The making of Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar

Hello readers,

Welcome to the 19th edition of Question of Cities.

“Orissa is in the fortunate position of being able to build a new town specifically designed for the purposes of a capital. It must be demanded and expected that this town will be so planned as to be equally convenient for the functioning of the government and the everyday life of its inhabitants.”

German-Jewish architect Otto Koenigsberger wrote this in his introduction to the master plan of Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s new capital and one of the three new cities built in the newly-independent India. Self-sufficient neigbourhood units connected by a linear arterial road was the core of his plan. Bhubaneswar was envisioned as a modern city, in stark contrast to the old temple town to its southeast. It was less political in nature than Chandigarh, which Question of Cities explored in the previous edition, but unlike Le Corbusier’s plan for Chandigarh, Koenigsberger’s plan was influenced by government officials and engineers. The city has expanded far beyond the plan. Bhubaneswar finds itself caught between modernity and the traditional with a rather unsustainable model of development. 

In the lead essay, PK Das, architect-activist and founder of Question of Cities, who hails from Bhubaneswar, delves into the making of the city and interprets Koenigsberger’s plan. The people-friendly layout was welcome but, gradually, rampant constructions led by free-market development paradigm has marred the city. Koenigsberger’s concept of neighbourhood-based planning is relevant today even in large cities, Das writes, as it enables people’s participation in planning their cities and may allow for more ecologically sustainable and equitable cities. Read it here.

In the frenzy of planning and constructing the new Bhubaneswar, the heritage area of the nearby Old Town was sidelined. Shobha Surin, also a resident of Bhubaneswar, explores this area with hundreds of shrines and finds that residents live largely in the traditional way. Residents of Old Town, most of them sevayats who serve in temples and consider themselves the proud guardians of a rich heritage, have expanded their horizons to seek work in the city, merging the old and the new despite the master plan not integrating the old temple town with the city. Read the story here.

Bhubaneswar’s expansion over the years not only changed its social fabric but also opened doors for educational and research institutes, and international sports events. After liberalisation in 1991, Bhubaneswar witnessed the emergence of small informal settlements bringing in slum dwellers. Urban amenities and aspirations acted as pull factors for people and the city expanded in a rather unorganised manner. However, Bhubaneswar has offered something for everyone, argues Dr Pranay Swain, Professor of Sociology at National Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhubaneswar. Read it here.

Bhubaneswar’s recent beautification drive displaced many hawkers from their traditional spaces with an assurance of providing them vending kiosks. However, the city is noted for its policies for hawkers which has integrated them into the city’s development plan by allotting designated spaces to licensed hawkers in vending zones in every ward, making the city relatively inclusive for informal workers. The is a significant step towards recognising street vendors and their place in a city, reports Shobha Surin. Read it here.

“That the Orissa Administration Committee had recommended Cuttack for the capital city even before the new province of Orissa was officially inaugurated on April 1, 1936, did not prevent a heated debate from developing over the question of the capital site. Soon after the inauguration of the new province, the question of where to locate the capital turned up in the Orissa Legislative Assembly and was not to be settled until a decade later,” writes scholar and author Ravi Kalia, in his book Bhubaneswar: From a Temple Town to a Capital City. This, other research and articles on the making of Bhubaneswar have been curated in the compendium. Read it here.

The News Digest section has a compilation of interesting and important news from across the world assembled together by the Question of Cities team.

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Thank you,
January 27, 2023