By Danny Sexton
Our last full day as participants in the CAORC-AIIS Exploring Urban Sustainability through India’s Cities seminar concluded with a walking tour of the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bengaluru. This excursion was a fitting culmination to our travels and experiences throughout India because it brought together the emphasis on people, spaces, and the past that were recurrent subjects in many of the lectures we attended and various sites we visited. Furthermore, it served as a visual and tangible reminder of the importance of this seminar: to preserve for both present and future generations India’s natural, cultural, and historical identities in face of rapid urbanization.
She had spoken about the various uses of architecture and the relationships between people and spaces. Nagendra divided architecture into two categories: the architecture of space (the hub of activity and power) and the architecture of territory (the landscape of agriculture, industries, and the people who live in them). Previously, these two were the same; yet now, there exists no similarities between them. If people no longer see themselves as part of nature, it alters the way they treat and care for it.
At the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) in Mysuru, there is a sign that asks, “Can you build people who are a part of nature and not nature as something that should be conquered?” What we are witnessing is the loss of the relationship that we have to spaces (natural and other). This relationship had been more prevalent and evident in the past. Professor Nagendra mentioned that India has a rich history of cherishing and tending the land. In these historical accounts are perhaps the solutions that can be utilized to address the sustainability issues the country currently faces.
These ideas were the ones swimming in my head as we were guided through Lalbagh by Vijay Thiruvady, an engineer-turned-naturalist, and the author of Heritage Trees: In and Around Bangalore. His knowledge of the park’s history and its flora and fauna were immense. Yet what most resonated with me was the strong connection that he felt to the park and its inhabitants. Here was the relationship that Professor Nagendra has spoken about so eloquently and passionately the previous day.
In the days, weeks, and months following my time in India, I find myself often returning to those last days in Bengaluru and how it has transformed the ways in which I view people and spaces. I am constantly reminded of the opening pages of Nagendra’s Nature in the City in which she affirms, “a city is nothing without its people.”
I now look more closely at how people exist in and negotiate spaces. Furthermore, while I have a greater understanding of the complexities of urban sustainability, I also feel strongly that by looking to the past we can find methods to improve the present and secure the future for those who will follow us.
Learn more about CAORC Faculty Development Seminars.
About the Author
He was among the 16 faculty participants in the seminar “Exploring Urban Sustainability through India’s Cities,” an intensive capacity-building and curriculum development seminar held in India from January 2–18, 2019.