Cutting Edge City Watchdogs: Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI)

Meeting Omkar Gupta, Director at the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) in Mumbai, brought us to the cutting edge of independent research on urban development in Mumbai. Their annual publication, ‘Mumbai Reader’, is a collection of essays on leading ideas for change in development, urban design, preservation and public placemaking in Mumbai. They also provide a platform for discussions and debates on the various issues that face the city. As an example, our trip coincided with UDRI hosting Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia and a global thought leader on sustainable urbanism and transportation.

In addition, UDRI engages in research projects that are commissioned by other public or civic organizations. We were most interested in the report on the conservation and management of the Fort Area and the report on the redevelopment of Mumbai’s Eastern Waterfront. To us UDRI’s efforts exhibit the first visionary steps to address the very obvious yet extremely complicated urban problems in Mumbai. We were also impressed that their research was not restricted to planning and design, but addressed implementation and management issues. It was also a pleasure to find that UDRI had a well managed library, where most of their publications were available for reference or to purchase.

Poor governance topped the list of the key challenges to implementation as identified by Omkar. He expressed frustration on the existence of several competing governing organizations with unclear mandates in Indian cities. This makes it a difficult and daunting task to implement even the simplest ideas and plans to improve the quality of urban development and livability. Similar sentiments were voiced by Manit Rastogi at Morphogenesis while working his Delhi Nullah Project (see our interview with Rastogi).

The Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) is an independent think tank and advocacy organization dedicated to the protection of the built environment and improving urban communities through research projects, public events, education and partnerships.

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