Tracking Amaravati: An Enriched Spatial Description Of Uncertainty In A New City Development

Department: Architecture
Active Dates: May 2018 - ongoing
Principal Investigator: Sony Devabhaktuni
Funding: Seed Fund grant, University of Hong Kong


In nations of the Global South, investors, planners and political leaders propose greenfield cities as alternatives to saturated urban areas. In 2014, the development of such a city, Amaravati, began in India when the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) bifurcated, leaving one resulting half without a capital. Leaders of the re-configured AP determined to build a new city to surpass their erstwhile capital, Hyderabad. After an expedited consultation process, they chose a fertile 216 square kilometer, river-side site. Since groundbreaking in 2015, multilateral lending and private investment have funded dozens of infrastructures and building projects and financed the pooling and re-allotment of more than 30,000 parcels of farmland for an urban plan. In June 2019, despite these billions of invested dollars (US) and an altered, now fallow landscape, work on Amaravati came to a halt. Voters elected a new state leader who called for a period of reflection to determine if the people of AP would be better served with the capital elsewhere.

The research proposes a method of enriched spatial description to track the consequences of this uncertainty for Amaravati and its development over a three-year period. What happens to the built and natural landscape of greenfield cities when they undergo such crises? How are incomplete infrastructures repurposed if original plans no longer serve as guides? If the project resumes, how do changes in priorities manifest themselves in new approaches or schemes? If the project is abandoned, how will the transformation of land ownership facilitate or stymie an agrarian return? Enriched spatial description answers these questions by overlaying the observation of physical changes of the territory with the reciprocal interpretation of their causes and consequences. This mixed method nests detailed drawings derived from a time-series of GoogleEarth site images and photographic documentation within a quantitative assessment of changes to land cover and a qualitative discourse analysis of government, NGO and media publications.

The resulting narrative addresses the lack of synthetic attempts to describe and interrogate the processes set in motion by similar periods of uncertainty in greenfield developments around the world. Project outputs target academic, practitioner and cultural audiences and include a digital platform activated early in the project. The potential longer-term impact of the work is to foreground such narratives so that planning for their potential consequences can become part of a risk-assessment that lending agencies, governments and investors consider when they undertake such transformative, resource-intense projects.

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