In the light of many, recent disturbing events, New Delhi has gained the disgraceful distinction of being India’s “rape capital.” With all the much-deserved attention safety and security of living has been getting across the sub-continent, many have been quick to criticise North India’s misogynistic cultural norms. Even so, one simple yet imperative issue remains undiscussed until I bumped into a journalist, and had a discussion on how design and planning influences safety in particular for the marginalised groups in cities. More than surprised I was puzzled to listen to this as I hardly could imagine the influence of planning which could contribute to rape in cities.
And after going through various newspaper articles I understood that the sprawling suburban subdivision strategy of urban design, in the Indian context, was championed by New Delhi thus providing an enabling environment for sexual and other crimes to proliferate. I would also argue that British architects and planners working in India during the British colonial period had something to do with this suburban sprawl. Like them, most of their urban environments have forgotten its users but dictates them instead.
Most of New Delhi is built according to what urban planners sometimes call “single-use” design: sections of the city are devoted almost exclusively to one use (industrial, institutional, retail, or residential) and separated from each other by open space, roads or other barriers. Also, the city’s abundant greenery is so thick that it serves not to enhance life but obscures all that happens in parks and on pavements. Particularly with insufficient street lighting, Delhi’s desolation can make many parts of the city feel downright dangerous.
While it can not be stated that a city’s desolation causes rape, it can be accepted that an inclusive planning will lead to lesser incidences of violence and assault and promote safety.Inclusivity works against social and economic exclusion, and their shadow: urban decay. It works against dividing the city into ghettoes of despair without opportunities for upward economic mobility. It does not mean freezing growth or preventing redevelopment; rather, the opposite encouraging more sustainable, prosperous, comprehensive growth and development by avoiding exclusivity and dislocation and the heavy, often ignored costs they carry.
The promise of India’s Urban Future lies in the radical rethinking of how our cities are designed and the ultimate aim would be to attain a design solution, that upturn the statistics of crime and security.