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“Making cities inclusive and sustainable”- an alumna story of Rupsa Chakraborti

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Rupsa Chakraborti is an urban planner and human geographer, recently graduated from Erasmus University with a Post Graduation diploma in sustainable urban development. Currently she works remotely on urban consultancy projects in India as an independent planning consultant.

Rupsa: “I had done a masters’ in urban and regional planning in India and during my studies I realised the importance of climate and environment when you’re planning cities. As we all know, climate change is for real. It is going to happen. We need to prepare our cities for the future.”

That’s why ‘sustainable urban development’ drew her attention. Dealing with urban development, but not at the cost of the environment. “I came to Holland to learn about the different sustainable techniques. I have always known the Netherlands as one of the best in the field of urban planning and water management. Since the course was focused on professionals, I learned not just about the theory, but also about real projects.”

Focus on the mangrove belt
The biggest challenge for Indian coastal cities is the sea level rise. Rupsa: “In India I live near a coastal belt in eastern India. Every year the city gets flooded during the rainy season. The infrastructure cannot cope with that extra amount of water.” The solution lies in so-called ‘nature-based-approaches’, Rupsa explains. “The Netherlands is a great case study for how to deal with rising sea levels. It’s incredible that half the country is actually under sea level!”

While the Netherlands has sand dunes, eastern India has a ‘mangrove belt’, a mangrove forest that protects the land from the water. However, these mangrove forests are under threat, Rupsa explains. “These coastal areas prevent the water from coming into the cities. We really need to conserve the Sunderbans (picture), the mangrove forest belt to prevent flooding due to sea level rise. Dutch water management techniques might fit in. And of course, we need to work together with conservation experts.”

Rupsa is passionate  about her profession: “I am interested in people and how they interact within a certain urban space. We have so many cities in our country, but no two cities are the same. Also, there are huge challenges: how do you keep a city both  inclusive and sustainable?” 

Cities by all and for all
Currently Rupsa is working on inclusive cities and intersectionality. “These are challenging concepts”, she admits. “Urban planners believe that cities should be by all and for all; in that sense we are all for inclusive cities. A city is formed by its citizens and therefore these people must be included in decision making process. There must be a participatory approach to the planning of cities. A top-down approach might not have an effective impact on the city and the citizens.

She continues: “Suppose a government wants to implement a public project in the neighborhood without consulting the residents, what happens then is that people start developing an apathy towards the authority. With a bottom-up approach to planning, where the citizens are asked about their needs and aspirations, the city planning will be effective. Nobody likes to stay in a city where the citizens are not cared for.”

The concept ‘intersectionality’ considers the multiple social identities of a person at the same time: race, religion, caste, gender, ableism. Rupsa: “All these factors play a role in understanding a person’s individual experiences of oppression and discrimination. The problems that a woman of colour regularly faces may be totally different from the problems a man of colour faces, or a white woman. To be able to include everybody in the making of a city, we must first understand the multiple identities of people and the problems they go through because of such identities.”

Voice for the voiceless
“This is a challenge for urban planners: often policymakers fail to understand the existence of intersectionality. For example: we never included feministic planning approaches in urban planning until recently.” Similarly including the needs of other groups will take some time, Rupsa expects. “In the Netherlands, it is much more advanced, but the approaches are different. The basic social identities that you observe in the Netherlands are not the same as the identities in India. For example: we need to include the concerns of people with different ethnic backgrounds in the Netherlands whereas in India, ethnicity differs less, but we still have the ‘hidden’ caste system. Often people from lower castes or religious minorities are discriminated from accessing public spaces”

Currently working as an independent advisor, Rupsa’s ambition for the future is to work for a humanitarian organisation that deals with people who don’t have a voice. “I would like to be a voice for the voiceless; achieve inclusive cities.”

“My biggest takeaway from my studies in Rotterdam is the concept of sustainable urban development. I only read about this in theory, but coming to the Netherlands I got to understand that those techniques can be applied in real life. For example, the Netherlands is a low lying country, with threats of flooding. Cities here create low lying public spaces that can overflow during excess rain, but during the dry season can be used as a skating ground or a sitting area. This multiple use of the same infrastructure interests me a lot.”

Rupsa’s advice for future students: “They should absolutely come to the Netherlands because there is a lot to learn, especially about water management and urban development. It is fascinating to see how the Netherlands deal with water, the efficient use of public spaces. In the future years, I hope to relocate and work to learn from the Netherlands. It’s a fantastic country: an equal society with work-life balance.”

Rupsa in short

Rupsa was born in India, where  she did a Masters' degree at the School of Planning and Architecture in Bhopal, before doing a Post Graduate Degree in Sustainable Urban Development at IHS (Erasmus University, Rotterdam).

After graduating  in India, Rupsa worked as a Project Officer at the Department of Architecture and Regional Planning, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. She also worked on transportation planning and sustainable mobility.

Find Rups on Linkedin  and on  the Holland Alumni Network.

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