Human Settlements have grown and developed in the 20th century as a direct consequence of the industrial enterprise of the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to the unregulated growth of urban agglomerations. In this process towns and cities have changed in nature to become showcases for technological advance, generally at the cost of civilised human intercourse. An important consequence of this has been the unchecked exploitation of natural resources resulting in a global environmental crisis which threatens the survival of the human race.
In this situation the redeeming factor may be that technological advances are spread in an uneven manner across the planet. In India over two-thirds of its population still lives in rural areas where the dubious benefits of modern technology are still a mirage, and the configuration of a model of appropriate development is something of an open question.
It has been a part of the philosophical tradition originating from this sub-continent, that a variety of intellectual influences have been absorbed in an evolutionary and syncretic manner. At the beginning of this century, one such example of cross-fertilisation of ideas regarding human development occurred through the work of Professor Sir Patrick Geddes, a noted Scots educationist, sociologist and town planner. Patrick Geddes worked in India between 1914 and 1924, studying several towns and cities across the country, and taught at the University of Bombay where he was appointed the first professor of Civics and Sociology in 1919.
During his time in India, Patrick Geddes was invited to study and recommend ways of improving various towns, starting with Madras Presidency and including the towns of Mysore State, Indore, Patiala, and others. He produced over 50 reports describing his recommendations for civic improvement. His report on Indore is, in the words of his biographer Philip Boardman, “the most comprehensive and most far reaching of his Indian town planning reports.”
In the second volume of his Indore Report, Geddes put forth his idea of a University of Central India based in Indore. The remarkable feature of this idea is the proposition that the city itself be seen as a university, and the process of city development become a framework for learning in ways similar to the original intention and purpose of the university. This would raises synergistic relationship between civic improvement and the universe of learning.
It is the intention of this research project to evolve a world of ideas representing the development of villages, towns and cities from the seed planted by Patrick Geddes in 1918 in Indore. We know that the proposed university of Central India did not take root in Indore. However, the city of Indore did develop to some extent in the manner planned by Geddes. It may be significant that Indore is the site of slum resettlement and rehabilitation projects executed in the last 10 to 15 years which have been twice awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and which possibly represent a benchmark for the growth of knowledge about contemporary patterns of human settlements.
The research programme is expected to be conducted from 3 principal Locations – Glasgow, Mumbai, and Delhi – with Indore being the site for a major case study. To begin with, it is proposed to establish three fellowships, possibly leading to a post-graduate qualification, for study under the guidance of Paul Simpson at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow, Indira Munshi at the Department of Sociology University of Mumbai, and MN Ashish Ganju at GREHA, a New Delhi based N.G.O.
The first phase of the research would be to design a theoretical model linking the ideas of Geddes on education and town-planning with the requirements of contemporary society, using the case of Indore as a focal point. This phase should take between 2 to 3 years. It is envisaged that during the first phase some audio-visual documentation should also be produced to serve as teaching material. The second phase programme would attempt the application of the theoretical model in a suitable location. At this stage it is too early to define how much time is required for the second phase.