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Sustainable regions - Cooperative planning













Sitting in the calm green landscapes of Auroville, it is not a pleasant contemplation to think about what's going on outside – roads are full of some of the most dangerous traffic in the world, the streets and countryside are filling up with plastic bags and all sorts of garbage, the cities' stink assails the nose even as one approaches the outlying areas, and the spectre of overcrowding is no longer a threat but a reality. Meanwhile the developers blithely go on building on agricultural land, and planning authorities sanction large industrial infrastructure, while people and quality of life seem to be way below the bottom line, invisible and unconsidered in the development equation.


Sometimes it seems hopeless – how to influence these trends which seem to be coming from anonymous “theys” in far away offices.


But February 25th – March 2nd, 2009, marked a big step in a new pioneering adventure for Auroville. Organised by the Dreamcatchers and L'Avenir d'Auroville, three experts, attracted by the ecological and innovative experiments already going on in Auroville, came and led a 3 day demonstration of a participatory planning process which was a convincing demonstration of how it works and an inspiring experience of how skilled facilitation can help people tap into the collective intelligence and will. Planners and officials came from Pondicherry and Goa and Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi , as well as from Auroville.



The workshop began with presentations by the visiting experts, showing how eco-cities are now not only do-able but actually being built in Germany, China and Arabia, how it is planned and possible to have large numbers of people living in comfort with zero-emissions. And that when the people (common people, business people, developers, government officials, every stakeholder group) of a city or area are engaged in giving their knowledge and wealth of information about their problems and dreams for area development, and these ideas are shared together, and then carefully processed by a team of planners and communicators, a truly healthy, harmonious and beautiful plan for large scale human habitation can be created, and then implemented over the years.



Then we experienced the process. Andreas von Zadow (Germany) and Charles Campion (UK) had already met with officials and Aurovilians to get acquainted with the ground realities, now they got the assembled participants to list out all the problems they saw in making a Regional Plan – not the least being the difficulty in getting the two states of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu to agree to plan together over the legal boundaries. Participants wrote on post-it notes a host of problems: of no trust, of poverty, of pollution and corruption, of water scarcity and environmental degradation, emigration from the rural areas and crowding in the cities. These were read out in a non judgemental way, pasted up and grouped to create an all inclusive inventory, which needs to be considered and addressed when developing a sustainable regional plan. Then there was a call for “Dreams”. This exercise also filled a big board with post-it notes – and the experts said this was an unusually dream-rich group. A vision of a balanced rural-urban life, of sharing of resources, of clean and healthy cities with no slums, of a prospering rural area growing organic food and retaining its youngsters emerged. Then there was a call for Solutions – how to solve the problems and move toward the dream. Again, a wealth of ideas came forward.



These ideas were elaborated during the afternoon , when the participants sat at five “Hands On Planning Tables” with maps and markers, and applied their knowledge to actually drawing out “The Big Picture” (defining what size a sustainable region” would actually have to be), the Rural-Urban (getting to a new idea about how cities and the countryside can relate), the Environmental and Infrastructure underpinning the development plan, the “Psychography” -- the sites felt to be meaningful by the people in the area, with their stories and wisdom. As each group presented its findings, the immensity of the challenges became clearer and clearer, but at the same time the capacity to tackle it with a good team became also apparent, along with a will to go forward. Participants felt that around the table discussion has been much achieved in very little time.



The next session was about just that: the Way Forward, again at four different tables, groups of increasingly excited people, sharing their ideas, writing them down, recognising how much they all know together and at the same time how much information is yet to find out. And beginning to commit to various parts of the process: carrying the idea to the Puducherry and Tamil Nadu governors, reaching out to the local villagers to help them map their villages, taking up small projects now which can already begin to improve the quality of life. The Pondicherry Citizens Action Network (PondyCAN) were active participants in the process, and urged Aurovilians to become an “AuroWILL” to work together with them to move ahead. The experience of citizens turning around a terribly unsound Regional Plan presented by participants from Goa was both heartening and offered many practical ideas, and the image of Chennai exploding in all directions without much planning at all made our situation seem easy by comparison.



At each stage of the process the facilitators encouraged, and then sorted and presented back to the group – in posters, maps and power points -- what consensus was being achieved – which are the points on which there is no argument. In this way, a sense of moving forward was strongly felt. Over the weekend they put together the inputs from the workshop, and presented on Monday a power-point of the entire process with photos and quotes and bullet points -- and the first draft of a plan based on the points of agreement and general direction. There were some clear next steps: take the presentation to the Governor (which was already done the next day!), identify participants of a Steering Group (officials, VIPs and citizens), define the boundary of the Region, create a plan of approach to get the governments on board by presenting the workshop results on the ministry level of Tamil Nadu.

There were some clear next steps:

? take the presentation to the Governor (which was already done the next day!),

? identify participants of a Steering Group (officials, VIPs and citizens),

? define the boundary of the Region,

? create a plan of approach to get the governments on board by presenting the workshop results

on the ministry level of Tamil Nadu.( The Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Mr.

Ramasamy, has offered to arrange such a meeting right after the elections have happened in

May 2009.)

? Get going with do-able projects now: Village Mapping, Go on with creating a model village at Nadakuppam, a model town (Auroville), and a model city (Puducherry), Setting up a Regional Planning Institute in Auroville, etc.



There were some major qualities of what came out of this exercise which the visitors noted were unusual, and clearly “Auro-influenced”. The main thing being the overwhelming priority given to spiritual and ecological factors, so that it had to be called a “regional nurturing plan” rather than a regional development plan. Insisting on adding in, for example, the idea of “psychography”, the legends and stories which give meaning and sense of Place, of Home. Turning the usual planning priorities on their head: starting out with the Spiritual and moving on to the Mental, Vital and Physical in that order, instead of the conventional physical planning first. A deep sense of commitment and enthusiasm. Clearly, at the end of this exceptional experience, Auroville stands poised to play a catalysing role in the creation of a new nurturing sustainable regional plan which will lead towards a model region for India and the world.



The workshop was encouraged by Chennai's former Chief Planner, who came on the last day and blessed the endeavour in saying, this process to create a sustainable plan will hopefully help this part of the country becoming a “Wake-Up-Region” for all India .


Article submitted by Bhavana

































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