12.09.2011 - UNESCO Office in New Delhi

UNESCO Lecture on Historic Districts for All – India: A Social and Human Approach for Sustainable Revitalisation

Nearly 100 university students from various academic backgrounds had the opportunity to learn and share their ideas about ways of revitalising historic districts in India during a UNESCO lecture that was held on 24 August 2011 at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi.

The lecture was part of the dissemination efforts of the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT Toolkit on Historic Districts for All – India: a Social and Human Approach for Sustainable Revitalisation, comprising a manual for city professionals and a brochure for local authorities. Both publications aim to contribute to urban public policies which respect, protect and promote inclusiveness, social cohesion and local democracy. 

The audience of the lecture consisted of first year master’s students in urban planning coming from a wide range of academic backgrounds such as planning, architecture, geography, engineering, and economy, reflecting UNESCO’s will to develop multi-disciplinary knowledge on the issue of sustainable revitalisation of districts. 

Marina Faetanini, Programme Specialist, Social and Human Sciences Sector, UNESCO New Delhi Office, and Dr. Shipra Narang Suri, international urban consultant, each took turns exposing the trends, challenges, priorities, and success factors of developing a rights-based approach to urbanisation in India. Dr. Shipra Narang Suri pointed out that a revitalisation process based on a “continued emphasis on architecture and spatial morphology” is detrimental to a people-centered approach. 

The lessons stemming from the lecture were best summarized in a list of “Do’s”, such as linking historic districts with the wider urban and regional development, improving living and working conditions for the inhabitants, putting local communities at the heart of revitalisation projects, and Don’ts”, such as evicting the local population, isolating the historic districts from the rest of the city, or developing tourism as the sole economic activity for revitalisation. 

Students were then able to put their learning into practice as they took part in a visioning exercise based on a fictitious case study about a growing Indian metropolis containing a historic core. The case study was riddled with all kinds of issues that can actually be found in districts throughout India, such as a mix of native and migrant population, dilapidated infrastructures, overcrowded spaces, a large homeless population , challenges of ‘gentrification’ and ‘ghettoisation’, and a major tourist presence. 

Students formed four groups, each mandated with a specific task, corresponding to the four specific steps of the revitalization method: Diagnosis; vision; action planning; and monitoring & evaluation. 

  • Group 1 made a Diagnosis of the historic district based on an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as well as potential stakeholders.

  • Group 2 proposed a Vision for revitalisation of the historic district and listed strategic areas of intervention.

  • Group 3 was responsible for the Action Planning, which includes identifying priorities of intervention, major objectives and outputs, stakeholders, and possible risks.

  • Finally, Group 4 suggested quantitative and qualitative indicators forMonitoring and Evaluation.

Groups had 30 minutes to prepare their proposals. Each group then had to explain and justify their proposals in a 10 minute presentation. 

Interestingly enough, students came up with new and creative ideas. A student representing his group even argued for a “complete change of paradigm” in the revitalisation process by setting new priorities, such as encouraging participation of migrants and maintaining traditions. Involving the private sector instead of relying on governments and international organizations was also suggested by students as a way of funding revitalisation projects. Someone proposed the use of Gross National Happiness as an indicator of successful revitalisation of a historic area, rather than simply relying on run-of-the-mill socio-economic indicators. 

“An interesting contradiction emerged when one group of students proposed greater engagement with migrants, while another spoke of curbing migration, in order to preserve and protect historic districts”, notes Dr. Shipra Narang Suri. These are important dilemmas and debates that planners are faced with in real life, and first-year students coming up with these issues provided ample proof of their interest and creative thinking on a new subject.” 

As proven by these examples, students learned much from this exercise as they clearly showed signs of out-of-the-box thinking, a positive outcome which is expected from multi-disciplinary group work. 

Upon completion of the exercise, each student received a copy of the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT Toolkit on Historic Districts for All – India: a Social and Human Approach for Sustainable Revitalisation, as well as copies of the MOST Policy Paper on Urban Policies and the Right to the City: Rights, responsibilities and citizenship and of the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT publication on Best Practices on Social Sustainability in Historic Districts. 

This event marked the first steps in a consolidation of the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT approach to socially sustainable planning in Indian historical urban areas through a change in the curriculum of schools of planning and architecture. 

The next steps would aim at producing content and syllabus for a new course specifically designed for schools of planning and architecture in India. 

Related links: 


For more information, please contact: 

Ms. Marina Faetanini 
Programme Specialist, Social and Human Sciences (SHS) 
UNESCO New Delhi 

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