Public Spaces as Promoters of Equity and Social Inclusion: Case Study of Libraries and Cultural Festivals

As cities grow and densify, access to well-designed pleasant public spaces has not only become an important asset but a challenge for the poor, minorities and vulnerable groups. These groups include urban residents lacking quality and comfort in their housing, and therefore in need of decent infrastructure and communal spaces for health, recreation and socialization (Garau, 2015). Socially excluded category often include, poor, migrants, refugees, transgenders, elders, etc. In this context, social equity refers to provision of generous and good quality public spaces in order to make it accessible to people of all socio-economic backgrounds regardless of their class, age, gender, race or ethnic differences. Public spaces act as promoters of equity and social inclusion by making space for people from all social classes to interact and thereby reducing the economic and social segregation prevalent in a society (UCLG, 2016). Informal economy nurture in these places and should be dealt carefully to provide space for entrepreneurship (UNESCO, 2017).

While planning for inclusive cities, adequate housing, well-connected public transport and accessible public spaces should be integrated. It is essential to focus on (UCLG, 2016):

  • Rebuilding districts in an integrated way
  • Providing disadvantaged urban areas with quality public spaces
  • Promoting mixed use land use
  • Encouraging social mixing in housing
  • Removing architectural barriers that isolate certain areas

In this article, we look into role of libraries and cultural festivals in promoting equity and social inclusion in public spaces through a few case examples.

Libraries as inclusive public spaces

Public libraries are traditionally regarded as information and resources centres. Since information is widely accessible online today, the traditional role of libraries has now changed to play an important role as community spaces (Tan, 2017). They are meant as a pivot for information, learning and cultural discourse (Civica, 2016). As show in the following figure, users perceive libraries as the heart of the community and a place to connect with people (Civica, 2016).

Figure 1: Role of public libraries in users’ perception. Source: ‘The value of libraries as public spaces’ – Civica[1]

Having a vast amount of users, libraries act as socially inclusive public spaces by engaging all excluded groups to the community. Importance of provision of public libraries is identified by many local governments as an inclusive planning strategy to revitalise and transform communities (Hin Man, 2007).

Case 1: Biblioteca Espana, Medellın, Colombia

Medellin, the capital of Antioquia province, Columbia, is often described as a violent city owing to the series of political and drug related events happened over the last two decades. It is home to many Columbians internally displaced by political violence who are socially excluded in terms of access to basic civic amenities and public spaces (Holmes and Pineres, 2013). Despite the city’s history of conflicts, Medellin also has been recognised for its proactive efforts to use public spaces as a tool for quality of life improvement (Sertich, 2010).

Image 1: View of Biblioteca Espana with the settlements in background. Source:

Image 2: Front view of Biblioteca Espana. Source:

Biblioteca Espana (Spain Library Park) was a part of the mayor’s social inclusion program that targeted two of the poorest and most isolated neighbourhoods of the city – ‘Popular’ and ‘Santa Cruz’. Both the neighbourhoods are densely populated with low standard of living. Statistics shows that (Municipio de Medellín 2010; Municipio de Medellín 2010a),

  • Quality of housing:  99.8 % of Popular and 99.9% of Santa Cruz are classified as low/ very low/ slum
  • Education: 61.1 % of Popular and 56.6% of Santa Cruz have primary or lower level of education attainment
  • Unemployment rate is 40% and average monthly income is 147,000 pesos (US$70) in both the neighbourhoods,

Bogotá architect Giancarlo Mazzanti designed the Biblioteca España complex with three goals in mind (Holmes and Pineres, 2013),

  • promote the creation of employment and economic prosperity
  • promote social integration and the revitalization of depressed urban areas
  • protect and improve the urban environment

The complex provides broader infrastructure improvements, such as a community center, an auditorium, art galleries, play areas, computer labs, and outside space. All are designed to improve the economic prospects of nearby residents, increase their integration to the city at large, and promote social capital. Residents gather in this oasis for readings, screenings, concerts and discussions (Tan, 2017). As per a survey conducted in 2011, the project had greater impacts on residents’ satisfaction on quality of life (figure 2)  (Holmes and Pineres, 2013).

Figure 2: Medellín Cómo Vamos QOL survey results for Popular/ Santa Cruz. Source: Medellín’s Biblioteca España: Progress in Unlikely Places

Case 2: The Idea Store, Tower Hamlets Borough, London, UK

Tower Hamlets is one of London’s most diverse boroughs with more than 37% of the population being British Bengalis facing high levels of unemployment and social exclusion. The library system in the city had potential to provide its residents with learning opportunities to improve work and career outlooks, a meeting place to encourage social cohesion and connection, and support for families and young people (Aitani, 2017). Acknowledging this fact, Tower Hamlets Council’s Arts, Leisure and Sports Committee undertook renovation on the existing library system after an extensive public consultation in 2002 (, 2015). As a result, the ‘Idea Store’ was conceptualised as a new form of public library to incorporate the needs of customers and making it an attractive, accessible public space. Idea Stores provide core services of a library and functions as (, 2015),

  • Clubs for homework, jobs, and books
  • Skill development centre
  • Children’s Centres which offer programs and support for families
  • Centre for cultural events and performances
  • Community meeting spaces

Image 3: The Idea Store, London. Source:

By 2009, the Tower Hamlets library system was ranked 3rd in London and 4th in England for percentage of residents using library services, based on the participation data for National Indicator 9 (Aitani, 2017The 2006/07 Public Library User Survey (PLUS) of users over the age of 16 demonstrated that Tower Hamlets Idea Store attracted  users of all ages from different background. 54.8% of the total users were from ethnic minorities and 32.9% from the age group of 20 to 24 (Tower Hamlets Council, 2009).

Social inclusion through cultural festivals in public spaces

Cultural festivals are public celebrations which demonstrate community values, strengthen community pride and sense of place (Jepson, Wiltshier and Clarke, 2012). They act as a medium of combining groups of people and communities together to produce meaningful insights, foster peace and create safer and friendlier neighbourhoods (Stern and Seifert, 2010).   When public spaces such as streets, plazas, convention centers, open grounds, etc. are used for festivals, it promotes equity and social inclusion in the city (Clover, 2006).

Case 1: Festivals in South Bank Parklands and Neighbourhood parks of Brisbane, Queensland

The indigenous Australians known as Aboriginals and Torres Strait islanders account for 2.4% of the population of Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland. Refugees or asylum seekers from the Middle East and parts of Asia also contribute to a portion of Brisbane’s population (ABS, 2016). In a homogeneous demography, these two groups are constantly facing a threat of social exclusion. However, several initiatives have been taken by NGOs and local volunteers to establish their participation in public life through various programs and cultural festivals (Roitman and Johnson, 2014).

Image 4: The public park in the South Bank Parklands. Source:

Image 5: A performance by tribal community in the Clancestry festival. Source:

Image 6: A procession from the Luminous festival. Source:

South Bank Parklands, a 17 hectare riverfront public space with artificial beach and parks, is used as the venue for two important festivals namely Clancestry and Luminous festival. These festivals by the indigenous and the refugee communities are an attempt to establish their right to the city and its spaces. They enable them to interact with non-aboriginals through cultural and artistic expression in a shared public space (Roitman and Johnson, 2014).

The suburban neighbourhood parks of Brisbane also hold several cultural events and festivals such as,

  • Indigenous hip-hop
  • Styling up
  • Vietnamese moon festival
  • Chinese New Year
  • African day
  • World Refugee football tournament
  • Rohingya youth day, etc.,

thereby promoting equity and social inclusion in the public spaces of the city (Roitman and Johnson, 2014).

Case 2: Slum festival in Kampala, Uganda

Slums are typically characterised by overcrowding, high levels of unemployment or underemployment, deficient urban services (water, sanitation, education, and health) and widespread insecurity (UN-Habitat, 2003). Kampala, Uganda’s capital city has half of its population living in slums and socially excluded from the society. The Slum festival is conducted in 2014 with an aim to activate public space in the Kampala slum through artistic interventions, construction of stages, the use of performance and new media, and audience participation. Artists, audiences, residents, local initiatives and organisations are mobilized to participate in the shaping of their public space and to make it a reflection of their identity.  This initiative enable slum dwellers for better public interaction and social engagement as well as empowering the economically disadvantaged to develop within the creative economy (Lubega et al., 2014).

Image 7: A performance from the Slum Festival in 2015. Source:


The case of Spain Library Park in Medellin shows that libraries can be a place of revival for socially excluded low income groups in a society. In London’s Idea Stores, a library system served a multitude of opportunities for the public such as meeting place, space for cultural expression, etc. and increased participation of people from multiple ethnic background and age groups. Similarly, cultural festivals in the public spaces of Brisbane and Kampala helped integrate migrants, indigenous people or slum dwellers to the public realm, thereby promoting social inclusion.

Since public spaces are particularly important for marginalised groups, planning for quality public spaces to foster integration between different socio-economic groups becomes relevant. Investments in streets and public space infrastructure improve urban productivity, livelihoods and allow better access to markets, jobs and public services, especially in developing countries where a large proportion of the urban workforce is informal. Public spaces can thus be a powerful tool to improve equity, promote inclusion and combat discrimination. However, engaging the community in design, management and maintenance of public spaces is also relevant to attain an inclusive city.

[1] Survey results from the research conducted by Civica group ltd. and University of Technology, Sydney, on the value of libraries as public spaces

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Designing Gender Sensitive Public Spaces

Case Study of Public Spaces in Vienna


Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a prosperous and sustainable world (United Nations, 2018). UN Women defines gender equality as equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men (UN WOMEN, 2018). Providing equal access to education, public spaces, health care, decent work, and representation in decision-making processes ensures sustainable development (United Nations, 2018).

Gender-based violence in urban areas can be attributed to factors such as poverty, discrimination, exclusion and lack of gender mainstreaming in urban development leading to public spaces and structures not catering to all genders equally (Jagori, 2015).

Perceptions of gender equality differ between men and women, societies and countries of different developmental status. Globally, many countries have achieved important milestones towards gender parity, however developing countries like India still face women safety as the basic issue in gender equality. We have previously looked into gender mainstreaming in housing sector and women safety audits in India. This article talks about the importance of gender equality in planning and design of public spaces. The article focuses on case studies from Vienna describing the implementation of gender sensitive practises in their public spaces.

Gender equality in public spaces

Public spaces enable women, girls, elderly and other marginalised groups (transgenders, migrants, etc.) to participate in public life (UCLG, 2016). Though they are meant for everyone to use regardless of their gender or age, women use public parks and streets lesser than men (Harth, 2018). In India it is noticed that women tend to limit their participation in public sphere to day time in markets or parks in urban areas (Shukla, 2017). Reported cases of physical and psychological harassment in parks, streets and public transports have raised the levels of fear or vulnerability among them (Phadke, 2012). Studies show that women prefer active public spaces with characteristics of safer perimeter, cleanliness and safety (Gholamhosseini et al., 2018). They perceive lack of proper lighting, deserted roads, absence of street vendors and stores as unsafe situations. Public spaces that ensures comfort, accessibility and safety through features like clean toilets, proper lighting, etc. are preferred by women, elders and children (PUKAR, 2011).

Gender equality in public spaces can be achieved by accommodating features that improve women’s safety (UNIFEM, 2010). Planning and designing should put special focus on (UCLG, 2016; UNIFEM, 2010):

  • Proper lighting
  • Landscaping
  • Visibility
  • Clean toilets
  • Motorized and Pedestrian traffic
  • Signages
  • Security personnel
  • Proximity to other public spaces and emergency services
  • Access to public transportation
  • Mixed-land use
  • Women’s participation in decision making

Case study – Gender Equality in Public Spaces of Vienna

Vienna, the capital city of Austria functions as its economic, cultural and political centre. It has been focusing on gender mainstreaming while designing its public spaces, housing, mobility and infrastructure since 1990. The gender mainstreaming concept is being incorporated mainly in the design of streetscapes, public squares and public parks (Damyanovic, Reinwald and Weikmann, 2013).

Gender-sensitive public parks design: re-design of Einsiedler Park and St. Johann Park

A need to redesign Einsiedler Park and St. Johann Park was perceived by the City of Vienna when girls aged between 10 and 12 were found using parks lesser. By focusing on their interests, gender sensitive solutions were implemented to make them feel safer and better in these spaces (UCLG, 2016). The main objectives of the project were to (, 2018):

  • motivate girls and young women to use the parks more often
  • improve safety perception in the parks
  • improve elements to attract elderly and parents with little children, and
  • have intense professional exchange of ideas during the planning phase.

The city of Vienna selected the design proposals of Tilia planning office and Koselika planning office for Einsiedler Park and St. Johann Park respectively through a design challenge. By 2001, detailed planning for re-structuring and re-designing the parks was done and renovation works were completed (, 2018).

Image 1: Paved path, clear visibility and seating in Einsiedler Park. Source:

Image 2: Platforms to sit and chat in St. Johann Park, Source:

Gender-sensitive planning measures

The participating consultancies conducted meetings and workshops with residents, mothers, representatives of schools and kindergartens in the district, etc. to identify joint goals for the project. They paid attention to girls’ interests specifically to develop strategies for encouraging their involvement in public activities (, 2018). Several gender–sensitive design elements were introduced in these parks, such as (Harth, 2018):

  • Football cages were converted for activities that accommodates both genders; in this case, badminton and volleyball courts
  • Hollows in the meadowland were converted to be used as arenas, for ball-games, gymnastics and sitting together
  • Multifunctional play areas
  • Efficient lighting was provided on the main paths
  • Park keepers ensured that the rules are followed
  • Good visibility and clear-cut organisation of footpaths
  • Well-maintained public toilets

Image 3: Hammocks, quick attraction elements at Einsiedler Park, Source: WPS

Image 4: Platform at Einsiedler Park, Source: WPS


The projects witnessed considerable physical and social impacts over time. Physical transformations such as open common areas, gender-neutral activity field, places for group chatting, etc. motivated women and girls to spend more time in the park. Features like visibility in main avenues and proper lighting improved the safety aspects also (, 2018). Noticeable presence of women of all age groups was found in St. Johann’s park (Harth, 2018).

Looking at the response, City of Vienna implemented pilot projects of gender sensitive re-design in other parks of the city. On similar concepts, gender sensitive design elements such as structured footpath network, efficient illumination, multifunctional plazas, multifunctional lawns, etc. were incorporated in Rudolph-Bednar Park (Damyanovic, Reinwald and Weikmann, 2013).

Gender-sensitive public square design: redesign of Christian Broda Platz

Public squares are another focus area for gender mainstreaming in the planning of public spaces in Vienna (Chalaby, 2017). On submitting the winning entry for a gender-sensitive architectural competition, architects Beitl and Wallmann redesigned the Christian-Broda-Platz in the 6th district of Vienna. The team designed the square by paying attention to direct walking routes, playing equipment, barrier free toilets, drinking fountains, etc. The pilot project resulted in a generous use of the public square by all genders among youth, children and senior citizens (Damyanovic, Reinwald and Weikmann, 2013). Similar measures were adopted in Liesinger Platz of the 23rd district also to achieve a gender-sensitive design.

Image 5: Seating arrangements in Chrisian Broda Platz, Source:

In addition to these projects, gender mainstreaming is also incorporated in designing walkways. A survey conducted by City of Vienna in 1992 identified that females use public transit and pedestrian paths more than males. As a result, city planners adopted steps to improve pedestrian mobility and access to public transit (Foran, 2013). This includes 26 street lighting projects, widening of sidewalks and barrier free designs by the City of Vienna Women’s Office (Chalaby, 2017).


Over the years, re-designing several parks and public squares in Vienna has resulted in an inclusive city planning model. Certain design elements such as multifunctional play areas, raised platforms to sit and chat, etc. are easily transferable and can be installed in other places. Assuring safety through efficient lighting and multiple activities in any public space is an important factor in gender-sensitive planning. From the cases of gender mainstreaming in public spaces explained here, it is evident that through effective planning measures, public spaces can have equal utility and benefits for everyone.

In India’s diverse social setting, women’s safety and factors for comfort are often neglected while designing public spaces like parks, streets, markets, public transit, institutions, etc. However, several positive initiatives to improve the safety of public spaces are being taken by many Indian cities. Apps such as SafetiPin are useful for women safety audits. The data acquired is used by the police and PWD to augment facilities such as lighting in public spaces. Government missions like JNNURM seeks to promote planned urban development and equitable cities as an opportunity to build gender-fair and inclusive cities (Khosla, 2009). In patriarchal economies like India where women’s interests are conventionally under-represented, there is still a lot to achieve.

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Social Equity in Accessing Public Transportation: Case Study of Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC), USA


Transportation planning has always focused on urban mobility, reducing traffic congestion in cities and providing access to major locations (Manaugh, 2014). However, often ignored is the social equity in access to public transportation. With route planning focused on demand forecasting, low-income neighbourhoods and other vulnerable population are often neglected due to budget constraints (Transport for America, 2018). These vulnerable communities rely mostly on public transportation.

In the realm of transportation, social equity refers to providing affordable and equitable access to public transport. The vulnerable population here includes children, students, elderly, handicapped and low-income individuals. Social equity refers to an equitable distribution of impacts; both benefits and cost (Litman, 2018). Equity is more than about providing subsidies and discount tickets. It should encompass the ease of use, connectivity, and accessibility. For example, the use of monthly discount passes is effective only when the bus stops are easier to access.

Low-income and other vulnerable communities should not bear the negative impacts and costs of transportation facilities disproportionately. Rather, public transportation should provide access to jobs and opportunities to these disadvantaged communities (Transport for America, 2018). By providing access to opportunities, transportation investments can be used as a driving force to promote social and economic equity.

To address transportation equity, the vulnerable community should be involved in the planning process and projects prioritised based on their needs. It is equally important to collect the relevant data and measure progress to ensure program effectiveness in reaching beneficiaries and achieving the target goals. This article looks into the case study of JARC to understand the steps taken by FTA to implement social equity through transportation planning.

Case Study: Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC), USA

The main aim of Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program, administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) (1998 – 2012), was to assist low-income individuals in accessing employment, job training and childcare services. Low-income individuals living in the inner urban cities had difficulty accessing many new entry-level jobs located in the suburban areas. Under JARC, FTA provided grants to transit agencies and other service agencies to fill gaps in transportation services for welfare recipients and other low-income individuals (FTA, 2016). Made available for three years, it administered project funding on a cost-sharing basis. Federal funds covered up to 80 percent of the capital and planning activity and up to 50 percent of operating costs.

Some of the programs implemented under JARC funding were about expanding fixed-route public transit routes, late-night and weekend service, shuttle service, guaranteed ride home service, ridesharing and carpooling and so on (FTA, 2007). The policy incentive while designing the transportation policy encouraged the local, regional and state agencies to collaborate with each other (Sandouvel et al, 2009). Apart from organizing trips, JARC also utilized its funds for information-based and capital investment programs (Figure 1).

Figure 1: JARC Services by Type, 2006 – 2009 (Source: An Evaluation of Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) Program Services Provided in 2009)

For example: Camden, New Jersey provides shuttle service that operates three times a day matching the three work shifts at the industrial park. Phoenix, Arizona runs service through western suburb connecting community college with residential area and retails stores. Sanford, Maine provides demand-based van service for getting to work from early morning until late night.

The five major goals identified under JARC programs are as follows (FTA, 2016):

  • Expanding geographic coverage
  • Extending service hours or days
  • Improving system capacity
  • Improving access/connections
  • Improving customer knowledge

The two performance measures used by FTA to evaluate JARC-funded projects are:

  • Number of jobs accessed
  • Number of rides provided (one-way trips)

Response to the Program

For the financial year 2009, 910 projects were funded under the JARC program. Out of these, 44% served in large urban areas, 31% in non-urbanized or rural communities and 25% in small-urbanized areas. JARC supported programs provided 27.3 million one-way trips, made 51.8 million jobs accessible, which included 25.3 million low-wage jobs and 7.7 million jobs were likely reached (Commonwealth Environmental Systems, Inc, 2011).[KI1]

Figure 2: Usage pattern of JARC services (Source: Thakuriah, 2011)

Another survey conducted by researchers at University of Illinois (2009) focused on the mobility and employment outcomes of 573 respondents using any of the surveyed 26 JARC funded transportation service. Compared to non-JARC users, JARC users were less educated and had lower income brackets. About 42% of respondents reported personal incomes of less than $10,000 (~ INR 5,10,000 in 2011), and one in five had not completed high school (Thakuriah, 2011). This indicates that the JARC services effectively served low-income vulnerable communities.

The survey results show that 93.5% of the respondents rated the service as “important or very important” for keeping their job and 34% reported that they wouldn’t be able to commute to and from work if the service was not available. Over one-third users found that transportation services were more affordable with JARC (Thakuriah, 2011).

Figure 2 shows, out of the 23% unemployed, 25% of individuals used the services to access job trainings, about 8% for job seeking and 21% travelled to school (Thakuriah, 2011).

Figure 3: FTA JARC Services and Funding, 2005 – 2009 (Source: An Evaluation of Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) Program Services Provided in 2009)

Regarding economic impacts, the study reports a median reduction in generalized travel cost that is estimated to be $3.15 per trip. The median of hourly wages at the primary job also increased by about 14%. At the time of the survey, the median weekly earnings was estimated to have gone up by 15% (Thakuriah, 2011). The graphs and data highlight the fact that JARC programs helped people to access jobs and supported their financial stability. Increased wages could be due to shifting to a higher paying job or increased hours at work. Subsequently, FTA also increased the investment and the coverage of services under JARC over the years (Figure 3).

These results show the potential positive impact of JARC programs on the mobility, employment and economic outcome of its low-income users. However, since the survey does not have an experimental setup for evaluation, the lasting impact of JARC funding is not entirely clear (Sandouvel, Peterson and Hunt, 2009). JARC is one of the multiple possible and creative solutions that agencies can implement to support disadvantaged communities and promote equity in public transportation.

As of 2012, consolidating JARC with the existing Urbanized Area Formula Program and the Formula Grants for Rural Areas Program enabled JARC programs to apply for funding through the urban and rural transit program (GAO, 2017). This was mainly due to changes in JARC’s formula program status wherein separate funding was not available anymore. However, when GAO interviewed few JARC services, two-thirds of them reported to continue providing some form of service.


“Every project’s stance on equity should be assessed by asking the following questions:

  • Does it meet an important need identified by a disadvantaged community?
  • Are the benefits associated with the significant, rather than incidental?
  • Are benefits targeting the low-income residents?
  • Does it avoid substantial harms to the community?

(Marcantonio and Karner, 2016)

The services under JARC were in response to critical issues highlighted and put forth by the community. Upon implementation, there were positive and significant effects on the mobility, employment and economic outcome of the low-income users. A majority of the beneficiaries were less educated and low-income groups. Thus, the benefits of the program was reaching the disadvantaged positively.

Key policy implication of JARC program is to improve public transportation in order to address the social needs. Economic outcomes of the low-income population is positively impacted through accessible and affordable public transportation. During its run, JARC focused on operating rides, in improving the information access and infrastructure capacity of the service region. This combination of capacity building helped many of these JARC funded programs to sustain by themselves, even after the end of its tenure in 2012. However, depending on the intensity of institutional and grassroots support, different cities responded to JARC in different ways (Sandoval, Peterson and Hunt, 2009).  While in some cases, the regions came up with many innovative ideas, whereas some strategies were traditional (Cervero and Tsai, 2003; Sandoval, Peterson and Hunt, 2009). This is also because transportation models are highly relevant to the context of the cities.

Looking at the Indian scenario, high land prices in the core of the city forces economically disadvantaged communities to the fringes of urban development. Therefore, Indian cities are continually experiencing informal settlements in developing or peri-urban areas that lacks infrastructure. This makes opportunities inaccessible, lengthens commutes to their workplaces and degrades the quality of their commute. Being mindful of social equity and incorporating these concepts into the early stages of transportation planning ensures the vulnerable communities to have access to jobs and opportunities. Through equitable access to transportation supports, the promotion of economic stability and social standing of vulnerable communities is necessary.

Featured image source: Thakuriah, 2011

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Engaging Through Online Platforms


Throughout the world for many years, local bodies have been involved in deliberation of local issues, decision making within their capacities and choosing their leaders. The idea of citizen engagement in public affairs has been long prevalent (GCPSE, 2016). Similarly, the idea that computers and digital technologies can help us improve city in diverse ways, isn’t new either (Bollier, 2016). However, in the recent years there has been an increase in the number of citizen engagement activities and a shift is taking place from the top-down governance to a more horizontal process (Garrigues, 2017). With the changing trend, the policy makers have started looking for active citizen feedbacks to have a better sense of people’s priorities and to decide the need & shape of the public policy (Bollier, 2016; IPAT, 2015). The National Smart Cities Mission also identifies the importance of citizen engagement in the formation of a policy and actively works in applying it at different levels. In our previous newsletters we have discussed the strategies of citizen engagement taken up by different cities and a possible framework of process that can be implemented.  This article reflects on different case-studies around the world that initiated citizen engagement models on an online interface. It also reflects on their procedure and how they managed to derive an order in a situation of complexity.

Out of the SCPs of the 20 lighthouse cities there are many cities that understands the importance of using online platforms as an effective way of engaging citizens. Jaipur has come up with an online grievance redressal system app where the citizens can register any issues in their area. Surat has come up with many initiatives at different levels to ensure a comprehensive approach towards citizen engagement. Out of the many objectives, they have also developed an online citizen engagement platform for getting citizen’s feedback in decision making. Pune has created an ecosystem of around 400 partners to support the growing entrepreneurial culture and at the same time integrate the local stakeholders. Ahmedabad involves different groups of people, societies, working class to practice citizen consultation exercises for their inclusion.  There are many more examples to share.


Any citizen engagement process broadly involves three actors (GCPSE, 2016). They can then be further categorized according to their specialization:

  1. Decision makers – The politicians who aggregate the preferences of the citizens and facilitates the citizen’s expectations by deploying the resources and governance.
  2. Mediators – The public officials who deliver the public services to the citizens and implement the strategic direction of the policy decided by the politicians.
  3. Citizens – In a sort of ‘social contract’ with the politicians; gives the authority to the politicians and expects good public services in return. This also includes the local businesses and entrepreneurs.

The concept of citizen engagement requires an active dialogue between the citizens and the decision makers; it is not entirely similar to citizen participation (Garrigues, 2017). In citizen engagement, cities (or social systems) directly involve the citizens in the decision making process, it is a more formal structure that is organized by the public officials or the government. They do it by providing tools to consult and access public information, discuss with the elected representatives and monitor the implementations (Garrigues, 2017). Citizen engagement creates a sense of citizenship and educates the public in many ways (IPAT, 2015).  For an effective engagement process the public officials play an important role in mediating the preferences of the citizens and developing a network among the citizens with common interests. It is also very important the development model and the whole process is transparent. This is where an online platform can be of many utilities. Through the different case studies around Europe, we can develop an understanding on how they work.


1)      ZO!city

The model was implemented in Amstel III which is the south-eastern neighborhood of Amsterdam. Post-2008 financial crisis, the area once had 25-30% vacant spaces (Beer, 2014). The existing stakeholders had limited contact with each other and cohesively lacked a sense of ownership.

The fragmented stakeholders were the key strength of the neighborhood. However, to setup a collaboration among them was the main challenge. The implementation of the model, initiated by Saskia Beer, was a step-by-step process:

  1. Analyse the neighborhood and identify the main strategic points where smaller interventions could’ve made a lot of difference.
  2. Informal meetings with the local stakeholders were held, which included real estate owners, companies, business associations, community organizations, etc. to understand the priorities, their willingness and their capacities to invest in the development model.
  3. Using metaphorical and non-technical language, the mediators created a manifesto that triggered the stakeholders to envision their own ideas and make the planning process seem more accessible to the citizens and the stakeholders.

Fig 1 – The three interconnected pillars of the development model

This was done by deliberately using a ‘light-hearted and positive’ campaign over a rather serious vision (Beer, 2014). The development model works on three interconnected pillars. The municipality simultaneously had its own objectives for the development model.

Saskia Beer initiated ‘glamourmanifest’ following the model of co-operation and co-creation with a collective instrument of interventions and investments. Implementing an adaptive practice to adjust to the changes and the opportunities that come along the way (Beer, 2014).

By collecting the ideas and the demands of the users, an urban vision was then synthesized. Initiatives and desires of the stakeholders were located on a map and overlapped. ‘High energy zones’ were identified where a lot of ideas and stakeholders overlapped.

It was realized that to establish an effective network of co-operation between the stakeholders it was very important that the information regarding the various initiatives is provided to them at ease. At the same time, a sense of transparency and availability of information is always required, to accommodate this need an online platform was launched and ‘glamourmanifest’ changed its name to ‘ZO!city’.

Fig 2 – The online interface of ZO!city

Fig 3 – On clicking the pins, the description of the ideas shows up


Anybody using the website has the liberty to suggest an initiative which is then opened for public voting and sources of funding. The initiatives are geo-located on a map which are also classified and colour-coded on the basis of its functionality. The ideas are then openly scrutinized by the other users and is up-voted if it develops similar interests. When the project gathers enough response, it is then made open for public funding. By the use of the database and understanding the priorities of the stakeholders, the companies and their capital has started to come together. Most of the initiatives are proposed through the interface. In many cases, the investments are done by the private stakeholders, this reduces the dependency on the municipality and generates a state of financial self-reliability. The progress of the project can be tracked and users can directly give their feedbacks. As on 2017, the initiatives has kick-started the following projects:

  • Parking space sharing by ParkU
  • Electric bike sharing by Urbee
  • Ubuntu stadtsuin (city garden) by Empowerment co-operative Amsterdam (ECA)
  • E-car charging stations by Gemeente (municipality), Amsterdam
  • Co-working space by Carteblanche (Status-completed)

2)      Madame Mayor, I have an idea!

In Paris, a new participatory budgeting scheme was piloted by the mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2014. Unlike ZO!city, the ideas here were not crowd-sourced, instead the city administration proposed ideas which were then brought upon to the citizens for discussions and voting. In the initial years, the process concentrated on encouraging the citizens to initiate a discussion for the proposals.

After a few years of initiations by the city authority, the participatory budgeting process is now online and fully active (Simon, Bass, Boelman & Mulgan, 2017). The citizens of Paris can now directly propose an initiative by themselves. Currently, the process has five phases distributed (Simon, Bass, Boelman & Mulgan, 2017):

  1. In January and February, the proposals are made online which are supported by many neighborhood workshops.
  2. From March to May, a co-creation process takes place which brings the representatives of similar proposals together.
  3. Over the next few months, the ideas are shared online for public review. Selected by an election committee, these ideas meet the minimum criteria such as, public benefit, technical feasibility, the financial feasibility, etc. During this period, an elected committee assists the people in promoting and campaigning their idea.
  4. In September, the citizens are then allowed to vote for the most desired proposals.
  5. By December, the successful ideas are selected. The implementation and the budget is allocated in the following year.

The progress of the projects can be then tracked through various means such as on online platform, geo-located and overlapped on google maps and by infographics created by the teams.


Since the year of inception, the project has seen substantial growth. Currently, it is considered as one of the biggest citizen engagement programs in practice (Simon, Bass, Boelman & Mulgan, 2017). In 2014, the project received around 41000 votes for various proposals, the number raised to 67000 votes in the next year and then 160000 in 2016. The number of projects selected for implementation also increased from 9 to 219. The transparency of the process, political support and the continuous citizen engagement are the main reasons for the success of this initiative.

Fig 4 – The comparison of the selected projects and the participation of the citizens over the years.

Although, the process of these models are highly inclusive to the context of the neighbourhoods or cities, but still, similar projects in their own capacities have started emerging all over the world. For example, Madrid has ‘Decide Madrid’, which tracks proposals, debates, participatory budgeting and sectoral processes. Jakarta has initiated its share of citizen engagement from ‘Qlue’ which has different interfaces for different activities. Reykjavik, Finland has ‘Better Reykjavik’ working on similar grounds.


In the context of a neighborhood, the number of the stakeholders present are never specific and to define the style of interaction among them is rather complex. Even if the decision-making process is spontaneous and time consuming, the objectives can be clearly laid out and a definite process can be put in place. It is equally important to identify the stakeholders and understand their needs and ideas for urban transformation. According to their desires and the ambitions of the stakeholders, a proper network between them should be created. An online interface comes of many uses, a database of the existing stakeholders and their interests can be created. The database can also be created on the basis of the proposals and feedback of the users, at the same time it can also work as a source of information for them. The whole development model is highly transparent and allows the users to track the progress of the projects they are interested in. A possible framework can be summarized in the figure – 5.

Fig 5 – A summary of the possible framework of using an online interface for better citizen participation. (Source – glamourmanifest)

Indian cities has always had diversified actors with multiple interests. Identifying similar interests and developing a network among them can be a complex challenge and also an opportunity. An online interface can help the mediators and the decision makers to derive a sense of order in the complex network of interests and develop an incremental order in the development process.

SCP of Indian cities has considered many initiatives for citizen engagement, for example, Mygov has a forum which actively asks citizens for feedback and discussions, but, a similar model is hard to find. There are many takeaways from the above case-studies that Indian cities can use to develop an effective citizen engagement process. Implementing a similar model can help the decision makers in foreseeing a long-term urban synthesis and develop a sense of trust among the stakeholders.

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Participatory Budgeting


Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. (New York City Council, n.d.).

“How do you spend $1 million of the city’s money…?” The pamphlets used in New York’s pilot program on Participatory Budgeting (PBNYC) ask this question to the citizens.

The practice of Participatory Budgeting originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It attracts almost 50,000 citizens every year to deliberate on the utilisation of approximately 20% of city’s monetary resource (Shah, 2007). Its positive impact is a noticeable improvement in the accessibility and quality of various public welfare amenities in those municipalities that have adopted it. The participation and influence of people belonging to low-income groups in the budget allocation process are proof of their empowerment (Bhatnagar, Rathore, Torres, & Kanungo). Numerous governments, NGOs, institutional bodies, social movements and political parties have adopted participatory budgeting to bring changes in public policy and implementation processes.

Participatory Budgeting in India

Since the amendment of 74th Constitutional Act, the interaction of local civic bodies with the decision-making bodies of government ameliorated. Along with this, the sectors of economics, planning, justice and budgeting became transparent to the public and they eventually became crucial stakeholders. A few notable Participatory Budgeting initiatives in India are in Bangalore, Mysore, Pune and Kochi, where formal institutional methods were established which made sure that citizens were also part of decision-making (Shetty, 2015). Bangalore was the first city to implement participatory budgeting and the campaign resulted in citizen’s participation in budget allocation in over 20% of wards in the city (Keruwala, 2013).

Case of Pune

Participatory Budgeting was launched in Pune in 2006 under the then commissioner of Pune Municipal Corporation. Pune Municipal Corporation consists of four zones with 15 administrative wards. Each administrative ward contains 4 to 6 prabhags. Each prabhag (composed of two electoral wards) was allocated a budget of 50 lacs and could execute any number of projects with a maximum cost of Rs. 5 lac per project. For 76 prabhags in PMC, a total of Rs. 38 crore was allocated through participatory budgeting (Keruwala, 2013).

The process begins when Pune municipal Corporation (PMC) invites suggestions from citizens at the respective ward offices. These inputs vary from roads, electricity, buildings to slum improvement and water supply and drainage. Suggestions by the citizens are compiled at the ward office and submitted to prabhag samiti, which in turn sends the approved suggestions for accounts scrutiny to produce a final list of projects to be implemented in PMC region.

Decentralised Planning in Kerala – An Experiment through Ninth Five-Year Plan

In India’s ninth five-year plan, Government of Kerala established a decentralisation plan, which was an outcome of People’s Plan Campaign – an experimental approach to reformations in local planning. Participatory budgeting was first launched in 1996 and covered the entire state including 991 rural villages, 152 block panchayats, 53 municipalities, 14 districts and 5 corporations that represented different levels of administrative bodies (Wilhelmy, 2013).

Following this, in the period 1996 to 2001, the entire state devolved approximately 40% of state revenue into the projects chosen by 65% of the 3 million beneficiary citizens and eventually this model became a part of state planning, now popularly known as Kerala Development Plan (Wilhelmy, 2013). With an objective to ensure that priority projects meet the needs of beneficiary citizens, the model aims to establish civic engagements exercises. Participatory planning in Kerala focuses on local economic development, social justice and various public services with excellence (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011).

Kerala’s process evolved into a dynamic model with two key features of the campaign – resourceful and trained administration and the extent of involvement of people elected delegates. The model created an inclusive platform of citizens supported by 373 state-level trainers, almost 10,500 trained provincial-level resource persons and 50,000 trained local activists (including 4,000 retired administrators) (Wilhelmy, 2013). The delegates elected by the people were involved in the budgeting process at every phase with a say in raising demands, prioritising projects and development plans (Wilhelmy, 2013).

Stages of Participatory Planning

The procedure of participatory budgeting comprises of six stages:

  • A range of local assemblies/grama sabhas are conducted.
  • Conducting development seminars, which facilitates discussions between politicians, experts and groups of citizens.
  • Preparation of report from the data collected from development seminars.
  • Drafting of project proposals with technical requirements and budget planning details by the ‘task force’ created by the development seminar.
  • Approval of the projects and budget by District Planning Committees.
  • Implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the approved projects.

Public Participation

All stages of participatory planning ensure involvement of the stakeholders. The local government, to execute the initiatives and to promote maximum participation of the public, forms certain Working Groups (Figure 22) that are mandatory in every local body (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011). These groups include the sectors shown in the diagram. The Working Groups, with an elected head perform effectively to guarantee participation of all marginalised societal groups. At the second stage of participatory planning – Development Seminar, the proposal projects put forward by the Working Group are presented and are subjected to public suggestions and improvements (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011).

Sectors of Working Group

For maximum participation of all the stakeholders, the respective local bodies ensure communication at all stages from conceptualisation to implementation. Right to Information Act plays a major role in the framework as it facilitates access for public to the processes and documents involved. Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) (George & Balan, People’s Participation in Development Planning in Kerala, 2011) conducts training programmes for members of Ward Sabha/Ward Committee and this capacity building initiative ensures that decision-making process is all-inclusive.

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Kochi Metro – Kudumbasree, Partners for Inclusive Planning

Kochi Metro is the newest implemented mass rapid transit system in the country. Its construction began in June 2013 and a 13.4 km long section on the line between Aluva and Palarivattom was inaugurated on 17th June 2017. A second 5 km stretch between Palarivattom and Maharaja’s College is slated to open in August 2017. Kochi Metro is also working to make the system socially inclusive by working with Kudumbasree. Together, they are working to hire women and transgender individuals in the operational management of the metro system.

Kudumbasree Logo (Source:

Kudumbasree is a community organisation of Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) of women in Kerala. It has been recognised as an effective strategy for the empowerment of women in rural as well as urban areas (Krishnakumar, 2015). The mission of Kudumbasree is “to eradicate absolute poverty in ten years through concerted community action under the leadership of local governments, by facilitating organisation of the poor for combining self-help with demand-led convergence of available services and resources to tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty, holistically”. There are several strategies undertaken by the organisation to achieve its mission, which include formation of women collectives, skill upgrade training, provision of better living conditions -infrastructural facilities, micro-enterprises for sustainable economic development, etc.

Last year, KMRL signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kudumbasree for the management of its station premises including ticketing, customer relations, housekeeping, parking management and running the canteens of KMRL. The MoU was signed in the presence of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and minister for Local Self Government K T Jaleel during the Chief Minister’s visit to KMRL office for reviewing the project (PTI, 2016).

Elias George, Managing Director of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (Source:

Two major initiatives taken by the Kochi Metro, which makes it unique are:

  • This is the first time a government owned organization in the country has formally appointed twenty three transgender persons (John & Das, 2017),
  • Kochi metro will have more women employees; it will be a women run metro.

People will be hired on an experimental basis after a security screening by police and the women employees appointed will be give

n special training by the police. On the decision of including transgender, Elias George, KMRL Managing Director said, “Transgenders face lot of difficulties. They are forced into undesirable occupations. So as an experiment, we have developed an idea to rehabilitate them. Under Kudumbasree itself, we have planned to employ transgender in Kochi metro. We know that our experiment will be a success,” Mr. George reaffirmed that if this experiment turns out to be a success, they would incorporate the same for the water metro project (Ashtputre, 2016).

Kerala government has previously worked on social inclusion of transgender community. Last year, Kerala unveiled a Transgender Policy, with the view towards protecting the rights of transgender and ending the stigma towards the community. The idea behind the policy is to ensure that transgender have equal access to social and economic opportunities, resources and services, and right to live life without violence (Singh, 2016).

Kochi Metro (Source:

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Reimagining the approach to TOD

NIUA studied various projects proposed by cities in their Smart City Plans with the help of MoUD’S TOD Guidance Document. This was part of a research on TOD in Indian Smart Cities conducted with the support of Prosperity Fund, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Government of UK. It purpose is to support cities in Round 2 and Round 3 of the Indian Smart Cities Mission who have proposed or plan to propose Transit Oriented Development in their Area Based Development. It provides a decision making framework for these cities. MoUD’s Guidance Document for TOD presents 21 Principles for planning and implementing a Transit Oriented Development. To simplify the discussion, the study proposed use of 5 constructs of Design, Density, Diversity, Mobility and Housing. They are a modified version of the 3Ds of Design, Density and Diversity. These five constructs were then mapped against the 12 guiding principles from MoUD’s Guidance Document. This exercise resulted in a baseline or ‘ideal’ weights for each f the constructs. The mapping is based on the Components enumerated by MoUD under each of the Principle. Next, the framework is used to understand a city’s approach to implementation of a TOD in three parts:

1. Compatibility of projects and policies: Listing and mapping all the projects proposed by the city against the 21 principles. This is similar to the process of mapping the principles against the constructs. It allows us to identify the constructs prioritized by the city based on the resultant weights. The process is shown in the illustration:

2. Urban Transformation: Estimating the change in the built form of the area selected for ABD. It estimates the additional built up area required to accommodate the additional population that will make the proposed infrastructure investment financially sustainable. Taking city’s current population, growth rate and slum population, the framework estimates if additional interventions are required to stimulate population growth to achieve the desired population. The framework is also used to estimate the expected increase in real estate prices in the ABD using market prices of the land in the area.

3. City’s Finances: The approach for assessing the financial sustainability comprised the following:Analyse the past trends in terms of various components of revenue and capital income and expenditure. It is assumed that business as

  • Analyse the past trends in terms of various components of revenue and capital income and expenditure. It is assumed that business as usual situation would follow similar trends.
  • On a single entry basis, closing balance indicates the net of all cash flows. The investments proposed for TOD projects are superimposed on the existing financials and compared in relation to the prevailing composition of municipal finances. This involves comparing quantum of investment in relation to those generated in the past.

The study looked at four cities in detail, mapping each of its projects against the 21 principles to obtain the resultant weights and thus, the construct prioritized by each city. The exercise illustrates how a city can leverage TOD to address its specific issues. It also helps identify areas that a city can focus on, as it moves forward with the implementation of the TOD.

This framework provides a platform for city managers and policy makers to have a quick understanding of how their projects compare against TOD principles in the Indian context. While the application of these principles has been demonstrated for two cities, this framework has potential to be developed as a tool to provide insights to city managers and policy makers to delve deep into granular elements of the process.

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Women’s Safety Audits

Fear of possible violence shapes women’s ability to use public spaces, defines their comfort levels, and compromises their sense of freedom and inclusion in the city (Viswanath & Basu, 2015). Recent global prevalence figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime (WHO, 2016). Sexual violence and harassment happens on streets, in and around public transportation, schools and workplaces, water distribution sites, public toilets, and parks in urban, rural, and conflict/ post-conflict settings (UN Women, 2016). Addressing these factors is not about implementing criminal laws but about establishing adequate measures to improve the safety of women (Bhattacharya, 2016). A fundamental step in this process is to accurately identify the prevalence and nature of the problem (Blumenthal, 2014), to identify the factors that affect the ‘feeling of safety’. Measuring this ‘feeling of safety’ to make public spaces inclusive and safe for marginalized groups is key to the issue. Women’s safety audits are used to do this assessment through active public participation in data collection and decision making. It can been defined as ‘a process which brings individuals together to walk through a physical environment, evaluate how safe it feels to them, identify ways to make the space safer and organize to bring about these changes’ (Whitzman, Shaw, Travers, & Kathryn, 2009; WACAV, 1993).

Women’s safety audits were first developed in Canada in the late 20th century by Toronto’s Metro Action Committee on Public Violence Against Women and Children in order to mitigate violence against women in the city with the support of local community. The method has since been adapted and used across the globe, leveraging local ‘expertise’ to make neighbourhoods safer. Women’s safety audit is a dynamic participatory concept that exists in a constant state of modification and improvement (Women in Cities International, 2008). It’s strength lies in the participatory nature. It supports and legitimizes the use of women’s first hand accounts and knowledge in municipal decision-making. To conduct a safety audit, a group of women users of a particular urban or community space walk around that space and using a checklist, they note the factors that make them feel unsafe or safe in that space. The original women’s safety audit checklist included 15 categories, including lighting, sightlines (seeing what is ahead and around), entrapment spots, signage and maintenance. Next, recommendations are formulated, organized and prioritized to bring about the improvements to the neighbourhood, notabl by entering into a dialogue process with the local government and other key actors (for example, local development agency private land owners, police) (Whitzman, Shaw, Travers, & Kathryn, 2009; METRAC, 1989). Cities across the world use Women’s Safety Audits as a tool of improving neighbourhoods and as a means of empowering local communities. Cities have conducted safety audits under UN Women’s Flagship initiative Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces. In India, Jagori in New Delhi and PUKAR in Mumbai have been conducting safety audits. Jagori launched the Safe Delhi Campaign in 2005 to bring into public focus the issue of women’s safety. In 2010, it published a handbook on conducting women’s safety audits, outlining every step and the stakeholders involved at different levels. Unfortunately, so far success of gender based safety audits in India has been limited and they are often turned into a publicity tools by local governments, failing to result in positive change on ground. In these cases, the audit recommendations are quickly forgott about once the initial act has occurred and public attention has waned. (Women in Cities International, 2009) (Jagori, 2008) (Wekerle, 2005).

With greater access to internet and mobiles, there is an opportunity for widening the scope of engagement with women from different walks of life. Safety audits have now been built into mobile based applications that can be used by anyone with a smart phone or a tablet, recording their experience and crowd-sourcing information about status of infrastructure. Safetipin is one such mobile based app. It collects data about the situation of public places in the city on a set of nine parameters – lighting, openness, visibility, security and other factors. This data is available in multiple forms including maps, reports, csv files which can support urban stakeholders to take important urban planning and monitoring decisions, including deployment of limited resources for lighting, security, CCTVs, public transport at night (Safetipin). In Delhi Safetipin’s data is being used by Delhi police and PWD to improve lighting in public spaces. It is also being used to assess bus stops and metro stations in the city. Globally, there are several similar applications in place. They include Streetscore, Harassmap, Safetipin and Crowdspot.

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Curitiba- Transforming City with Bus Transit

Curitiba’s urban planners recognised early on that, even if growth in population cannot be controlled, the development of infrastructure in the city can guide the city’s development. Using bus transit supported by Master Plan, the city changed its radial configuration of growth to a linear model of urban expansion along mixed land use transport corridors. Curitiba approached public transportation not as a solution to advancing problems of congestion and pollution, but as a tool to develop a compact, sustainable and inclusive environment.



Curitiba is the capital city of the State of Parana in Southern Brazil. Currently, the city has a population of more than 1.8 million (2015) distributed within city limits of about 430 square kilometres and a total metropolitan area population of over 3.2 million (IBGE estimate, 2010).
Integrated transportation and land-use planning was adopted in Curitiba to address rapid population growth and to keep it from becoming an uncontrollable, sprawling metropolis (Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc., 1996). In 1964, Curitiba prepared, the “Preliminary Urban Curitiba”, a plan which evolved over the next 2 years to become the “Curitiba Master Plan”. Parallel with the evolution of the plan, in 1966, Curitiba created a planning institute, the “Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba (IPPUC)”, to develop, supervise, monitor, and continually update the Master Plan. (Karas, 1985). The Master Plan directed Curitiba’s growth along proposed bus lanes called “Structural Axes”, by creating articulated densities along the corridors.
Curitiba’s integrated transportation system plays an important role in the realisation of this Master Plan. It is a system of median bus ways along the five “structural axes” complemented by “direct” express service on parallel arterial roads, and by an extensive feeder bus network.

Transforming City with Bus Transit

The BRT in Curitiba was key in the transition of the city from radial to a linear model of urban growth. The transport system is based on the major radial corridors of the city or the “structural axes”. Each of the structural axes was developed as a “trinary system” comprising three roads. The central road of the three contains a two-way bus-way that feeds into transfer points called “terminals,” and also provides a limited number of traffic lanes. Approximately at the distance of one block from each side of the central bus-way/service road, a one-way traffic road of three or four lanes is developed for use by private vehicles. Intensive high density land use development has been permitted and encouraged on the block between the bus-way and the main traffic roads on either side. This land use form creates a concentrated, high demand for transport services along a narrow corridor that can be met efficiently by a track-based public transport service – the bus-way. The bus-way system along the five structural axes is only part of the Curitiba city-wide bus mass transit system. The system, termed the Rede Integrada de Transporte (RIT – Integrated Transport Network), provides a hierarchy of types of bus service, which include city bus-ways, inter-district express service and feeder network, all operated under an integrated tariff system. Curitiba achieved its intended compact development, independent of private vehicles, using policies and practices in majorly four arenas- land use planning, public transportation, parking policies and

institutional mechanisms.

Land use planning

The Master Plan prepared in 1964 directed urban development in Curitiba to the “structural axes”. Several land use policies emerged in the city which helped to bring out the best of the “trinary road system”. These included –
• The master plan allows only high-rise (10 to 20 story buildings) and mixed development along the BRT corridors. Also, large-scale shopping centres are only allowed in transit corridors.
• Land within two blocks of the bus-way has been zoned for mixed commercial- residential uses. Beyond these two blocks, zoned residential densities taper with distance from the bus-ways. It brings together various land uses in walkable areas within short distances from the transit station.
• The zoning prescribed by the structural axes has a combination of control and incentives. This includes various bonuses to develop as planned; incentives to transfer development rights; firm control over location of large scale development (such as large shopping centers); provision of incentives to developers to increase residential density close to the transit corridors; and development of transit terminals with a wide range of facilities.
As one move further away from the corridor, buildings become shorter, less dense and lastly it turns into predominantly residential areas. This land use planning has led to greater number of people staying within the first zone and the density gradually decreasing towards the feeder corridors.

Public Transportation

The public transportation system (RIT – Integrated Transport Network), provides a hierarchy of types of bus service, which include city bus-ways, inter-district express service and feeder network, all operated under an integrated tariff system.
• The bus-way system has been instrumental in driving land use development and has been used to stimulate development along the structural axes. The buses run frequently and reliably, and the stations are convenient, well designed, comfortable, and attractive.
• Travel demand for the bus-way system is generated as the bus-ways enter and cross the central business district (CBD) while traffic access is limited by traffic management methods (bus-only access, pedestrianisation, parking controls, etc.).
• The BRTS offers many of the features of a subway system at the low cost of a bus system. This includes vehicle movements unimpeded by traffic signals and congestion, fare collection prior to/ boarding, quick passenger loading and unloading.
• The inter-district express
• The bus feeder services integrated into the bus-way attract commuters through interchange terminals and stops.

Parking Policies

Parking policies have assisted in shaping travel demand, particularly to/from the central area in Curitiba. Some policies are-
• On-street parking is limited in location and duration
• City’s central area is partially closed to vehicular traffic
• Off-street parking is expensive
• Within structural corridors, development must provide off-street parking

Institutional mechanism

The organisations involved in implementation of the BRTS are the city government (Curitiba Mu
nicipality); research and urban planning institute (IPPUC); public transportation corporation (URBS)and private bus operation firms. The inherent structure of the organisations and institutional policies help the system function efficiently.

• An auxiliary to the city’s executive branch of government, the Curitiba Institute of Urban Planning and Research – IPPUC (Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba) was responsible to plan and test solutions. Due to the dual responsibility, new plans were generated, tested, accepted by the community, and put into practice quickly. The population began to trust the ideas of the Institute, and this trust has largely been responsible for changes in the mentality of the city’s inhabitants.
• Work based on the Master Plan in 1965 was financed by the Development Company of Parana and by the Curitiba municipal government’s Department of Urban Development. Operation of the bus system is financed completely by bus fares, without any public subsidies. The Inter American Development Bank, the private sector, and the Municipality of Curitiba financed the north-south Bi-articulated Bus Line project (approved in 1995).
• The municipal government collects detailed operational information, audits the implementation and collects income received from the whole system, and pays the operators for services rendered in real costs. Detailed regulations establish the rights and obligations of the operating companies, define the faults and penalties, and seek to eliminate waste while constantly improving the quality of service. This arrangement ensures the fair distribution of income among operators and prevents unhealthy competition among drivers over specific routes.
In addition to the land use-transport sector, Curitiba has also followed enlightened policies on housing, environment, waste recycling, social matters (particularly for the young), and other initiatives.
• Areas outside the transit corridors are zoned for residential neighbourhoods. Also, Public housing for low income families are built along the transit ways.
• Single fare system of ticketing subsidises the cost of commute for long distances (mostly used by low-income population residing in periphery of the city) over shorter trips. Besides being socially just, the system facilitated the implementation of fare integration between different companies.
• In spite of having potential to raise funds for a heavy rail or subway, Curitiba built on its previous bus systems network and developed a BRT system to guide development, and in the process developing a low cost public transportation system.


Long-term vision, strong leadership and flexibility in plan has lead to the success of TOD in Curitiba. By utilising the existing corridors for BRT and adopting measures to intensify development along these corridors, Curitiba established a public transit system at relatively low cost. Through the use of public transportation and land-use instruments, the local governments effectively directed population growth to establish compact dense settlements independent of private vehicles.

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Designing for Diversity: Tools for optimised affordable housing for Indian cities

Housing delivery to the bottom of the pyramid is a key challenge faced by India as the country is wit
nessing rapid urbanisation. According to a report by Government of India, the housing shortage was estimated to be 18 to 30 million homes in 2012. This housing crisis will get acute as India’s urban population is projected to increase from 330 million in 2011 to over half a billion by 2030. Indian cities will need to plan for 48 million houses in next 14 years to manage this urbanisation. The majority of this housing will need to be developed for the economically weaker sections of the society.

The process of rapid urbanisation, with millions migrating to the cities from villages, in search of better livelihood opportunities has often been chaotic and unplanned. Conventional urban planning mechanisms are slow to accommodate this influx of people who with their limited funds cannot afford to rent or buy in the formal housing market. Because of the lack of any other viable alternatives, the majority of them end up in informal housing with unregulated construction that is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. The self-built housing, however, provides a significant benefit over any other form of housing delivery for this section of the society. The self-built incremental housing is inherently flexible process that accommodates changing family needs and makes it easier to appropriate and adapt parts of the home as a small shop, workspaces to make supplementary income. Use of home as a productive asset is a critical imperative for the low-income families.

The rigidity of current formal mass-housing delivery mechanism points towards the need for empowering the urban local bodies with the tools for developing demand-optimised, diverse housing stock by facilitating community participation & engagement in the design process. To bridge the gap between socioeconomic data and design decisions, Urban Risk Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing digital toolkit to assist policy makers with a comprehensive, end-to-end housing delivery model. This effort, supported by TATA Center for Technology and Design at MIT focuses on providing access to safe, affordable, incremental housing in tier II and tier III cities of India. The research project aims to create a policy support tools for city authorities to support the low income residents to invest, build and adapt part of their homes as per their needs within a regulated framework. The toolkit – based on the Housing for All Plan of Action guidelines – not only aims to provide a platform for government and private consultants to collaborate on individual projects but will drastically reduce the time and effort spent in the current manual process. By developing a digital platform to analyse of household and livelihood profiles gathered during “Housing for All” surveys – valuable data that in the current process is rarely used to improve design decisions, this tool will help urban local bodies in understanding the citywide housing deficiencies, to prepare annual action plans, and to provide diverse set of housing typologies.

Urban Risk Lab at MIT

The Urban Risk Lab at MIT develops methods and technologies to embed risk reduction and preparedness into the design of cities and regions to increase the resilience of local communities. Operating at the intersection of ecology and infrastructure, rural and urban, research and action; the Urban Risk Lab is an interdisciplinary organisation of researchers and designers. With a global network of partners, the Lab is a place to innovate on techniques, processes, and systems to address the complexities of seismic, climatic, and hydrologic risks.
The lab is currently developing digital tools to assist policy makers with a comprehensive, end-to-end housing delivery model. This effort, supported by TATA Center for Technology and Design at MIT focuses on providing access to safe, affordable, incremental housing in tier II and tier III cities of India – where users can invest, build and adapt part of their homes as per their needs. |
The Team
Prof. Miho Mazereeuw – Director, Urban Risk Lab
Aditya Barve, Mayank Ojha
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Institute of Urban Affairs or the NIUA-CIDCO Smart City Lab.

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