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Some developing countries like India and China have adopted the ‘bottom-up approach’ in urban planning, solving the urban problems faced by their cities. The reason of the emergence of this phenomenon was obvious that the central governments of the developing states need to pay more attention to boost the nation’s economy while cities of the states are still facing a lot of urban problems like poor living environment, poor public infrastructure, lack of housing, over-crowding, pollutions or even widespread poverty.
‘Bottom-up approach of urban planning’ generally means that local governments or committees formed by local citizens are responsible for urban planning of their own districts, solving the urban problems and planning their future development, and thus the districts link together to make the whole nation or region become more developed. In this paper, advantages and disadvantages of the approach will be covered and examples of cities in developing countries like China and India will be cited before having the final conclusion.
It cannot be denied that the ‘bottom-up approach’ is more ‘man-centered’ than the classic ‘Top-down approach’ which means the districts need to follow the guidelines and instructions of the central government to develop. Also, the voices of the citizens can be listened during the policy making and planning of the future development of the districts. Decision making is faster and desperate and serious problems of districts could be alleviated or solved in a shorter time.
AR.UTTAM K.ROY (2009) had a research on West Bengal in India and wrote a report called ‘Integration of Top down and Bottom up approach in Urban and Regional Planning: West Bengal Experience of Draft Development Plans (DDP) and beyond’. According to the report, West Bengal enacted the West Bengal Municipal Act in 1993 to decentralize spatial and socio-economic planning of different districts. Municipalities and municipal corporations are required to prepare the Draft Development Plans of five years. AR.UTTAM K.ROY (2009) found that DDP could really involve people in ‘the problem identification, prioritization and validation of the plan’ and desperate and serious urban problems faced by the people were alleviated.
Besides, ‘Bottom-up approach’ could reduce the burden of the central government and more central resources could be used for macro-economic development. As mentioned by P.K. Mohanty(1999),the Director of Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment of New Delhi in India, in a book chapter, ‘Decentralization Reforms and Innovations in Municipal Management in India’,’ Decentralization, if pursued properly, is likely to yield various benefits, including:…..freeing of central resources for macroeconomic concerns such as stabilization, structural adjustment ,and poverty alleviation.’
On the district level, local resources could be exploited and allocated better. Thus, the efficiency of service delivery could be improved. Also, as citizens have a greater chance to involve in urban planning and decision of policies, grass-root democracy could be promoted. As their opinions could be listened and accepted and social problems could be solved, social stability can also be raised. Stable and peaceful society benefits the development of local economy.
However, such planning approach also has some disadvantages. Firstly, some long-term planning cannot be drawn up sometimes. When local people can get involved in urban policy making, they may only focus on the issues related to the immediate needs of citizens. According to the book ‘Planning from the bottom up’ written by professor Anirban Pal(2008)of Delft University of Technology and the repor by AR.UTTAM K.ROY(2009)cities which used the ‘bottom-up approach’, the local planning organizations or committees like the districts in West Bengal in India can seldom come up with the development projects for future residential growth or future spatial land use plans. And small scale projects like opening up of green space, creation of health centers, beautification of parks remain the majority of the work of the local committees and organizations. Therefore, some professionals doubt that whether the ‘bottom-up approach’ is a good urban planning method for cities’ sustainable development or not. In fact, the lack of long-term plan of the development of the city and spatial land use plans would make the land use pattern of the cities become chaotic, raising other kinds of social problems and hindering the long-term development of the cities.
Secondly, the ‘bottom-up approach’ can lead to competitions between different districts within cities which can result in social instability. Professor Anirban Pal (2008) used Beijing, the capital of China, as an example in his book’ Planning from the bottom up’. Different districts in Beijing are now trying to carry out different policies to raise their own attractiveness for foreign investments. The district level governments compete in carrying out widespread redevelopment and forced evictions. This has led to social unrest in Beijing. Therefore, it can be seen that ‘bottom-up’ approach may lead to social instability if district level governments are too ambitious.
Thirdly, the process of planning would not be truly ‘bottom-up’ if the local district power is concentrated in the hands of one political organization and there are few channels for the local citizens to get involved in the planning process. Such problem can be found in Kolkata according to V.Ramaswamy. The ruling party in Kolkata has great power and high social status and thus there is no effective opposition to it. And the ruling party control the urban policy making and planning and local citizens do not have so much chance to get involved in the planning process .In this case, the process of planning is not really ‘bottom-up’ to a large extent. This also shows that the planning organizations should be independent of the ruling parties. If not, the ‘bottom-up approach’ can never be really effective.
Moreover, there is a problem of lack of expertise in LDCs. It is not uncommon that citizens of LDCs do not hold a high education level. Although local citizens have the rights in planning the development and the land uses of the cities, most of them do not have the professional knowledge in the area of urban planning and urban policy. Just like in India the education level is low, more than 140,000,000 people do not have primary educational level and only about 400,000 people have received tertiary education level. Therefore , it is very difficult to guarantee the plans drawn up by the local organizations without expertise are long-term plans which can benefit the growth and development of the cities. The local groups may only concern about the immediate needs of the local people, neglecting environmental conservation and long-term socio-economic development.
From the above, it can be seen that the ‘bottom-up approach’ also has certain limitations and such approach may even harms the long-term development of the cities in LDCs. However, it is very obvious that the urban problems faced by citizens in LDCs cannot be solved easily by the traditional Top-down approach as the central government may focus on the development of whole country rather than district issues and it is very hard for the central government to recognize every district issues. Thus, it seems the bottom-up approach is the most effective method to solve the immediate issues in the districts and satisfy the needs of the local people. Furthermore, if the local immediate problems like poverty, poor living environment could not be solved, the development of whole country would be hindered.
To put it simply, the ‘bottom-up approach’ is a good urban planning method for LDCs when tackling the urban problems in the districts but not so beneficial for further development. In order to achieve sustainable development, cities of LDCs should adopt an approach which consists the elements of ‘Top-down approach’ and ‘bottom-up approach’ .This means the government can set up general guidelines and instructions for the districts to follow while granting them enough freedom and resources in tackling local affairs and drawing up plans of future development. Also, Kurian Joseph, R. Nagendran (2007) and Kumar. SA jay (2007) recommended in their papers, Top-Down And Bottom-Up Approach For Sustainability Of Waste Management In Developing Countries’ and ‘Participatory Spatial Planning A Model from Kollam District’, espectively that groups of multi skill professional should engage in the process of planning and tackling urban problems. In fact, tackling issues like environmental problems especially needs the engagement of the professionals.
What’s more, in order to facilitate the urban planning process, the central government should enact laws to restrict the participation of politicians like members of ruling parties and government officials in local urban planning, educate the public and raise their awareness on the urban problems around them and start introduce the concept of sustainable development to the communities.
For the general development of whole country, central government should monitor the development of different districts and avoid vicious competition between the districts which may lead to social unrest. When vicious competition emerges, central government should intervene in order to make the political scene and society stable. However, it should be noted that the state government should not intervene so much if there is no vicious competition between cities. According to the paper which is called ‘Vision 2021: Urban Governance in India by Dinesh Mehta(1999),the state government should intervene ‘as little as possible’ if the cities develop in a right way.
All in all, the bottom-up approach is a good urban planning method which can really address the problems faced by the local citizens of LDCs. But the classic ‘Top-down approach’ still cannot be forgotten as it is good for cities’ further development. Therefore, an approach which integrates both approaches would be a suitable way for cities of LCDs to achieve sustainable development.
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