Getting to know the new Dean of FP

Professor Vidyadhar Phatak, Dean - Faculty of Planning
by: Abhilaasha N.
21 October 2016

With 49 years of experience in real time planning, the new dean of planning, Vidyadar Phatak, is a personification of professionalism in every sense. Phatak likes to identify himself as a planner above anything else, due to his experiences as a result of association with CIDCO and MMRDA for a dominant period of his career. Working along with pioneers in the realm of planning like Shirish Patel, Charles Correa and Alain Bertaud, he has been a part of two visionary regional plans of Mumbai and World aaaaaaaaaaaaaa

 Bank funded projects, to mention a few. A team-man in the true sense, he has had his share in other path breaking projects that have defined what urban planning is today. These include his role in the Task Force appointed by the Planning Commission (1983) and the National Commission on Urbanization (1988), envisioning Bandra Kurla Complex as Mumbai’s new financial district, working papers under World Bank for assessing markets and policies in housing sector in Ahmedabad and Mumbai.  His career boasts of interdisciplinary planning experiences, with projects of varying scales, across different sectors which include land use planning, affordable housing, environment impact assessments and urban infrastructure. 

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After managing to get an hour off his busy schedule at CEPT, the humble environment of his office set a straightforward, conversational tone to the interview of a seasoned planner with a simple demeanour and a curious student. The path to an eventful career in planning must be from profound inspirations and experiences from the inception. Phatak recalls that his initial exposure to the industry, alongside radical planners, was a dominant influence. He further adds that his stint in the Johns Hopkins University was an eye opener. “There were two great people. One of them was John Dyckman. He could explain the Lagrangian multiplier and provide a critique of FL Wright designed Falling Waters with the same ease. 

He had a wide ranging perspective. In contrast there was David Harvey. I could never understand his discourses on Marxism in class. But once I read his book ‘city and the social justice’ I could comprehend it. This interaction with diverse people hooked me on to planning.” He has worked with pioneers, whom he holds in his memory as people who have looked at planning and cities in a different fashion, from the rest.

A staunch believer in learning by doing, and having been exposed to wide variety of planning, he highlights that the actual challenges do not start from day one of any career. He claims that once the individual decides to diversify and explore fortes beyond comfort zones, it will automatically help one to tackle challenges. “There were circumstances such that an individual had to wear many hats. Educational systems created many divisions, now we need to go back and see whether a planner can look at a city from all the various perspectives.”

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“There were circumstances such that an individual had to wear many hats. Educational systems created many divisions, now we need to go back and see whether a planner can look at a city from all the various perspectives.”

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Phatak further reaffirms that the specialization in post-graduation must not limit one’s career to a narrow focus. He cites Canadian planner Hans Bloomenfeld who called a planner as ‘a universal dilettante’.

He sees the new course under the planning umbrella – Bachelors in Urban Design (BUD), as an idea to see design as something wider than the physical perspective. It would help students to look at a city through various lenses, and would be a starting point for the integration process. He is positively looking forward to the next semester, with a fresh outlook to the structure of studios in Faculty of Planning. A team player even in his subconscious mind, he instinctively adds, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

“Things must evolve through an incremental process to sink in the system. They must persist beyond my tenure at CEPT. This idea of looking at a city in its entirety will not happen overnight. We will gradually work towards that.”

Phatak further adds that learning in the ever evolving professional field has no fixed horizons. On a lighter note he says, “There are stages. First you are in the stage of being the young, bright fellow, working with all your passion. Seniors are quietly watching to see what you can do. They may not agree with you but they will allow you to grow. Then there is a stage where some of your seniors start feeling insecure, as you have now become a competition. That is when your problem period starts, because you are seen as a threat. This is a difficult period”, he chuckles, clearly revisiting an instance from his young past. “Eventually you graduate through all this and become the boss”, he laughs! 

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“Things must evolve through an incremental process to sink in the system. They must persist beyond my tenure at CEPT. This idea of looking at a city in its entirety will not happen overnight. We will gradually work towards that.”

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Coming back to his point of learning as an endless process, he says that it’s essential to be open to working at rudimentary levels, learning new things, pushing boundaries. “Once you have decided the way you want to go, then your learning starts. These four semesters (of your Master’s program) must be seen as your foundation, not a lifetime treasury. You have to build on your foundation.”

He also adds that planners have a wide range of career options, and the path to be taken would depend upon relevance to personal liking, attitude, and aptitude of the students. Even though there are many government projects launched in our country, he says that educational programs must aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

not be guided by the same. Students must be aware of the same, and he assures that the foundation years at CEPT will help one to adapt to these projects. “Even smart cities are template driven, to which students can easily adapt and contribute new and innovative ideas,” he adds. It is best to go to the industry with an open mind, with a desire to learn more and build upon existing capacities, “nobody will become a leader overnight”, he reckons.

The interesting part of his momentous professional journey, is its intuitive nature. He says that one cannot force their way through life. “Sometimes you have to be persistent if not aggressive, and then that allows you to grow. It’s all a game. Sometimes you have to be quiet and wait for an opportunity,” says Phatak. He feels that in the young days of one’s career in this field, it is about carrying other people’s ideas. The real fight starts when one reaches the stage where they have to sell their views to others.

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“Many things you see in a city are not products of a master plan. They are the products of an idea, a brainwave, which have been championed by strong, persistent persons.”

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“Many things you see in a city are not products of a master plan. They are the products of an idea, a brainwave, which have been championed by strong, persistent persons. Even Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati is not a product of a plan. It was product of an idea, which was turned by champions into a project and implemented. The BRTS is not a just a product of a comprehensive plan, it was conceived as an idea that there must be a BRTS. Today it exists. 

exists. Most leading ideas are born as brainwaves and plans adjust to those. It’s not the other way round.  You will find many such examples, big and small.”

Most importantly, he says more than trying to shape  future in a deterministic manner, planning is about creating a framework in which future can unfold without giving rise to adverse impacts.  He concludes by saying that it is up to the budding professionals in the built environment to observe this and get things done, for a better tomorrow.