Alumni spotlight: Rupsa Chakraborti

Rupsa Chakraborti is an urban planner and a human geographer with experience in urban development and sustainable mobility. After completing a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Geography and a Masters in Planning in India, she decided to come to the Netherlands to enroll in a Post-graduate course in Sustainable Urban Development (with a specialisation in Urban Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change) at IHS. Rupsa's experience was possible through an honorary scholarship, which IHS granted in memoriam of our beloved colleague Marijk Huijsman.

What is your professional background in the urban field?

After graduating the Masters in Planning, I worked as a Project Officer at the Department of Architecture and Regional Planning, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. I worked on transportation planning and sustainable mobility. I also worked with an urban development consultancy firm based out in Kolkata as an Urban Planner. There, I worked with state and national government clients on various development schemes and programmes in sectors like affordable housing, spatial planning, sanitation, solid waste management and GIS. Currently, I am working remotely as an independent Planning Consultant on urban projects in India, as I recently relocated to the Netherlands.

Why did you decide to enroll in our Sustainable Urban Development course?

As an urban professional working on several urban challenges in a developing country like India, I realised that most of the challenges like inequality, poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, poor quality of life in cities cannot be addressed individually. Rather all these problems are linked to each other and need to be addressed holistically while building sustainable and resilient cities.

The design of the professional Sustainable Urban Development course attracted me as it was tailored to understand the objectives of sustainable development providing insight on strategies for improving urban competitiveness and resilience; developing scientific design and techniques for combating climate change and also strengthening cities through effective urban governance. With my experience from this course, I wanted to proactively pursue my vision of adopting strategies for reducing the ecological footprint of the cities as well as making them resilient to adverse changes in the future.

What was your experience with the course? What did you like the most?

I had a splendid experience during my time at IHS. The international character of the institute, getting to interact with different types of professionals with diverse cultural backgrounds and gaining knowledge about the best sustainable practices from different countries have enriched my experience. The best part of the course was its professional nature. It was not like a regular college course but aimed at orienting the theoretical knowledge with practical experiences. The frequent field excursions to sustainable sites helped me grasp different concepts of sustainability really well. The course was structured very meticulously and the assignments were stimulating and thought provoking. The specialisation and electives helped me develop comprehensive perspectives to solve different urban issues. The course contributed to my professional growth as well as personal development.

How was your experience living in the Netherlands?

I had always known the Netherlands as one of the pioneers of smart urban planning and water management. Coming to the country and getting to experience this was absolutely fascinating! In the beginning, I took time to adjust to the chilly Dutch weather but the warmth I received at IHS overwhelmed me. Biking around the country without thinking of the traffic, getting to indulge on delicious stroopwaffels and bitterballen, picking up Dutch words like gezellig, lekker, getting to enjoy the first snow, cruising through the canals, it was a sweet rendezvous with the Netherlands.

What do you see yourself doing in the next few years? What is your dream job?

In the next few years, I picture myself as a dedicated urban professional working on innovative, sustainable solutions for renewing and developing our cities. I aspire to make meaningful contributions towards positive changes in the society, especially with the grass-root layers. With my educational and professional background, I would like to influence policymakers towards a cleaner, sustainable future. As my dream job, I would like to be connected to one of the international humanitarian organisations where I can utilise my knowledge and skills to advocate for sustainable and inclusive urban spaces.

What is a cause, idea or project you believe in or would like to pursue?

One challenging concept which intrigues me a lot is the concept of inclusive cities. The United Nations has estimated that almost 70% of the world’s population would be living in the cities by 2050. Cities are critical nodes of development for countries and foster economic growth. Safe, inclusive cities can help achieve economic growth and prosperity. I believe cities must be created ‘by all and for all’. The citizens must be involved in the planning of the cities they want to live in. Citizens irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, income, social status must be involved in decision making and be provided access to facilities. So, in the future, I would like to pursue the idea of spatial and social inclusion while planning and designing existing and future cities.

Do you think the knowledge you have gained from the Sustainable Urban Development (SUD) course can help you to achieve it?

Certainly, the course has been effective in teaching me various mechanisms in which I can plan for inclusive cities. In fact, through my elective course on Gender in Urban Theory, Practice, and Research I learned about the concept of intersectionality and how the concept is now being considered in planning for urban spaces. Based on those lessons, I am carrying out a personal research on inclusivity and intersectionality.

What advice would you give to our students or anyone interested to enroll in the course?

I recommend this course to professionals who are presently working in sectors related to urban development. By now, we all must have realised that climate change is for real and there is an immediate need to adapt to sustainable ways of living and creating cities for the future. This course would be a step forward in learning about this. There are six specialisations covering a variety of themes, so I would suggest future participants to check out the structure and content of these specialisations and choose based on their interests.

The Action Planning exercise, which is also an important part of the course allows to work on real-life projects and helps the participants to gain hands-on experience. I wish all future participants an enjoyable and fruitful experience at IHS. Let us all ‘make cities work’!