By FIONA MARSHALL, STEPS Centre member
At a recent workshop in Delhi, academics and civil society groups discussed the STEPS Centre peri-urban sustainability project, as part of a joint workshop with LSEs climate change research centre, in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Growth supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research and with funding from the ESRC. The project team sought critical review of the project so far and further networking and engagement with interested parties.
Following presentations from members of the project team, an excellent panel of discussants composed of Amita Bhaviskar (Institute of Economic Growth), KT Ravindran (Delhi School of Planning), Usha Ramanathan (Environmental lawyer IELRC), Ravi Agrawal (Toxics Link) and Marie Helene Zerah (Centre de Science Humaines). provided a thought provoking basis for wider discussion.
One key area of debate concerned the rationale for focussing specifically on the peri-urban. As urban poverty, social injustice and environmental degradation are widespread, do we fail to address core and pressing challenges of urban ecosystems management, by focussing on what is often seen as the urban fringe? This question goes to the heart of the issues about framings of the peri-urban.
Peri-urban is variously cited in terms of a place a process or a concept. These different framings of the peri-urban situation by those involved in city planning and management can have far reaching implications for the poor.
When regarded as a place, the peri urban becomes a site of expulsion from the city to make way for visions of a modernity, but can also become seen as a threatening urban fringe, where communities become associated with health and environmental hazards which require some form of control. When regarded as a process it can be seen as a transition zone, where for example the retirement of rural activities are inevitable and therefore require little attention.
In the context of our current work we see the peri-urban as a condition which encompasses aspects of rural and urban activities and institutions, where there is influence of rapid social, environmental and technological change and increasing marginalisation. As K T Ravindran pointed out – Delhi has many centres and many peripheries embedded in the morphology of the city. Thus, as Amitabh Kundu, one of our partners in this project, described in the context of the ongoing process of exclusionary urbanisation in India, periphery in this sense is a sociological rather than and geographical term.
We would propose that greater insight into these peripheries which are subject to ambiguity, informality and illegality in the context of formal planning processes can illucidate alternatives to dominant planning and management trajectories. It is well recognised that environmental degradation, natural resource conflicts, health concerns and social injustice are particularly acute in the peri-urban situation, but the implications of not addressing them are far reaching.
Failure to address these apparently peripheral issues, not only results in a plethora of missed opportunities to benefit from rural-urban synergies, for example in waste management; affordable and nutritious fresh produce, but also fails to address a key flash point in undermining the the ability to improve environmental integrity and social equity and poverty in growing cities.