Today India’s metropolitan cities are paying the price of unplanned developments over the years. With no water to drink and no fresh air to breath, the city infrastructure has collapsed completely due to the poor urban planning. Had the authorities focused more on sustainable development, the scenario would have been different completely. It is important for developing economies like India to understand and embrace sustainability at every level. Not only it should practice suitable development, but it should also educate the students about it. Though the government has now shifted its focus towards sustainability now, there are organizations like Future Institute that are working on sustainable development for long. Coming up with Himalayan Institute of Alternatives Ladakh (HAIL), their latest endeavor in this direction, Future Institute has moved a step ahead. HAIL would be one of its kind institutes that aspire to find practical solutions to the prevailing issues in Ladakh and surrounding Himalayan region by way of experiential learning. The future Institute is leading the conceptualization, master planning and designing of HAIL. They intend to construct the institute with natural materials and means while deriving electricity through solar panels and water through artificial glaciers. Ms Swati Sharma, Head – Programs and Research at Future Institute, while explaining the concept behind HAIL, says it is now mandatory for India to embrace sustainability. Being an Architect and a profound Urban Planner herself with over 8 years of professional experience, Swati has a strong intent to explore the planning field beyond its traditional and tangible limits to suit and fit the contemporary needs for today and in a sustainable manner for tomorrow. It was a pleasure talking to her. Here are the excerpts of the conversation.
Looking at the current ecological crisis that the world is going through, do you think there is a need for more such institutions that promote sustainable learning?
-Situating education in the frenzy associated with an ecological crisis is to increase awareness around the belief that a more sustainable lifestyle is beneficial for the individual, the community and the environment. Hence, there is a critical need to find solutions to such problems and to establish for the world a new model of higher education that is more practically engaging and directly relevant to life and its challenges in the real world.
As Ladakh is now a Union Territory, do you think this administrative change will help you spread the sustainable education to the rest of the country and the world?
– It is a critical issue as we know most universities across the country are known for producing graduates with some theoretical knowledge but little practical experience or employability. Therefore, onlooking the current administrative changes, it is our aim to establish a successful model of alternative learning that would engage mountain youth in studies related to their own unique environment and peculiar needs, following the success for which we could launch similar models for sustainable education in the rest of the country.
How important it is to strike a balance between sustainability and development? Being a developing economy, do you think India is ready to embrace sustainability?
– Somehow, along the way, society has made the assumption that economic development has to come at the expense of environmental sustainability, and vice versa. But keeping in mind the current pace at which our nation is developing, we need to find a way to bridge the gap and think beyond liveability and smart, embracing sustainability in practice.
What is the core concept behind HIAL? And why Ladakh?
– In the process of establishing a unique and hands-on approach, Ladakh was proposed to create an exemplary model that could be successfully implemented in other Himalayan regions. The concept for HIAL revolves around achieving the dream of a progressive, sustainable, and resilient Ladakh. The alternative university shall be an exemplar project of its own kind in setting a precedent of a global center of experiential learning and a sustainable living environment.
Tell us more about your other operations.
– Future Institute undertook the task of imagining, and reimagining the fabric of Varanasi and arrive at a blueprint that is specific, ambitious and yet realistic to the true nature of the city. We have also undertaken an initiative for urban ponds in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram to establish and demonstrate the principles and practices of preserving and managing urban water bodies sustainably. Future Institute has evolved from a research focussed platform to a multi-disciplinary action based collaborative and is open to adapt, redefine and embrace the concepts appropriate to Indian urbanism. Since its inception in 2011, the Institute has embarked upon many research and design projects from Maharashtra to Ladakh to Varanasi, establishing relationships with some key organizations, institutions, professionals and individuals in the process.
Future Institute is actually working on initiatives around urban water management not only public services provides but also key decision-making authorities within & beyond Delhi NCR. Urban Ponds Rejuvenation is one such attempt to establish and demonstrate the principles and practices of preserving and managing urban water bodies sustainably. Furthermore, urban place-making in public spaces and Delhi urban villages in comprehensive settlements planning for sustainable affordable housing are some of the focus areas that FI is engaged currently.