Bottom-up Urbanization: A Comparative Study of Incremental Agency in the Urban Peripheries of smaller Indian cities

Authors: Lalitha Kamath*, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mukesh Kumar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, Malay Kotal, Independent Researcher
Topics: Urban Geography, Asia, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: peripheral urbanization, India, informality, social difference, provincial capital
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Neighbourhoods in many cities are built incrementally, through the agency and everyday practices of local actors. This paper puts 2 specific cases of second tier Indian cities – Patna and Vasai-Virar – into conversation with each other in order to extend the ways in which we understand and talk about bottom-up urbanization in both its multiplicity and complexity. 'Thinking cities through elsewhere' (Robinson 2016) is given a new twist by focusing on provincial (rather than metropolitan) cities within the Global South, thus rejecting the received binary that is North/South.

We draw from Caldeira's peripheral urbanization (2016) thesis but extend it in new ways through a focus on the intertwined personal and city histories of incremental and entrepreneurial growth at the margins by different kinds of provincial capital, and the mode of politics that drive these. In Patna's Rajivnagar, it is elite provincial capital of powerful dominant castes that invests in informal place-making. In Vasai-Virar's Santosh Bhavan, provincial capital of 'migrant' working classes has built an informal "city of the poor" often with accumulated savings and networks from working in nearby Mumbai. Both are marked by distinctive politics – for basic services, large infrastructure and real estate development – that drive different strategies of negotiation within lower-to-higher levels of governance, politics, finance and economy. While both result in shared, bottom-up urbanisation outcomes, this framework of comparative urbanism helps view them as arising through distinctive, localised processes that differently mobilize social difference and channel new forms of politics.

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