posting food to show people that you are eating mindfully and consuming healthy meals. These posts might get a thumbs up from your friends (or at least avoid criticism and snide comments).
3. Look How Bad I Am: Confession time. Posting a slice of cheesecake or chili cheese fries may be a way of alleviating guilt or inviting the same kind of internal criticism you might be struggling with inside. "How could I have eaten that?" you ask yourself. Posting the yummy treat allows friends to either alleviate your guilt with reassurance. Or, they may add to your regret by pointing out the calorie content and your "badness" for digging into fat, salt and sugar.
4. Can You Believe I Ate This? Ever post weird and exotic combinations of food? Perhaps you ate chocolate covered grasshoppers in Thailand. There is nothing like documented, visual proof that you have taken a leap into unknown food territory.
5. Help Me: Posting a lot of images of food may indicate a problematic relationship with eating. The photos might be inviting others to intervene or to help keep you accountable. People who routinely upload pictures may do so unconsciously and therefore may not even be aware of their unhealthy focus on food.
6. Food Advice: A picture of an appetizer from a swanky Chicago restaurant or a burger from a greasy spoon is likely to convince others it is worth the trip.
7. Cooking Magic: Perhaps you've posted a picture of a masterpiece you've whipped up in the kitchen. It's a great forum for showing off your grilling, frying and baking skills.
8. Cravings: Have you snapped a photo of a luscious frosted cupcake in a bakery window or a slice of dense cheesecake on a dessert tray? Food photos often reveal what you'd love to consume and the nature of your culinary desires.
9. Gross! Can't pass up the opportunity to freak people out? Think pictures of rainbow colored bacon as well as peanut butter and tuna on crackers.
10. Know Me. "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are" said the French philosopher, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote. Wanting people to truly know you may be your motivation for keeping a daily food journal on your Facebook page or uploading the occasional photo of your meals. Documenting what you eat tells your friends a lot about who you are--your habits, personality, preferences and culinary weaknesses. If this sounds like you, it's likely that you've already become a fan of "Taking Pictures of Food."
Food is social. It's no surprise that food photos have their fair share of time on Facebook. So, before you upload a picture of stuffed peppers or a slice of hot, NYC pizza on your Facebook page, consider why and what this might be telling your Facebook friends about you.
By: Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss and mindfulness. She is author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food,
(link is external)
Eating Mindfully, 
(link is external)
Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Psychology Today blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health and Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV Show.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Jeath War Museum
The JEATH War Museum is one of two war museums in Thailand about the Death Railway built from 1942 to 1943 by Allied POWs under the direction of the Japanese, a part of the famous Thai-Burma railways.
The acronym JEATH stands for the primary nationalities involved in the construction of the railway: Japanese, English, Australian, American, Thai and Holland
The museum is divided into two sections, one depicting the construction of the Death Railway which is meant to recreate the quarters used by Allied POWs, and the other consisting of reconstructed bamboo huts containing such items as paintings, drawings and photos of and by former prisoners, weapons, tools, and maps.
This tribute was established to show actual items that were connected with the construction of the Death Railway by POW's between 1942-1943.
The first thing that strikes you when you visit the museum is the bamboo hut with a collection of photographs displayed. The hut is a replica of the conditions the POW's were forced to live in.
Museum hut from inside
The museum displays graphic images of the terrible conditions inflicted on the many young men that died and the many that survived to tell the story.
To bring these atrocities to the public domain, the museum exhibits many photographs taken of real situations either by Thai's or POW's.
If you try to Google it, theres barely any information about the museum, other than its address. I think it has got some magnificient objects from history, and its goal to bring awareness about the cruelty on POWs is bluntly and straightforwardly conveyed. So much so that even the experience of stink, leaking roof and muddy ground, adds to the connect.
The privately owned museum seems to be in a constant state of renovation, yet the displays are rather poorly maintained, and there's very little order to the exhibits. The English translations of signs and labels are among the worst you will see in any museum.
Also, very little information is given about the exhibits. Like the bombs section has a small but impressive collection of various sizes of bombs. There is one large bomb away from this section (assume placed away since there was no space in the bomb section). This bomb was apparently the one that missed hitting the bridge at first, and sank in river. Apart from a few lines about it, nothing about its make, who shot it, how was it found - nothing is mentioned. Which is a true pity.
Big Bomb
Inspite of it all, it is one museum that haunts me and intrigues me at the same time. Its poor display of the most interesting objects, does very little to being on the top tourist visited locations in Kanchanaburi.
(Note - since photography is not allowed inside the museum, the images are downloaded from the internet)

Monday, June 16, 2014


On father's day, what better way to remember my father's father than to think about the stories we shared. My grand father loved to dwell on old stories. To reiterate them and link them to various people, times, government, politics, culture and my thirst for old stories would excite him to tell more. 

Heres one such story which went untold. I unfolded this one, and it was almost like chatting with him on way back from churchgate in the second class compartment of the Mumbai Local train, while he would carefully hold on to the yellow champa he had picked up on the way to station for his wife (my grandmother).

Some stories you narrated. Some times reveal on their own. You were with us then, you shall be with us now. In stories and memories, as future unfolds.

In the heart of south mumbai, is the Flora Fountain or the church gate or most recently called as the Hutatma chowk.

When I was a little girl, I used to accompany my father to his office in the summer vacations and in the afternoon heat, he would send me along with one of his office assistants to the nearby parks, avenues and monuments to cool off !

As a child, I was always awed by the whiteness, the calmness of the statue inspite of the hustling traffic around and the coolness of the fountain in Indian summers. I would always go back to my grand father and ask him about the history of these statues which looked indian and yet foreign , and why was there a fountain in middle of so much traffic ! All I had gathered then was that there used to be a church gate in its place a few years ago. It sounded so weird to me then that I dare dwell more, and yet so intriguing that the quest for its history always remained in my heart.

Thanks to the 'Tangible Things course in History' by Harvard edx, I pulled up my socks to do some internet research on the monument, and building up a chronology of its dates, the various fabrics of power, culture, history and politics beneath it and the minute observations I had missed which took me to even researching on the sculptor, its donors and the funding committee.

1686 TO 1743 - The Mumbai Fort was built by the British East India Company. It had three gates. The Apollo gate, The Church Gate and The Bazaar gate. (Church gate named after the St. Thomas cathedral which still stands there)

1771 - 1784 - A small road called the Hornby Road, named after the then Governor of Bombay was constructed. 

1820 - Eastern India - the Agri-Horticultural Society of India was founded by William Carey in Calcutta. In effect being the agro ministry untill 1900s. They established beautiful gardens, they documented the flora of the country, published journals, and held competitions and shows. 

1830 - Anything Calcutta did, Mumbai had to do better :) The Agri-Horticulture Society of Western India was founded. Among the wealthy notables in the AHSWI were ace businessman Jagannath Shankar Seth, David Sassoon (the Jewish merchant-prince) and Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy (1st Baronet).It was David Sassoon who donated his land in Byculla to create the loveliest garden Mumbai had ever seen - the Victoria Gardens. 

1860 - Old Mumbai Fort was demolished in 1860 as part of the then Governor, Sir Bartle Frère’s efforts to improve civic sanitation and the urban space requirements of the growing city. 

1864 - With the Victoria gardens flourishing , exotic flowers, and plants was becoming very fashionable in Mumbai. The idea of celebrating Goddess Flora was perhaps just a sign of the times. The Flora (roman godess of flowers) was constructed in 1864. The money for Flora Fountain came from a Parsi gentleman: Mr Cursetjee Furdomjee Parekh. He was a partner at Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy's firm, owned many ships, and like many merchant-princes of the time, made a significant fortune in trade with China and Europe. The sculptor was James Forsyth, who had earlier worked on a beautiful Flora Fountain in Witley Court, Worcestershire, England (that original fountain was damaged and is now being restored). 

1864 - Consequent to the demolitions of Fort in 1860, the Hornby road was widened into a broad avenue and on its western side commercial plots were developed to build new commercial buildings in Neo Classical and Gothic Revival designs. Hence, when the Flora Fountain was built, it was installed at the exact location where once stood the Church gate, instead of its original location at Victoria Gardens. 

1869 - Statue unveiled. The Fountain was originally to be named after Sir Bartle Frere, the Governor of Bombay, whose progressive policy had resulted in many great Public Buildings in Bombay However the name was changed before the fountain was unvieled as Flora Fountain
It was constructed by Esplanade Fee Fund Committee, out of a donation of Rs. 20,000 by Cursetjee Fardoonjee Parekh

1864 - 1960 - From the time the Flora Fountain was built in 1864 and until 1960, the chowk (square) where five streets meet (hence, also known as the Picadilly Circus of Mumbai) and the fountain stands now, was named as the Flora Fountain area

1960 - PRESENT - to commemorate the martyrdom of the brave people who laid their lives in the turbulent birth of Maharashtra State at the square, it was christened as Hutatma Chowk with an impressive stone statue bearing a pair of torch holding patriots. The Flora Fountain, surrounded by the British Victorian era heritage buildings, is very much part of the chowk and has been declared a heritage structure and it continues to charm visitors with its beauty and with its spray of water.

On close look at some of the detail photographs available on Internet (since I would be crazy to stand in middle of traffic gaping at the statues in person !) It was observed that the statues almost look indian rather than roman or british ! Check the picture below. 

The anklets on her feet are interesting, she looks almost Indian, doesn't she? Is that a sheaf of wheat at her feet? I tried to look it up, but couldn't find more information about the design of the female figures. If anyone understands this more, pl throw some light. Also, see the head scarf. The way it is wrapped is more Indian than the way a loosely covered head would be of british or roman sculptures of that era.

It may also be interesting to note that James Forsyth, the sculptor, had lost his only daughter the same year as this sculpture was completed. Now, is it me, or is it a true observation that none of the figures on the fountain are smiling. See the image below. 

I would want to rename this fountain as the "Misplaced calmness in disguise" Infact, in a lot of ways, it is similar to the John Harvard's statue of three lies ! John Harvard's statue - 1, is not harvard himself. 2, dates wrongly. 3, he was not the founder ! Similarly, the flora fountain sculpted in middle of deep personal grief, from the money donated by the wealthy members of Agri-horticultural society, meant for a botanical park, and to be used as a fountain to enhance the coolness of the garden, stands in middle of a bustling CBD, not even holding its identity as a central square, instead being part of a martyr's square (hutatma chowk). History, Politics, culture and power has builded and rebuilded itself in layers to bring together a story for the Flora Fountain.

A Poem in Gujarati by Niranjan Narhari Bhagat which is translated in English in the book “Modern Gujarati Poetry : A Selection” by Gujarat Sahitya Academy

A Glass and concrete jungle; 
In its midst always Quiet, comely, 
With hope filled face, she stands 
A dream of spring in her matchless eyes, 
holding in both hands stone flowers. 
About her, in all corners, 
Iron butterflies fly round and round 
And lifeless insects play

Now, when I think about how I would look up to this fountain, I can imagine the little girl building a million questions in her head to be asked to her grandfather.

Thanking the Harvard edx's 'Tangible things course in history' for getting me to digging up on this monument.

Happy Father's day Dada !

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Me, Micromanagement and Narendra

Like all my stories, this one begins with the debate I often have with my husband. I am a micromanager. And he on the other hand is a people’s man. A motivator, a delegator and an ideal leader who reinforces the creativity of his team and celebrates in their target completion more than the company’s joy in having the task done. Undoubtedly it’s the most effective way of management. He is appraised for this year after year. While I have been often criticized for spoon feeding my team mates and getting work done exactly the way I would want, rather than leaving scope for mistakes, improvement and self realization. I may not be perfect, yet I am a perfectionist. I set my own policies, quality checks , operational processes and even schedules. Many a times, I see my way as the only ideal way. While I still believe that its true – because I set my way based on a lot of logic, I leave no benefit of doubt for someone else’s creativity.

However, having said that, I have been no failure. Have tasted success, appraisals, achievements , and even won hearts of my team mates at the end of task completion ! The need to justify my micromanagement, once led me to reading an article in Business Week. It said iPhone5 would never have had bugs and maps app with issues, had Steve still been alive. Steve would get to details with his engineers and test, design, himself.

Oracle’s (ORCL) Larry Ellison, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bill Gates, and Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos all micro-managed, and their companies all delivered phenomenal growth and innovation under their watch.

Most companies have great innovation ideas. But what separates the winners from the losers is not their ideas, but their ability to execute. Great innovations are often delayed and watered down by cross-functional teams that have disparate motivations. A CEO who is a micro-manager has the ability to cut through roadblocks and force uncooperative team members to take on audacious challenges that drive value. Steve was famous for pushing his engineers past the bounds of what most considered reasonable—and getting great results from it.

A good micro-manager has the ability to ensure his or her team stays focused on the customer and delivers an experience that delights, without flaws.

Disney (DIS) founder Walt Disney was a well-known micro-manager who obsessed over every detail of every ride design at his theme parks. While he was roundly criticized for this, the end result was an amazing experience for park visitors, making Disney stand out vs. all other less inspired competitors.

It’s no coincidence that many great micro-managers are owners or founders. To be an effective micro-manager you need a clear vision for success and how to achieve it. You also need confidence and risk tolerance. It is much easier to be a delegator/motivator CEO. If an initiative fails, delegators can always blame others. Micro-managers, on the other hand, risk their own skin every day.

If you are serious about results, micro-management is a big advantage. The key to being a great micro-manager is to be selective. If you micro-manage too much or create unwieldy approval processes, you create unproductive bottlenecks. Successful micro-managers insert themselves into mission-critical, customer-facing aspects of the business.

Sam Walton (Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)), Bill Marriott (Marriott International (MAR)), and William Rosenberg (Dunkin’ Donuts (DNKN)) were all well-known micro-managers who spent a large part of their time visiting their own stores to ensure their product was top-quality.

Companies without micro-managers are more susceptible to product and operational crises, because their leaders are less able to identify potential problems on a proactive basis.

And we are now on the verge of choosing the CEO of not any other company but the one that literally gives us our bread and butter. India. Yes, we do not need a PM. It’s a word of the past. We need a modern CEO. A bit shrude, even autocratic and is blinded by his own vision for the company India. India has its own customers, its own brand, marketing strategies, employees, operational policies, and even rivals. We need someone to take this company head on. Enough of pampering the company by calling it Mother India. The Rural India. The Kisaan vikaas india. Enough of you Gandhi. I mean Mahatma Gandhi. Let me tell you, we did not get freedom because of your silly ahinsa rallies. We got it because of the autocratic, man of the era, Mr. Hitler, whom british were so drained out of fighting with, that instead of deploying more people to take care of business here, they decided to let go. And if Hitler was really bad enough as portrayed, why did Subhash Chandra Bose ally with Japanese ?

Indian herd was clueless then and is clueless now. We just know to follow. Our politicians fooled us then and fooled us now. While Gandhi was playing his funny tactics here, Indians were allying with Japanese, got in Hitler’s help to shoo shoo the British. And once done, branded Gandhi as the father of Nation and India itself as our mother ! really ? and we still believe that ?

Get over it guys. Running India is a serious business. A company with highest potential , maximum man power, maximum capital resources and wide geography. Don’t we know how America and China are scared of Indian progress ? You really think US and Britain had boycotted Narendra Modi because of Gujarat riots ? As if they care so much ?

Narendra Modi (from here on, calling him Narendra – somehow calling him by his first name makes him My man) – is a micro manager through and through. If you have read latest stories, he even micromanages the arrangements for his rallies ! decides the flowers, and the way supporters are ferried (via elephants or buses) and even the schedule and duration.

His major achivements are seen in his home state. In terms of transit, Ahmedabad under Narendra pursued a bus rapid transit system that’s proven more successful than others in India. Pune’s BRT rollout has been an outright disaster, for example, with its leadership sent to Ahmedabad — or “NaMo Land,” as the Pune Mirror calls it, referring to Narendra’s leadership — to examine the 75-kilometer network and figure out how to make its own lines work. While Narendra prioritized the BRT system, the city is currently planning for a proper metro line that will connect it with the nearby state capital, Gandhinagar.

According to the new city plan for Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest metropolis, vast swaths of the central city will be buildable up to fairly high densities, allowing for a dense thicket of mid-rises and even short towers. While transit corridors will be upzoned and left in private hands, slum dwellers on the banks of the Sabarmati River were removed to outlying areas, as is customary in Indian urban renewal projects. In addition to rezoning land along the river, the project reopened waterfront space for public use and added amenities like an amphitheater, food courts and play areas.

Narendra has often coupled density hikes with infrastructure by charging developers for increased FSI. In Ahmedabad, the money will mainly go toward infrastructure, while in Surat the connection was even tighter — development at densities up to mid-rise levels will finance Outer Ring Road, a 66-kilometer (41-mile) corridor around the city. “Surat has also made its mark as the ‘Flyover City of Gujarat’,” reads his website, “due to the many flyovers that have been built to ease traffic from congested areas.”

Narendra has, presided over a general loosening of zoning regulations in Gujarat. Smaller cities have already seen increased densities. In Rajkot, a city of 1.6 million, Narendra personally announced the decision, saying that “the state government has decided to approve a 25 percent increase in [allowed density] for the benefit of common people” — a move also welcomed by real estate developers. Jamnagar and Surat, too, saw density boosts.

Narendra’s main strength is economics. The markets are ecstatic over his rise, and he’s running largely on his record of growth in Gujarat, which he’s led as chief minister since 2001. The northwestern Indian state has seen 10.3 percent annual growth between 2003 and 2012, 2.4 percentage points greater than the country as a whole, appealing to a country whose economic growth rate has slipped to around 5 percent.

Like many however say, progressing a state was easier – like even UP and chattigarh for that matter – simply don’t listen to anyone and do what you want. However, running a country, and territories like Delhi with internal pressure, may be different. How his micromanagement skills take him through remains to be seen. Whether he will get bogged down with sheer pressure and vastness of governance, or have a few trusted aides whom he shall delegate enough to be micromanaged, will not only make a new story for company India, but shall also justify and reinforce the thought process of working into the minutest detail as a leader.

The story is yet to be revealed. 24th April, here I come to vote. Lets see what happens. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Found myself invited for the Grover Zampa Stomp 2014. Thought it’s time to look back on where I have come with my likings for Wine.

6 years ago, when I was first introduced to wine, I realized how yummy cheese tasted! It gave a whole new flavor and fullness to the cheese and that’s what made me like wine for. I slowly took in the different colours, aromas, grapes, styles, percentage of alcohol, types of glasses, pairing of foods and likings. After staying in Italy, I took an oath to myself to not drink anything but Chianti. This remained unchanged even while I worked in Paris. The Bordeaux and merlot of France and tours to Versailles and French Riviera, having bourgeoisie French colleagues and even staying in a Parisian apartment could not change my mind. Nothing could beat an evening with 20 watt bulb, a DVD of ‘Casablanca’, some cushions with applique covers, Linguine in pesto, and a bottle of Chianti Classico.

And then I came back to Mumbai. Not only did I find Chianti was super expensive. But when I went to the wine stores, they looked back at me and said..”….Keeyanti ??” I can’t take that insult, Simply cant. I could sacrifice on my oath, if that prevents the Classico from being called out like that. I tried at a couple of good bars and restaurants, but they were either too polite in showing me the bar menu that said it can cost up to 5k for a glass or simply forced me to believe that the Sula they have will go as good or better with the food I had ordered !! ..Sula ?? I mean really ? Have you tasted the pasta at Indian weddings ? Is it pasta or paneer makhani…well Sula is something like that. I assume it sells in India because a lot of people don’t understand the art and jazz behind the wine.  And so, my intake of wine was limited to a glass here and there at expensive restaurants.

It was summer of 2010. In the scorching heat of Latur, that I was introduced to Nine Hills and Grover. While Nine hills weren’t as bad as Sula, Grover took all my attention. It tasted like wine. Like real Wine. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz from their La Reserve. I enjoyed that night. But I was yet to impress my husband with the taste. Wine still did not go well with him.

Then in 2001, in Kolkata, we visited Ameet’s colleague’s house. Although we carried a Chile wine for him, he offered me Cahors. I was relieved the world I stay in isn’t all that bad afterall ! I cherished the entire bottle to myself and let the others wonder what was so special or different from the Sula they were gulping down their throat. The next time we had a party at home, we brought in only Grover’s La reserve which was liked by all. And yet as a present all they had got for us was Sula and Four seasons. So we were stuck with these bottles to finish for sometime. Luckily I manage good pasta and risotto with bad wines – I managed to cook with some. However, note here, I have still not been able to understand how can my husband not feel happy looking at a good wine.

Spring of 2012. We visited Cyprus. And bang ! We found my husband’s tastes for wine! Ofcourse, I was living with a man who understood art beyond its spiritual meaning. Commandaria. One of the oldest wines in the world, one of the highest alcohol contents amongst wine, yet a happy wine, spiritual wine, over ripe, sugary and delicious! Can’t love my husband for anything more! We promptly bought a large bottle. We came back and I got pregnant. I stopped having wines and my husband lovingly joined me.

Must be mid 2013 that I started to drink again. The search for good wine had to be fresh. Found the mumbaikars a lot more knowledgeable this time. We were at one of our regular Italian restaurants when the owner suggested I have Sangiovese with my pasta. Being a Chianti worshipper which has 70% Sangiovese, I was almost not sure. Dint want to be disappointed anymore. Chianti is too close to heart to make me want to compare any taste even closer to it. And yet, try I did and ever since been asking for Sangiovese wherever I go.

Autumn of 2013, we visited Goa and my husband bought some Portuguese port wine to celebrate our Anniversary. Yes, my husband has this knack of making it perfect out of coincidence. First, falling for the commandaria in Cyprus and then the Portugal Port wine in Goa. Over the third glass, he asked, so what’s a port wine? As clueless that I am, I said, well, all I know is that it’s a blended / fortified wine. Has real cheap versions. I’ve had it in tetra packs while touring Sienna and that perhaps being first made in Porto (Portugal) and/ or smuggled from ports for which is called port wine. He did not question further and I dint have more explanations. But we are getting closer to understanding the wines he likes.

And so, 25th January 2014, at the Stomp, I look forward to seeing if the Zampa’s Chene beats my current love for Sangiovese and divine loyalty to Chianti. And to see if my husband finally finds a wine that he can call his in the Grover’s Shiraz rose. While that is yet to tell and just another reason to be at the stomp. We look forward to having some family fun with 3 generations shining their feet in wine!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I said, I am an Urban Designer.

I changed my residing city. Looking for a suitable job here. Each time, one does this, one has to re-look at his professional direction. Make sure he or she is on its path to the summit, and not waivering off. I have always been a dreamer. But i dream with open eyes. While outstandish aesthetics and idealism in planning alure me, I showcase my real world habiting traits by creating solutions to make it happen. This is what has given me an edge over my peers. I have strived to be in the system, to change the system. And every now and then, that I have been categorised under a label, my scrutiny begins.

"I said, I am an urban designer" - the new post on my blog, and the statemtent in this phase of life happened at one such crossroads.
Urban designer ? did my degree in Italy or Wales label me into the niche minority ? an expert in the field ? do i seize being an architect ? where do i draw lines ? why isnt a project no longer about people ? why is it more about design and construction ? whats urban design now ? I ask the urban designer within - who am i ?

The labels given to fields of human endeavour change as the issues perceived by society to be important change. Urban design is a label coined at a time, in the English-speaking world at least, when architecture and city planning were developing distinct and clearly separate identities. Whether or not the term ‘urban design’ will endure or soon be replaced by a more precise term or terms remains to be seen. The term will probably continue to be used loosely as it is now. Maybe it will be abandoned for the same reason – because it is imprecise.

All the traditional design fields are undergoing change. City planning has broadened in its scope of concern in an attempt to be comprehensive in its outlook; landscape architecture has considerably extended its domain of interest from a horticulture base to include urban environments, while architecture has many practitioners who focus on different aspects of the built environment. If anything, architecture has contracted its scope of concern spinning off sub-fields as new environmental problems have arisen. Architecture and urban design were once seen as one endeavour everywhere. In some European countries they still are but as architects are being asked to address urban issues with greater thought, urban design may spin away to become an independent (although not exclusive) professional field.

There has been a shift in the intellectual processes involved in urban designing over the past 50 years. Urban design began in an era when Modernist architectural ideas about the design of cities and their precincts held sway. Rationalist and Empiricist design paradigms vied for hegemony. Urban Design emerged as an identifiable professional field in response to the limitations of, particularly, architectural ideas about the nature of the future city as presented in the Athens Charter of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) . The utility of Empiricist ideas, particularly as represented by the Garden City paradigm, was also strongly questioned.

The world is a complex place. Whether or not it is growing increasingly complex and changing more rapidly than before, as we are wont to believe is open to conjecture. Maybe the observation that it is, is our contemporary conceit. The fundamental concerns of urban design have, however, been with us from the time that human settlements were first consciously designed. How do we deal with group interests in relationship to individual in urban development? How do we define the public interest?

While Modernist site designing ideas, if not architectural, still hold considerable sway in the minds of architects across the world, new paradigms have emerged. Most recently it has been the New Urbanist or Smart Growth movement that has been attracting the most international attention. As a basis for designing the future it possesses strong Empiricist tones as it draws heavily on past urban patterns that have worked well. The world, however, is changing. It would be grossly unfair to claim that the Rationalists amongst urban designers were not centrally concerned with public interest issues, human life and human needs, or motivations. They were. Their concern was, however, based on their own perceptions of what the world should be. These perceptions were based on an analysis of what was wrong with the world rather than observations of what works and what does not. Our understanding of the functions of built form has been considerably broadened in recent years. The definition has been extended from the one that the Modernists used to one that recognizes the purposes served by the symbolic aesthetic qualities of the environment in terms of the self-images of the people who inhabit and use it.

Our understanding of how the world functions and what different patterns of built form afford people will undoubtedly deepen in the future. Maybe the world is no more complex than before but we are being asked to deal with the complexity rather than to develop a simplistic view of how the world works. Too often we redefine the problems of the world in a simpler, manageable way by eliminating many of the variables from our domain of concern. We then design for that simpler world. It is the easiest thing to do. This approach can and has created further problems, many of them in terms of the functioning of the biogenic environment.

The greatest shift – in urban design thinking if not practice – during the 1990s has been carried through into the first decade of the twenty-first century. It may well be a major concern of the next generation of urban designers. It is the concern for the natural systems of specific terrestrial locations. The shift has resulted from a much greater understanding of the fragility of the planet Earth and its limited and depleting resources. An interest in the health of the planet by individual city planners goes back a long way (e.g. to Patrick Geddes in the first decades of the twentieth century), but it is only recently that it has become a major issue in discussions of urban design.

Much urban and architectural design has to deal with antisocial behaviour and more recently with terrorism. In an equable world designing to reduce the opportunities for such activities will, one hopes, as Tony Garnier did in his design for the hypothetical Cité Industrielle (1917), not be necessary.

In this blog, i also put forward discussion of the scope of urban design in democratic, capitalist countries that permeates this blog - "I said it" and the endless, but important, debate over individual and communal rights. Few developers and their architects favour any restriction on what they perceive to be their creative rights. Often they are fighting against antiquated or poorly considered building regulations and guidelines but often they simply want to get their own way in the face of community opposition. Those property developers who are strong proponents of urban design see it leading to urban environments of quality that reinforce their own investment decisions. (note : I have nothing against Lavasaa)

Debates over what is important and what is not will continue. Urban design projects of various types, scales and sizes will continue to be built. The conclusion is that the city is indeed and will continue be a collage of parts, some distinctive and others a mélange. So be it. What is important is that cities provide a rich set of behavioural opportunities and aesthetic displays that enrich the lives of all the people who constitute it. Urban design becomes particularly difficult in multi-cultural societies and in those where the interests of groups of the population fall outside the concern of market forces. Few of the projects in India, have focused on the needs of the poor. (remember Ameet ? the conversation we had about neo-Neelachal-ism ! for the poor ?...i offered solutions, u criticism....we argued untill we fell do all the urban designers !)

And as i continued to explain my role as a professional to the Kolkat-ian developer and architectural community, I face an ethical and intellectual series of arguments with my own professional decisions. More broadly, about my professional label itseld. Urban designer.

The questions now in front of us designers are: ‘Is urban design becoming a profession and a discipline in its own right?’ and ‘If it is, should it be?’ I, personally, hope that urban design will continue to be a collaborative field of design rather than an independent discipline and profession.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;

Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,

And recks not his own rede.

-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet