September 23, 2023

Understanding the ordinary

Radicals are of the opinion that in the age of neo-liberalism and with the prevalence of ruthlessmarkets andmanipulated democracy,

Understanding the ordinary

comprehensive understanding of the life of a ‘commoner’ and the means and methods of people’s upward social mobility is mandatory for urban planning. For reasons well understood, city planners and the planning process inadvertently go tangentially when it comes to comprehensively comprehending the daily lives of a majority of would-be consumers of the outputs of the planning process.

The tyranny of urgency, the conflicting paradigms of city planning, the preconceived notions of planners, and the role of planners as private consultants are a few parameters that may influence the desire and the level of interest in this particular area. It is quite necessary to understand how low-income groups earn their livelihood and procure essential services in the urban circuit. Life, in totality, cannot be understood by excluding the majority. A segment of society cannot be left alone just because they are not well-off. And if they are left at where they are, they would further go down. But this downslide happens until a certain period, because, later, their pain grows toomuch and starts reflecting as ‘societal ills’.

 Radicals are of the opinion that in the age of neo-liberalism and with the prevalence of ruthlessmarkets andmanipulated democracy, our planning institutions have lost sight of these people and their realities. However, it is also true that ordinary people are reinventing governance and provisioning on their termsThe commons is rising as a serious and practical alternative to the ineffective state. From the respective of urban planning, the major premise for the push to understand the lives of low-income groups comes fromthe inequality associated with low income: these people have meagre resources and are unable to use the available serviceswith ease, as compared to people from middle- and high-income

groups – the interclass differences not discounted. So, how can city planning make the plans all inclusive and effectively operational? Upward socialmobility is what dictates and directs the lives of urban dwellers. One of the prime factors that stump upward socialmobility is the absence of land tenure security, which, unfortunately, is the case for amajority of people. Conservation with noted architect and town planners informs that social mobility is much more evident in settlementswith a diverse ethnicmix than settlements inhabited by homogenous communities, though the latter negotiates with the government better than the former. The biggest ‘tragedy of the commons’ is that they are understood – if at all –with preconceived notions. The theoretical and class bias of academics and decision-makers tainted their understanding about those seen as the ‘commoners’. It’s a simple process that to understand a city, it is absolutely necessary to understand how its people live their lives.

(Mansoor Raza and Anum Mufti)

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