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India project a valuable experience for SURP students

[SURP Project in Pune India]
School of Urban and Regional Planning students attend a workshop at Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University (BVDU) after arriving in Pune, India. (Supplied photo)

There’s no better learning tool than hands-on experience. Add in international experience and you have the core of the Queen’s School of Urban and Regional Planning’s annual project course in India.

In its third year, and led by Professor Ajay Agarwal, a group of nine students made their way to Pune, a burgeoning city of more than 3 million located 150 km southeast of Mumbai.

The previous two projects took place in Auroville, but during that time Dr. Agarwal met with representatives of Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University (BVDU) and signed an MOU for scholarly collaboration.  They then found a good match for the Pune project in Janwani, an NGO funded by the local Chamber of Commerce that does work in different parts of city planning.

 “An arm of this NGO does heritage promotion. So they wanted us to help them do a heritage promotion for a particular part of Pune called ‘The Camp’ where not much has been done at all,” Dr. Agarwal explains. “The Camp is very rich in terms of both cultural heritage and architecture with different ethnic groups –Zoroastrians, Parsis, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It’s an eclectic mix. For our project we delineated a part of The Camp called “Sadar Bazaar.”

A key to the annual project is that the group of students work as a mock-up consultant team, with members filling various roles, and take on real-life projects.

The first part of the fieldwork, which took place Dec. 5-17, was conducting an audit of the designated streets and designing a heritage walk using the principals of urban planning.

“So the walk should be interesting, walkable, comfortable, connecting interesting sites to look at, architecturally-rich buildings,” Dr. Agarwal says. “It should also give an experience of everyday-lived heritage – more than 100-year-old cafes where local residents hang out, there are a couple of blocks that are all tailors, there are a couple of blocks that are all jewelry stores. Those are the sorts of things that you don’t see in a modern-day city environment. Then there are these ethnic enclaves within The Camp. A heritage walker should experience the different flavours of these ethnicities.”

The second part was creating a heritage promotion plan, that included steps to brand the area as a heritage neighbourhood, how to preserve and highlight the heritage characters and distinguishing The Camp from the rest of Pune.

The work started months before they arrived in India with students conducting exhaustive background research on Pune including the history and architecture and looked into the best practices for designing heritage walks and branding heritage.

It also proved to be an invaluable learning experience outside the classroom, under challenging work conditions. Dr. Agarwal says the team had to deal with sporadic power supply and internet service and set up their office in a guesthouse.

“But that’s the learning experience,” he says.

This year, SURP students teamed up with six BVDU architecture students for fieldwork, which turned out to be an extremely enriching learning experience in itself.

Dr. Agarwal says that he feels fortunate that Queen’s, along with funding from Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, has given him the opportunity to continue the project. It is also a big commitment for students as they have to pay their own travel and living expenses.

Three years in Dr. Agarwal says the program has not only been beneficial for the participants but for SURP and Queen’s as well.

“It’s become a part of SURP culture now. Because we all stay together when we are in India I get to interact a lot with students and several of them mentioned that they joined SURP and not another planning program because of this international project opportunity,” he says. “Nowhere else in Canada does something like this take place. There are other international projects but they are more like studies. You go in, study a neighbourhood and you come back. You don’t actually go and do a project as a consultant and deliver it to a client.”

The project's final presentation will be held Jan. 21 from noon to 1 pm in Room 554 of Robert Sutherland Hall.