Tag Archives: India

April 2017: MURP Faculty Updates

MURP faculty are busy serving the planning profession, the community and our students through their leadership and participation in publications, boards, research and media stories. 

Notable activities in April 2017 include:

Jeremy Németh, associate professor of urban and regional planning, received a grant through CU Denver’s Office of Research Services to conduct a research project entitled, Green Gentrification in Chicago: Development, displacement and Community Activism. The project will analyze the gentrification impacts of the more than 200 acres of parks built between 1990 and 2017 in Chicago, and will include interviews with advocacy organizations working along two of the city’s new parks. This research project is spurred by the expensive urban greening projects many U.S. cities have undertaken in recent years along former waterways and rail corridors, such as New York City’s High Line. While these projects often transform dilapidated infrastructure into desirable public spaces, they can contribute to quickly rising property values and the eventual displacement of low-income people living nearby. As such, Németh’s research will assess the extent to which these “green gentrification” projects contribute to displacement, and whether community resistance efforts resulting in new housing and land use policies may temper these effects.

Németh was also interviewed and cited in the publication, CityPulse, where Lansing, Michigan is looking to Colorado as a case study related to medical marijuana regulation and zoning restrictions. In 2014, Németh conducted a study of zoning restrictions for marijuana facilities in Denver and found that the restrictions pushed these businesses into lower-income, minority communities and neighborhoods. In the interview, Németh said that these zoning restrictions ultimately deepen the disparity between wealthier areas of the city and lower-income neighborhoods.

Andrew Rumbach, assistant professor of urban and regional planning, received two grants for research on international planning. The first, a $25,000 grant from CU Denver’s Office of Research Services, will allow Dr. Rumbach and two graduate students to travel to northeastern India to study flooding and landslide risk in fast-growing villages. The second, a teaching enhancement grant from the Center for Faculty Development, will help Dr. Rumbach and colleagues from the University of Michigan to evaluate a case-based approach to international planning pedagogy.

Austin Troy, professor and urban and regional planning and department chair, was elected to the governing board of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planners as the regional representative from the Central region of the U.S.

MURP Professor Lectures on International Planning in Asia

As part of its brown bag lunch lecture series, CU Denver’s American Planning Association Student Chapter (APAS) hosted College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) Assistant Professor Andrew Rumbach on October 11 to present a lecture on Marshes, Malls and Land Mafias: The Political Ecology of Flood Risk in Kolkata, India.

The presentation—which dovetails with Rumbach’s areas of research interest, including disasters and climate change, environmental risk, urban resilience, international planning, and small town and rural development—hosted about twenty students and faculty interested in learning more about his extensive work in south and southeast Asia.

During his lecture, Rumbach discussed how studying the root causes of flood risk in Asia drives his research, and examined three main sub-topics: how urbanization, flooding, and climate change affect Asian megacities; the specific case study of Kolkata in this context; and additional, in-depth information about the east Kolkata wetlands, which suffer from poor planning due to linkages between organized crime, local politics and real estate development.

Rumbach shared that by 2050, 6.4 billion people will live in cites, with 90% of this growth taking place in south Asia, southeast Asia, and Africa, which will contribute to the most radical shift in human settlement patterns in history. Due to this increasing global density, urbanization is becoming one of the main drivers of disaster likelihood in Asia, with the risk of environmental hazards—such as floods and storms—becoming more prevalent when a population’s level of vulnerability and exposure increases. Further, as urban governance through corrupt regimes plays a key role in the creation and distribution of resources critical to disaster risk reduction, much of the population often finds itself with unequal access to resources.

Rumbach further provided specific examples and photographs of these scenarios in Kolkata, India, and specifically the east Kolkata wetlands, which sits at the edge of the megacity and provides an estimated 50% of local demand for freshwater fish, but is subject to illegal land development that destroys this critical industry. Due to state power that is entrenched with the activity of local criminal groups, Rumbach’s presentation signified that a significant challenge to meaningful planning in the region remains.

“The brownbag was a great opportunity to share my research on Indian urbanization and environmental risk with students and colleagues. I look forward to future APAS organized events, which will greatly benefit the intellectual and research culture in the department and college,” Rumbach said.

For students interested in learning more about disaster and international development planning, Rumbach also noted the intersection between his areas of research and classes he teaches, including Natural and Built Environments, Disaster and Climate Change Planning, and Planning in the Developing World.

Brown bag lunch lectures are a part of APAS’ scheduled programming for the 2016-2017 school year. In addition to this lecture series, APAS offers opportunities for urban and regional planning students to participate in job shadowing, interdisciplinary walking tours, the annual Colorado American Planning Association conference, volunteer opportunities with non-profit organizations and more.  

Click here to learn more about APAS at CU Denver, including to visit their event calendar.

January 20, 2016 – Information Session on MURP Study Abroad Course in India

Information Session on MURP Study Abroad Course in India
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
12:00 – 1:00 pm
CAP Building, 1250 14th Street Denver, CO 80202
Room 470

This summer, the Department of Planning and Design will offer a 3-credit study abroad course in India entitled “Environmental Challenges in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas” (URPL 6675). Students will travel to India during Maymester to study the unique environmental challenges facing small cities in the Darjeeling District, a fast-growing region in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

There will be an information session on the class on Wednesday, January 20th from 12-1 p.m. in Room 470. At the session, professor Andrew Rumbach will provide a course overview, describe the application process, discuss the trip to India and class activities while in-country, provide the costs of enrollment and answer any questions you might have.

If you are unable to attend but are interested in the class, please send me an email and we can arrange a time to talk. The deadline for applying for the class is February 3rd. You can view the application here.

This is a unique opportunity to study environmental planning and urban development in one of the world’s fastest growing and most dynamic countries. We hope to see you at the information session!

Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Hazard Mitigation the Darjeeling Himalayas

By Alison Holm

Residents in the mountain regions of West Bengal, India know that the ground is shifting beneath them. They point to the long cracks running through some of the homes in their villages, or talk about the once-fertile cropland that has been destroyed by landslides and is no longer a viable source of income. Landslides pose a serious threat in the Darjeeling District, which lies in a multi-hazard area prone to heavy rains and seismic activity. While there are a number of natural causes of landslides, anthropogenic drivers of landslides are increasingly significant with the rapid population growth and unrestricted, unregulated urbanization that characterizes the area. Today, while residents recognize landslide hazards, and have historically mitigated for natural landslide risk, there is a significant disconnect between local knowledge and disaster management strategies in the region.

Local residents may not recognize all of the drivers of landslides or distinguish between natural and anthropogenic causes, there is a shared recognition of the risk associated with landslides. Collectively, indigenous knowledge about the land and the local institutions that govern everyday life are important factors in developing community-based disaster management capacities. The integration of local knowledge and institutions is especially critical to landslide risk reduction among hill populations in the Darjeeling District. In order to be effective, disaster risk management needs to be highly localized and context-specific, but the local needs of mountain regions are often not reflected in state and national policies and disaster planning. Particularly in rural areas, local residents become the defacto first responders in disaster scenarios. Many villages in the Darjeeling District are accessible only by walkable pathways and, even if these pathways were to be mapped, realistically it would require someone with intimate knowledge of the area to navigate to affected areas in a disaster.

Landslides frequently render roads in the area impassible, highlighting the need to equip local residents to both mitigate for and respond to disaster settings rather than relying solely on outside assistance. Before landslides even occur, local residents are in the best position to heed warning signs as well. Just as residents in several villages near Kalimpong pointed to cracks in homes throughout the communities, locals are often the first to recognize if springs suddenly appear or disappear, or if there are changes in tree growth (i.e. bends developing in tree trunks), both of which are signs of slope instability that could lead to landslides.

Indigenous knowledge, which tends to be more qualitative in nature, has often been seen as less valid than more scientific or “expert” knowledge, and as a result disaster risk reduction efforts tend to focus on technical or engineering solutions. However, there is growing recognition of the value of indigenous knowledge and increasing calls to integrate indigenous and scientific knowledge in disaster management. Incorporating local knowledge and institutions into disaster risk reduction strategies won’t be a simple task in the context of the Darjeeling District – traditional forms of indigenous knowledge and institutions have been eroded as a result of colonial rule, centralization, later decentralization, and the so-far ineffective implementation of local governance at the village level. However, indigenous knowledge and institutions remain critical to effective disaster mitigation efforts in the region.

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India


Emergency Management in the Himalayan Mountain Regions of North East India

By Benjamin Yellin

In 2011, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit villages on the northwestern border of Sikkim, India, triggering massive landslides, demolishing villages, and killing 100 people. The villagers, acting as first responders, utilized their personal tools as well as knowledge of the area during rescue efforts. Despite the massive military presence in the area, it took the central government two days to mobilize rescue efforts in the landslide-affected areas. And once the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) arrived on the scene, they were not trained or prepared for the mountain conditions and were ineffective in the rescue effort.

The State of Sikkim, the northern most state in eastern India, is surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains and consists primarily of remote, inaccessible villages. However, the emergency management issues highlighted by the 2011 earthquake and its aftermath are not limited to the villages; towns and cities in the region are equally ill-prepared. Steep, winding, narrow roads make the towns themselves fairly inaccessible. Infrastructure is not well planned for emergency services: roads are too narrow for one truck to pass and emergency service providers lack even basic resources. In one particularly striking example, the city of Darjeeling in West Bengal took out all of the city’s fire hydrants due to a dwindling water supply, rendering the fire department almost inoperable.

State and District governments of India do have Emergency Management Plans that are based on the Central Government’s Disaster Management Plan. The West Bengal Disaster Management Plan states that it is the responsibility of the district governing body to handle and delegate authority during an emergency situation. However, there is a stark disconnect between what is written into the plans and how implementation plays out on the ground. The Darjeeling District’s disaster management plan, for example, gives little attention to landslides aside from acknowledging that they are a seasonal threat triggered by monsoon rains.

These planning documents also fail to identify responsible parties for carrying out the duties of state-level Emergency Managers to the local first responders. The result is an emergency management system that is hardly up to the task for minor emergencies, let alone major events such as landslides. While there are many contributing factors to this issue, political unrest in the area has resulted in the ineffective implementation of emergency management programs.

While the military has largely been responsible for emergency response in major disaster events, there have been some efforts by local landslide advocates to implement community-based disaster response systems. These efforts have included mass texting for early warnings of major weather events, first aid training, and the collection and distribution of basic rescue equipment to villages. These programs have not been successful due to a variety of factors including insufficient funding and disinterest by the community at large.

The failings of the disaster management systems isolate towns and communities, leaving the people of these areas to fend for themselves in times of need. The topography of the area further cuts off some communities and means that outside help may not be a viable option for any major event. Without an effective local management plan, the devastation in West Bengal and Sikkim is likely to be overwhelming when a major disaster strikes.

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India


Roads and Development as Drivers of Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District

By Mathieu Menard

At the Ramlal Dahal High School in Kalimpong, West Bengal, some students walk three hours each way to get to school and back. In the Darjeeling District, roads are inextricably linked with development and modernization. But roads also are one of the largest drivers of landslide risk in the Himalayan foothills. Without roads, villagers must carry goods in and out of their villages, sometimes covering long distances with a large amount of weight on their backs. Even in a village with a dirt road, which could be accessed by trucks in good conditions, was rendered inaccessible to trucks during heavy rains as the road became too muddy and slippery.

Due to these conditions, which are present throughout the district, many villagers expressed a desire for paved (sealed, in local terminology) roads. The creation of a sealed road necessarily adds weight to the hillside, exacerbating landslide risk. Sealed roads also create impermeable surfaces, leading to increased runoff volume and velocity, especially if proper drainage systems are not in place. Road runoff is often channeled into already overloaded and untrained Jhoras, or streamlets, causing massive erosion and ground subsidence. These factors greatly increase the probability of a mass land movement and have become some of the most prominent causes of landslide risk in and around Kalimpong. Many roads are cut into the hillside using bulldozers and heavy equipment. These toe cuts into the mountain undercut and destabilize the slope above and change the hydrology of the hillside. Proper engineering work is required to add some form of hillside stabilization and protect subsurface water systems, but is often not done.

As roads represent both economic and human development in the sense of higher incomes, increased agricultural productivity (access to markets) and increased access to education and healthcare, there is an inextricable link between development and environmental destruction in the hills. While easier said than done, a balance clearly needs to be established between developmental and environmental concerns. This is an overly simplistic approach to landslide risk mitigation that does not take into account conditions on the ground in the Darjeeling District. That said, there are steps that the Indian road building authorities could take to mitigate landslide risk caused by roads. These including proper surveying, undertaking environmental studies prior to road construction, using current best practices to stabilize and support undercut hillsides, and perhaps most importantly, the creation of a proper and functioning drainage system. Unfortunately, all these steps require large amounts of time, funding, planning, and coordination, which are currently beyond the capacity of local and regional governments in the Darjeeling District.

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India



Building Patterns in the Darjeeling District of India

By Carlton Johnson

There is a culture of ad-hoc construction in the hill towns of the Darjeeling District in West Bengal, India. In theory, the development approval system currently in place is much like those in any American city: building plans are drawn by a licensed architect, then reviewed by local planning and engineering departments for technical compliance and conformity to the neighborhood context. Despite the existence of a development approval system, execution of design standards is often ignored and designs are rarely based on regional environmental circumstances.

Advertisements for cement and other mass-produced building materials are ubiquitous within the mountain regions of Northeastern India. The target audience for these advertisements appears to be everyone, as if building materials are an impulse purchase. Tag lines such as “The Engineer’s Choice,” “Solid Setting,” and “Giant Compressive Strength” suggest that stability is inherent within the product allowing anyone to build their own structure with these products.

One result of this marketing approach is a “fascination with concrete,” to use the words of a city official in Gangtok, Sikkim. There has been a dramatic shift away from the use of bamboo and other traditional building materials in favor of concrete in recent decades. Even new buildings intended for culture or tourism – sectors that might arguably place more of an emphasis on traditional materials and construction practices – are using concrete in place of bamboo. This shift also means that many fewer people possess the skills required to build the more traditional structures. Several community members we interviewed expressed fear at the prospect of losing traditional building skills altogether. In some cases this apprehension stems from concerns about preserving their culture, but community members also pointed to the unstable mountain topography and the role that the increased use of concrete could be playing in causing landslides. Concrete adds more weight to already unstable land and the rapid pace of development exacerbates this issue.

When done correctly, concrete structures can be stable. Even in earthquake- and landslide-prone areas like the Darjeeling District, it is possible for concrete construction to be relatively safe. However, even if proper design standards existed within the local building plans, the majority of construction taking place simply ignores the approved plans. Signs of substandard construction work are prevalent: concrete crumbing on the surface is a key giveaway that the concrete was too wet when poured; concrete being spread like putty indicates that it is too uniform in its aggregate mixture. Concrete needs a specific mixture of its component parts for it to reach its potential strength. The lack of building codes, standards, and enforcement therefore increase the risk profile of the region by producing buildings that are less resilient to hazards.

One of the contributing factors is that inexperienced laborers, supervised by masons who are not necessarily trained in a mountain context, are responsible for much of the new construction. Though they generally lack technical expertise, masons act as both the site foremen and engineers, making construction decisions in the field regarding the soil, drainage, and structural specifications. Poor construction quality persists in part because there are no inspection systems for final approval. Lack of oversight produces a cycle in which mistakes are not addressed and the imperfect construction process is replicated in subsequent structures.

Rapid growth in the region has led to immense population pressures and very little land fit for building within the steep hills. Hiring experts to design, build and inspect new structures, and utilizing more specialized building materials, will require more education and an updated system of procurement. While these changes increase the time and cost of construction projects, their implementation is essential to bringing about more appropriate development patterns and is essential to minimizing risk in the Darjeeling District.

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India



Waste Management in the Darjeeling District

By Liz Cooper Fuselier

Trash. Trash. And more trash. Candy and potato chip wrappers are everywhere you look, found in places that don’t seem possible, including in streams, rivers, and drainage ditches. This trash story plays out on the Kurseong roadsides, in the Darjeeling tea plantations, and in the rice paddies of Kalimpong town. During our hikes and visits to rural villages, we saw trash clogging drainage Jhoras and piling up in cultivated fields. Everywhere we went the story was the same: household trash collection is difficult, recycling nearly impossible, and the river becomes the town dump.

Waste disposal in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India is not only an environmental challenge, but also a huge battle in landslide risk mitigation. Immense piles of trash dumped on steep hillsides can create soil pressures that trigger landslides. In Kalimpong, our home base for two weeks, more than 3.5 to 4 metric tons of trash is generated each day. Basic household waste is collected by the municipality and brought to the local dump. The original dump (utilized for decades) was located directly adjacent to Bhalukhop, a village neighborhood. Without any management plan, dumping practices led to numerous landslides and resulted in pollution (both solid and liquid) leaching into the streams, springs and drainage Jhoras.

The health impacts on communities from unconstrained landfill management (an “open dump” approach) such as what is seen in our study area, are numerous and chilling. Seen as a default strategy for municipal solid waste management, open dumps involve indiscriminate disposal of waste and inadequate procedures to control activities in and around the dumping area. Links between open dumping and increases in risk of low birth weight, birth defects and certain types of cancer have been discussed in various studies and epidemiologic literature.

Of course, not all of the town and village waste ends up at the dump. When possible, organic waste is used as fodder for livestock or composted directly in the fields. Non-compostable trash is often burned in small fires along the roadway or in the villages. However, much of the solid waste that doesn’t end up in the dump can be found instead in the mountainside drainage Jhoras. During heavy rains, these trash-clogged Jhoras can overflow, causing widespread flooding and damage in the villages they are meant to protect. Bridges (both concrete and wooden) are washed away, fields are polluted, and soil is loosened, heightening the landslide risk.

Waste collection and proper management is complicated in the Darjeeling District. Despite challenges, though, some progress has been made. Plastic bags have been banned, for example, and recycling is a burgeoning private enterprise. With a developing grassroots interest in solving the trash question, now could be the time for positive change.

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India

Deforestation and Changing Landscapes in the Darjeeling Himalayas

By Evan Rosenlieb

The winding roads and cutbacks built on steep slopes en route to the Darjeeling foothills reminded me in some ways of canyon highways in Colorado that I have driven countless times. The environment that I found outside of my window, on the other hand, could hardly have been less similar. With my eyes used to the open pine forests of home, the vegetation-packed landscape of Northeastern India seemed close to a jungle. The hills were lined with all shapes and sizes of flora; conifers that would seem at home in the alpine Rockies, palm-like trees that seemed to belong to a more tropical setting, a thick groundcover of ferns reminiscent of Maine or the Pacific Northwest.

During our first day in Kalimpong, Save The Hills briefed our group on the human causes of landslides in the region. One of the hot topics was that of deforestation. According to Save the Hills, wide-scale deforestation in the area has coincided with rapid urban growth in the last three decades or so. In fact, the magnitude of deforestation was considered to be so high that when asked about whether wildfires were an issue in the region, the President of Save The Hills half-jokingly responded, “How could there be a wildfire if there are no trees to burn down anymore!?”

Deforestation is known to be a large driver of landslides around the world for many reasons: tree roots help hold the soil together and regulate the soil moisture, the canopy cover lessens the direct force of raindrops hitting the soil, thus reducing erosion. But deforestation conjures images in my mind of completely denuded hillsides, such as seen in rainforests in the East and West Indies, and I couldn’t help but feel a mismatch between the deforestation problem as described by Save the Hills and the luscious vegetation I saw on my drive the previous day and outside my hotel window.

Travelling across the district in the following two weeks revealed that the issue is not so black and white. In visiting large urban centers and small rural villages, we did find areas of hillsides that had been completely cleared of trees for agriculture, but we also found that the term deforestation was often used to refer to changes in the density and form of the forest, not just a complete disappearance. So much of the variety of the forest that wowed me turned out to be due to invasive species: the conifers were brought in by the British a century ago to provide quick lumber; many palm-like trees were bananas planted by the local villagers for food.

Despite not fitting my image of deforestation, these changes in the landscape nonetheless can drive landslide risk. Non-native species may have different root structures, which are not as well suited to the mountainous landscape of the Darjeeling Himalayas. This can lead to increased erosion and make the non-native species possible liabilities during landslides as they add weight and debris to the hillside without the same level of stabilization. In turn, planning of the area is a challenge with managing a complex problem that is the result of changing social and environmental patterns. Simply “reducing the local wood used for construction” won’t in and of itself solve the problem of deforestation. As outsiders in our short visit to the area, it is clear that this is an issue that deserves more attention as both Darjeeling municipalities and villages search for a solution to their common problem.

(The banner image above depicts forest changes in Darjeeling. Notice areas of dense forest, agriculture, thinned forest, and peri-urban development.)

Back to Introduction: Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India

Studying Landslide Risk in the Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India

By Andrew Rumbach

The Darjeeling District is a mountainous region in the northernmost part of the Indian state of West Bengal. Sitting in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, the Darjeeling District is a popular tourist destination, known for its natural beauty, mild climate, hiking, and world-famous tea.  Continue reading