Constructed Ecologies, Imagined Communities: The Politics of Adyar Poonga in Chennai

Date and Time

March 27, 2012

10:15 am to 12:30 pm


As part of our Urban Workshop Series, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), Delhi are delighted to invite you to a Workshop on “Constructed Ecologies, Imagined Communities: The Politics of Adyar Poonga in Chennai “ by Pushpa Arabindoo, Lecturer in Geography and Urban Design, University College London.______________________________In 2007, the state government of Tamil Nadu announced an ambitious eco-park in Chennai which had been on the drawing board since 1997. Covering an initial phase of 58 acres, the project aimed to restore the sensitive and much destroyed estuary of the Adyar River. It marked a U-turn in the city’s rather poor environmental history, with the state carefully emphasising that the eco-park was a sensitive ecological restoration project and not a mere aestheticized commodification of nature. Nevertheless, the decision to repackage it as a public space that was not open to the public only highlighted the perversity of some of the arguments embedded within their discourse. For, this constructed sense of ecology was justified through an official process of public participation involving a careful making and unmaking of communities. While the illegitimisation and incrimination of the poor living within the boundaries of the eco-park leading to their eventual eviction is in itself not surprising, the parallel subscription of the surrounding middle and upper class residents suggested a cosy alliance between the state and a specific form of civil society promoting a post-materialist understanding of nature in a city. Thus, a Friends of the Adyar Poonga Association (FAPA), with the encouragement of the state, was set up to support and protect the park. Drawn mostly from the middle class neighbourhoods surrounding the park, the environmental imaginary of these metropolitan actors is however quite limited and often contradictory. More importantly, as this paper reveals, despite the elite nature of its membership, relationship between FAPA and the state has been fraught with tensions, based on a contested understanding of ecological citizenship, suggesting not only the fragility of bourgeois environmentalism but also the possibility of challenging it.Pushpa Arabindoo is a Lecturer in Geography and Urban Design, Department of Geography, University College London. She is also a co-director of the UCL Urban Laboratory, a university-wide initiative to bring together the best urban teaching and research at UCL. Her research investigates several aspects of Indian urbanisation including aesthetic dimensions of urban planning, emerging forms of middle-class militancy, and the political impact of environmental disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 floods.____________________This is the twenty sixth in a series of Urban Workshops by the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) and Centre for Policy Research (CPR). These workshops seek to provoke public discussion on issues relating to the development of the city and try to address all its facets including its administration, culture, economy, society, and politics. For information, please contact: Marie-Hélène Zerah at or Partha Mukhopadhyay at