CEPT: Local Innovation, Learning and Advisory

In line with Smart Cities Advisors’ belief in local innovation and the importance of domestic leadership development in developing country cities, we went to the Department of Planning and Public Policy at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), one of India’s most established architecture and planning schools, to meet with two urban planning and public policy professors, Mona Iyer and Madhu Bharti. Both have substantial experience in the private sector – in housing, infrastructure and tourism related advisory projects, among other sectors.

Their work at CEPT interested us not only because CEPT is one of India’s best architecture and planning schools but also because the school participates actively in work in Indian cities through their student studios and the school’s formal consulting unit, the CRDU. Through these engagements, CEPT can act as a knowledge bank for the state of Gujarat through both the organization’s own innovation as well as its connection to global networks. While CEPT can both voice an objective perspective and pursue a mission of social relevance (e.g. through work on riverfronts, slums, etc), it also promotes Gujarat’s competitiveness and its capacity to build local government institutions.

CEPT’s role in projects goes to advocacy, opinion building, and the identification of gaps and project concepts. However, the organization generally stops at implementation even though advisory roles are evolving as demands on cities mount. CEPT/CRDU’s involvement can move beyond drafting the RFP’s but not as far as helping to select vendors and partners.

Mona and Madhu repeated the theme of Gujarati municipal governments, like Surat and Rajkot, being proactive and progressive partners. Despite progress with governance, however, social inclusion and environmental sustainability remain outstanding challenges for the state and local governments.

Local innovation and gaps between thought leadership and implementation. Mona and Madhu’s recent courses provide good examples of evolving local knowledge base and innovation that is already deeply engaged in advancing inclusion and sustainability in India’s cities. One of Mona’s current courses, Environment, Infrastructure and Project Management, organized a studio around the new airport at Navi Mumbai, which emphasized implementation that unearthed serious environmental challenges and stumbling block. This gap between thought leadership and implementation is exactly the sort of challenge that Smart Cities Advisors aims to address by strengthening local organizations’ capacity to integrate these insights into business models.

Madhu’s studio on rental housing is no less timely, given the major need for rental housing across socioeconomic and demographic groups, the policy issues spanning state, city and federal levels and the lack of business models for rental housing.

Planned cities and unplanned cities. Another project in collaboration with the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) focused on how cities develop, contrasting Gandhi Nagar and Guma, both towns on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, both developed to take advantage of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The studio aimed at understanding why Gandhi Nagar, the planned city, never took off and has a smaller population relative to Guma, which grew more haphazardly. The interesting conclusion was that Gandhi Nagar’s role as an administrative center and strict regulations on development generated the perception that it wasn’t a good place to live. Not surprisingly, then, the area would depopulate after work hours.

The issue of what makes a place and a city livable is notable in this respect. Our developed country models suggest that safe, planned communities are more desirable, but when people vote with their feet, one has to admit that developing country cities also have their own dynamics that can’t necessarily be boxed into other countries’ models.

Interdisciplinary approaches to inclusion and sustainability. CEPT’s engagement with sustainability as an integral element of the curriculum is still in evolution, which squares with our perception that even the top universities would benefit from more implementation-focused learning tools, such as those that we are developing at Smart Cities Advisors. Individual centers, such as the Center for Excellence in Urban Transport do exist. Also, as our hosts emphasized, there is project-level attention to environmental issues at this point rather than an overall school focus. CEPT would probably benefit tremendously from an inventory of the school’s various intersection points with sustainability to develop learning tools and a school-wide interdisciplinary platform. While interdisciplinary work is still less common, the current Dean of the school has launched a new initiative called “InterCEPT” to bring together planning, architecture, building  sciences and other projects to leverage each department’s strengths for the collective benefit of the school and the other departments.

Engagement with the private sector and business models. CEPT interacts with industry in various ways: as studio judges, with funding for projects and studios (often from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank), a policy council that contributes to the Board of Studies, and with CRDU advisory projects. CEPT’s extensive experience working with industry could potentially be leveraged toward new business models, but there is currently no avenue for this exploration.

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