Urban Aspirations: A Field View from the Margins of the City


Author: Yogita Naruka, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India
Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Published: April 5, 2017

Citation: Naruka, Y. (2017). Urban Aspirations: A Field View from the Margins of the City. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijah.4.1.03


Cities in India are transforming rapidly. While there is considerable variation in the level of transformation among the various cities, metropoles like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai are witnessing the most significant changes as they navigate their way into the exacting networks of the global economy. These transformations are not apolitical in nature, but rather respond to societal imperatives that are compliant with the requirements of the middle class, the class that occupies dominant city spaces. Consequently, urban transformations embody the particular perspectives of the dominant class. The post-economic liberalisation period has seen significant shifts in the way Indian cities are planned and structured. There has been, for instance, a gradual increase in exclusionary city spaces and gated enclaves. Development plans justify these transformations by claiming that they comply broadly and comprehensively with people’s aspirations and therefore reflect a homogenous and uncontested imagery of the city. But are these visions really homogenous? Do alternate city visions exist? Do urban transformations actually silence alternate visions and result in suppressed assumptions and a discordant urban culture? If so, what is the nature of this divisiveness? Is it restricted to physical segregation or is it expressed at subtler levels in the urban social fabric? This article is the synthesis of an ethnographic study, undertaken in the rapidly transforming metropolis of Delhi, India, that addresses these questions; it also aims to challenge development plans that project a homogeneous idea of the city that is questionable at best. Moreover, it explores alternate visions, that is to say, visions emanating from below, from the urban poor’s desires regarding the spaces around them.


urban renewal, urban culture, India