New Research: "Resilient Growth - Fantasy Plans and Unplanned Developments in India's Flood-Prone Coastal Cities"

Urban development encroaching on the East Kolkata Wetlands. Credit: HSBC

Urban development encroaching on the East Kolkata Wetlands. Credit: HSBC

In the face of rising seas and rapid growth, coastal cities in India have taken up the mantle of “resilience” in glossy climate action plans, high-profile international partnerships, and voluminous disaster management documents. And yet, while resilience has firmly entered the Indian city planning lexicon, environmentally destructive urban development continues largely unabated. What explains this seeming disconnect between the transformational goals of resilience planning and the everyday practices of urban development?

In a new article just published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Liza Weinstein, Saumitra Sinha and I examine the contradictions between global and national discourses of urban resilience planning and continuing patterns of destructive urban development. We look specifically at Kolkata and Mumbai, two of India’s largest and most flood-affected cities. We argue that resilience planning, promoted by the central government and international consultants, and presented in locally produced “fantasy plans,” fails to address the risks of flooding due to its tendency to sidestep questions of politics, power and the distributional conflicts that shape urban development. We conclude that analyses of governance and informality, and especially the politics of planned and unplanned development, should more directly inform studies of urban coastal flooding.

The paper is part of a symposium in IJURR on the future of urban political theory in light of hydrological crises in Asia. The symposium includes several terrific papers on the urban politics of coastal flooding:

The symposium follows a workshop convened by Gavin Shatkin and generously supported by Northeastern University in 2016, and a subsequent panel at AAG in 2017.

I hope you will give the symposium a look. As always, if you don’t have access to these articles, just contact me and I can share soft copies.