Students present ideas for improving water urbanism in Varanasi

By Yoshita Singh

New York, May 6 (PTI) Students from Americas Columbia University and Indias IIT Kharagpur have presented unique ideas for improving urban life and reinventing water urbanism in Varanasi, according to an Indian official here.

Seven teams, comprising post-professional urban design students at Columbia Universitys Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the graduate students and scholars from IIT Kharagpur recently made final presentations on the project Rethinking Water Urbanism in Varanasi as part of their curriculum at the Indian Consulate here.

“The future of Varanasi lies somewhere in these presentations. Varanasi is the window into India, the fountainhead of our civilization. These designs are planted on the ground, small changes that can make big differences,” Indias Consul General in New York Sandeep Chakravorty told PTI.

He said the challenge would be how to implement these ideas on the ground but stressed that the designs and proposals made by the students to improve water urbanism in Varanasi are “incredible.”

“What struck me is that it is not just people in India who are thinking and working for Varanasi, people in New York are also doing that,” he said, expressing hope that some of the proposals eventually get implemented on the ground.

Kate Orff, a Columbia faculty member, said through these projects, “we are trying to change the pathway of urbanization and put forward new and very grounded visions for alternative futures and new ways of thinking about urban space.”

She said that among the presentations was a project looking at the concept of reforesting Varanasi through a method that is overlaid with ritual practice and a project of reinventing the nalas as green filtration spaces.

The urban design students had travelled to Varanasi in March and, working with stakeholders, students from IIT and Banaras Hindu University, assessed first-hand the situation on the ground that helped them make their proposals that focus on alternative ways of thinking about the urban spaces in the Indian city.

Geeta Mehta, Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Columbias architecture school, said 2018 was the third year for Columbia students to be working in India on the theme of water urbanism. They had previously traveled to Madurai and Kolkata.

“We choose locations that have serious water issues as well as opportunities,” she said.

Julia Watson, a professor, said while Varanasi is a holy city, “there are a complexity of problems. How do we imagine a new future for the city that will deal with other issues such a climate change.”

Watson stressed that students from foreign universities have experience of issues that come with rapid urbanization and working with Indian students “we bring the possibility of leapfrogging all of these crises and give Indian cities a chance to deal with the issues ahead of the game.”

She said through the proposals, students are trying to think of synergies that are replicable at small and large scales not only in Varanasi but also in other cities along the Ganges and in India.

PTI