Connecting the Urban and Peri-urban (CoUP): A transformative policy framework for inclusive and resilient urban development in India
Principal Investigator:

Dr. Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, University College London (Current Institution); Anglia Ruskin University, UK (at the time of application)


Reading University, U.K. (Dr. Christopher Maidment);

Department of Architecture and Planning, IIT Roorkee, India (Dr. Arindam Biswas)


The lack of planning and policy attention to peri-urban areas in India has led to marginalisation and increasing health inequalities causing severe social, economic and environmental problems. The interdisciplinary CoUP project aims to develop an understanding of the challenges and potential of peri-urban areas and to promote critical dialogue with multiple stakeholders, including planners, citizens, and policy makers. The project outcomes include disseminating project findings in both national and international conferences and critical dialogue with stakeholders and citizens through a short-film production and screening. The project team also established strong local stakeholder partnership and trust through sustained engagement and created further research opportunities.

By addressing the global issues pertaining to environmental and health inequity and urban resilience, CoUP is aligned with the strategic focus of SHLC on Sustainable communities and Good health and wellbeing themes. Examining the largely neglected domain of peri-urban areas, particularly from a planning and development perspective, the project expanded the existing research portfolio and impactful research on promoting sustainability in developing country contexts. The outcomes contribute towards multiple Sustainable Development Goals including: SDG 11: Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; SDG3: Healthy living and well-being; SDG 8: Work and economic growth; SDG13: Combating climate change and its impacts.

Kulathur Village Chennai. Credit: Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Chris Maidment and Arindam Biswas


The key objectives of the project were:

  • Review the existing local and national planning and policy for urban and peri-urban linkages and development in Indian cities. This was successfully achieved through collaborative desk-based research.
  • Assess the existing policy responses to the urban and peri-urban interface and their social, environmental and economic impacts.
  • Develop in consultation with practitioners and policy makers, related policy and planning best practices to enable inclusive and resilient urban development. This objective was successfully met through online focus groups with experts, planners, reputed local scholars, NGOs and with citizen representatives from the case study area.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

In India, Tamil Nadu has emerged as the state with the highest level of urbanisation. Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, lost more than one-fifth of its greenery in 20 years and has the least open space at 2.09%. It is predicted that it will convert 36% of its total area into urban areas by 2026. Chennai has an intensely developed urban core, in addition, the urban sprawl of sub-urban and peri-urban development has resulted in poor infrastructure, quality of life challenges and a low level of economic activities. Poor land use planning has contributed to the poor liveability and increasing environmental and health inequity. A lack of proper data for the peri-urban regions plays a critical role in the neglected state of the peri-urban regions.  We have generated rich open data sets (through extensive surveys and GIS) including high quality GIS data material and maps which captures the drastic land use change and development pattern in Chennai peri-urban regions to inform local planning and policy making.


Some of the key findings of the research include:

  1. Through GIS mapping of land use, landcover and population data for the case study regions, the team identified rapid urbanisation trends, with increasing of multi-use and residential land use and decline of vegetation and waterbodies.
  2. In the household surveys (n=312) analysis, a clear link was identified between the residents’ health and wellbeing, the built environment setting and access to amenities.
  3. The multimodal data collection and analysis brought to light the often neglected experiential and lived experience dimensions of peri-urban living that included: multisensorial experiences attached to rural landscape, sense of identity and belonging, legibility and place memory of the settings.
  4. One of the key contributions of the research is developing a unique dual lens approach to peri-urban research in Chennai which is transferable to other cities in India and also to other developing countries’ contexts. The project approach, which merges the flow-based and place-based conceptualisation of peri-urban areas, enables researchers to map the peri-urban dynamics, grounded within the narratives of ‘flow’ and ‘place’, capturing interactions and processes through a combination of social, spatial, economic, environmental, experiential and temporal parameters.
  5. With the rich audio visual and textual data that were collected during the remote field studies, facilitated by local partners, the project also unravels the relationship between social capital and resilience, through the study of the public realm in the case study areas.
  6. The project also generated valuable open data on land use which can be valuable resources for other researcher embarking study in peri-urbanisation in India.

Through the above findings the project has contributed greatly in advancing the theoretical and methodological knowledge on peri-urban studies in Chennai and providing valuable data sources for researchers across the globe on peri- urbanisation in Chennai. The diverse outputs and dissemination platforms (See Outputs section below) have stimulated both academic discussion and community awareness and engagement with the various issues and potentials of peri-urbanisation in Chennai. The team received positive testimonials from public engagement events held in Chennai, highlighting the non- academic impact of the project’s work.

Project Outputs

The team successfully delivered the following outputs:

An article:

Rajendran, L.P., Maidment, C. and Biswas, A. (2021), Sustainability paradox of the Peri-Urban Regions in India – Reflections on the case of Chennai,  In Regional Insights: A Selection Of Articles Providing A Fresh Take On Regional Studies, Regions.

A short-film: Living in/the  (in)visible peripheries.  The film was screened at the Film Geographies: Borders, borderlands and bordering, at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021

Conference Presentations:

  1. Reimagining peripheral geographies: A dual lens approach to examine peri-urban dynamics in India’ Urban ARC 2021, Urban Imaginaries, Annual Research Conference of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, 14 – 16 January 2021.
  2. ‘Towards a situated approach to urban peripheries: A Case study of Chennai City, India’ “Blurring Metropolitan Edges” at Marmara Urban Forum, “Cities Developing Solutions: Re-think, Co-act”, October 3, 2021.
  3. Examining the urban peripheries in Chennai, India- A socio-spatial approach’ Revisioning Peri-Urban Futures, A two-day International Conference, Oct 1-2 2021
  4. Emergent spatialities in the peripheral informal public realm-A case study of Chennai in India’, AESOP 2021 International Conference, ‘Adapting Planning – Rethinking the planning practices’ Online conference July 12-14 2021.

Local Involvement

Through online focus groups the project team brought together diverse stakeholder representatives from Chennai Metropolitan Authority, Mumbai Development authority and also leading scholars in peri-urban studies in India: Dr. Vishal Narain(Professor Public Policy and Governance, Management Development Institute, Gurgaon), Dr.Karen Coelho (Professor, Madras Development Institute), Dr. Chella Rajan (Professor in Environmental Economics, IIT Chennai) to discuss the various issues and challenges facing peri-urbanisation in Chennai.

Following the successful online focus group interaction which helped build mutual trust with local stakeholders, the team also extended their collaboration further in another research project which is currently ongoing funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

There was a screening of the project’s short film at the Madras Literary Society in Chennai on Oct 2nd 2021 which proved to be extremely effective in delivering impact through public engagement and awareness. The screening was done following the COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines (Max of 15 people) for hosting public events. Following the screening there was a panel discussion which was extremely engaging. The panelists comprised academics, environmental activists, a Film Screen Writer and local community NGO.

Some testimonials on the film screening event below:

Panel Discussion on screening of the documentary “Living in the Invisible Peripheries”

Capturing the hardships of people living in the periphery of a city like Chennai is very much needed to build conversations and echo the voices of unheard in terms of how they have been subjugated socially, economically and politically facing through inequality and injustice for the so called development of the city. The film captured the holistic observation on various criteria that the people had to go through when a section of population is tasting the actual development while the other suffers through. Thanks to the film maker and her team for the extraordinary efforts in capturing all those intricate details and documenting it for a greater purpose. (Panellist, Mr. Sathiyan Thilakavathy, Aware Foundation)

Hope to see more such documentation on other important unspoken issue. (Audience member, Ms. Pushpa, Homemaker)

The discussion after the filming was very refreshing and gave a lot of tangential insights about how things happen and how it is perceived by different sets of people. (Audience member, Prabhu, College Student).

The project team established a strong stakeholder partnership and new academic networks through the project. This greatly facilitated the securing of further external funding. The project team along with a local academic partner in Chennai were successful in getting the competitive Frontiers Champion Award (£10000) funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering for the project titled PIVOT – Re-visioning peripheral geographies: Strategies for resilient urban development in the Global South (2020-2021). The PIVOT team consists of strong network of interdisciplinary and international researchers from the UK, India, Mexico, Turkey, South Africa and Nigeria. This interdisciplinary research project brings together diverse disciplines including, architecture, urban planning, engineering, sociology, psychology, ecology, geography, cultural studies, economics and politics. The team aims to bring together researchers and experts from across the globe to engage, discuss, examine and co-develop solutions that deliver across a number of Sustainable development goals: Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11); Reduced inequality (SDG10); Good Health and well-being (SDG3); Work and economic growth (SDG 8); Climate action (SDG13); Partnership for Goals(SDG 17).

Future Activities

The project funding paved way to developing greater collaboration through other funding (PIVOT project). Once all outputs from this project and the PIVOT project, are complete, the plan is to develop a multilateral research proposal on Peri-Urbanisation and Sustainability Transitions in the Global South.

There are further plans to deliver a 2-day training programme on Resilience Planning to post-graduate students of architecture and planning (which had been postponed due to COVID-19) at a local partner organisation early next year.

Capacity Strengthening

The project has created a body of work (See Outputs section) and facilitated the development of additional skills for the project team and collaborators (e.g. specialised methods training in participatory video making). This was particularly beneficial for Early Career Researchers (ECR) (both in the UK and India) as it is necessary for securing larger, competitive research grants.

Through the project data collection (focus groups) and also through dissemination, the team was able to bring together diverse stakeholders – strengthening the partnership between the public, private sector and civil society.

Through the project collaboration, the team was able to open up opportunities for international collaboration for local project partners at the Hindustan Institute of Technology and Sciences. The project also involved five post-graduate students of architecture in data collection, analysis and discussion, giving them a great learning experience.  The students were also co- presenters in one of the conference presentations (URBAN ARC 2020 Conference).


Working on the SHLC-CoUP project was helpful and enriching as an opportunity to further dive into different aspects of peri-urbanisation. As an organisation, HITS was able to collaborate with international universities to do this joint research project which was beneficial. Collaborating with experts across the globe and working as a team, was a great experience.  For our students, this was an exceptional opportunity where they learnt how to conduct research systematically by getting input from experts in the field and cherished the work done. (Dr.Sheeba Chander, Dean, Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science)

My involvement in the SHLC-CoUP project gave me new experience and knowledge and different views and techniques of Integrate Urban and Peri-Urban areas and with the help of valuable guidance and encouragement during the project I was able to identify diverse urbanization processes and accentuate culture in different aspects. (Ar.Rinya, Postgraduate Student, Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science)