EDITION 40 Our cities, our festivals

Dear readers, 

Wishing you a happy festive season with this edition focused on festivals. As the Diwali fervour caps major festivals across the country and the year-ender Christmas is round the corner, we have seen the shopping frenzy, the decorations, eating binges, gifting and meeting people, open spaces turning into celebration hubs. We have also breathed the polluted air, been deafened by the noise, and wondered where the waste will go. What, indeed, is the relationship between cities and festivals? What is the festival economy and can it move towards sustainability? We took some time away from the festivities to dig into such questions for this edition. 

The lead is QoC Editorial in which we say that festivals help to shape – and reshape – public places in a city as people assert their claims. Festivals are also used as urban planning and policy tools to regenerate entire cities or parts of cities. This aspect, which researchers have termed “the Swiss Army Knife of cultural policy” in city-making, needs more thought in our cities as also sustainable and inclusive ways of celebrating festivals. Read it here.

Shivani Dave looks beyond the glitter and bonhomie of festivals in India at the pollution and waste. Every year, in the north of India especially, the winter air which is laden with emissions and is hazardous to health, is worsened by chemicals in firecrackers during Diwali. Loud public celebrations add volume to noise levels. Waste left behind after every festival becomes a challenge for local civic bodies to process. Banning celebrations is hardly pragmatic, what’s needed is stricter regulation of festivals and ways to celebrate in environmentally sustainable ways, she writes. Read it here.

The festival economy, though booming, is hardly an inclusive one, writes Jashvitha Dhagey. This festive season has seen an estimated 21 percent rise in car and SUV sales across the country, Goods and Services Tax collection went up by nearly 10 percent over this time last year even as small sellers made modest profits, UPI-powered transactions jumped 40 percent, and the demand for gig jobs as well as luxury brands soared. This, in the face of challenges of sustainable consumption and, importantly, of at least 200 million Indians who sank further into poverty, she writes. Read it here. 

Team QoC plugs into its network to showcase a few regional festivals of India and how they are celebrated differently in cities. As city living becomes more demanding and public spaces shrink, festival rituals are being adapted. Festival celebrations, altered to suit modern urban living but retaining some rituals that people carry forward, bring the kindred together in cities that otherwise honour anonymity and individualisation. The photo essay highlights some such festivals. Read it here.

In this second part of her research essay as a QoC-CANSA fellow, architect Arshiya Syed delves into Hyderabad’s urban planning trajectory to show, with data and academic reports, how the building of the new sub-city Neopolis, the 533-acre ‘greenfield’ on the outskirts of the city, violates established environmental regulations and government’s own orders. Hyderabad and its outer areas, like where Neopolis is being built, urgently require climate adaptation and mitigation resources for urban resilience given how flood-prone they are, yet they are built as if climate impact is not a worry. Read it here.

In our regular feature, News Digest, we bring you a curation of must-read links to the UN’s forthcoming Conference of Parties or COP28 in Dubai, besides others on cities and Climate Change. 

Hope you enjoy reading the deeply-reported essays. If you have come across Question of Cities for the first time, please consider subscribing and sharing this edition with friends. Write to us with your feedback at [email protected].

Thank you,
November 17, 2023