Thursday, February 17, 2011

Are we on the right track?

Recently I walked from Nehru Nagar, where I grew up, to Majestic and felt sad to see degradation all along the road. Earlier while not special it was not this ugly. In fact, Anand Rao circle was pretty and the race course road parallel to railway line had some nice bungalows. Only Justice Somanath Iyer's bungalow looks the same and incongruous as the rest of the road has become pathetic.

I remember as a seven year old I had once walked home from Majestic all by myself. Today I am not sure a kid will be able to walk alone on this road .

As I see a similar degradation all across, I wondered 'Do we really lack good urban planners?' Then I saw the article below :

‘Metro is ruining the aesthetics of the city : Charles Correa, India’s foremost architect who was in the city, took time off to discuss his latest book — A Place in the Shade, a compilation of his essays

Sahana Charan

Posted On Sunday, January 09, 2011 at 01:53:23 AM

Some excerpts from the article:

In Bangalore for an event, he spoke passionately about our cities and towns being great engines of growth and how it is not just about housing and structures but also about their buzz, their synergy. That is why he says that a city should be planned with public transport as its DNA. “The Metro is ruining the aesthetics of the city; since it is above ground on M G Road, it has not only changed the face of the road, but it is going to make it difficult for those using the roads below. Going underground is expensive. Instead, the bus system has to be strengthened. You need to have bus roads, not just lanes but a network of roads crisscrossing the city, that are dedicated only to movement of buses. That way people will leave their cars behind. In Paris, there are bus lanes on certain streets and this is followed strictly. But that will not work here as the car owners may not adhere to the rules,” he says of Bangalore public transport system (or the lack of it).

It is almost prophetic that around 25 years ago, Correa had mentioned casually to the then Secretary of State, GVK Rao that Bangalore would grow unprecedentedly and rapidly and provisions had to be made to improve its infrastructure. Mind you, this was before the IT boom happened. “I had felt then that the climate and location of the city was ideal for attracting business. I had made an informal plan for developing Bangalore along its railway network and focused around its public transport. Of course, it was never implemented,” he says matter-of-factly.

So has Information Technology affected the architecture of the city ? “Yes it has influenced the architecture, in that you see glass and steel structures that are not just unappealing to the eye but projecting a lifestyle that may not be a reality in this part of the world. When an architect builds a grotesque glass high-rise, he justifies his design with a hundred different reasons but he is actually recreating his and his clients’ mythic imagery of what perhaps is a perfectly irrelevant city like Dubai. They have to understand that these structures may not be suitable for the kind of climate and surroundings we live in,” says the 81-year-old.

But he has great faith in urban centres. Quiz him about land scams and how cities are affected and Correa says, “Unfortunately, urban real estate is being used to finance political parties and this is ruining our cities. Our cities are places that generate skills for an honest democracy - doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers. They are centres of hope for the wretched have-nots of our society and they are engines of economic growth, not just the metros but smaller centres as well. If the wealth generated from these cities is not squandered and is put back into the cities for fueling their growth, the results will be spectacular. The surplus can be used to develop other smaller centres; that is what has happened in Hongkong, which fuelled the growth of the rest of South China.”

The architect, known for his sensitivity to the issues concerning the urban poor, is deeply disturbed by Bangalore’s gated communities. “These communities are a cause for grave concern. They need to be discouraged. It will bring terrible disparity and make the city one of confrontation. You do not want to become another Johannesburg, another Nairobi, where gated communities have for years kept the poor out, and this has brought frustration and anger.”

Reiterating the need for integration, Correa adds, “You have to take them along and make the poor a part of the prosperity. Public and community spaces should be a place for people of all classes to intermingle. How can it be that you need them to do your chores but you keep them away from your lives ?

Now I know that we do not lack good urban planners, it is only that our decision makers do not take heed.

Surprisingly a coffee table book, 'The city beautiful' by T P Issar, which has been lying around in our home gave me the answer. We are like this and we were like this.

I am not sure if Kempegowda, the four towers he built are famous, had any vision of how his city should look in the future. Possibly not. He could not have anticipated the work of the British; the cantonment with its spacious bungalows or the Persian influence brought in by Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan.

Bangalore would have been just the inner city, with its narrow roads and crowded buildings. I was even surprised to discover that the posh localities of the city's earlier days, Basavanagudi and Malleswaram were actually developed after 1900 to avoid the recurrence of plague.

This perhaps explains why we are like this. It seems the elite, those close to the brits, moved out of the inner city and left others to fend for themselves and now thanks to democracy and demography many of the decision makers come from these neglected areas!

I am reminded of Arundati Roy's opinion of Indian elite in an interview in Guernica: The Indian elite has seceded into outer space. It seems to have lost the ability to understand those who have been left behind on earth.

While I was hoping to move to a gated community, I am now in a quandary especially after reading Arundati and also about Charles Correa's worries about the effects of a gated community.

Roy's predictions are ominous. I feel we are headed for very bad times. This is going to become a more violent place, this country. But now that it’s upon us, as a writer I’ll have to find a way to live, to witness, to communicate what’s going on.

Then I read Parag Khanna, author of 'How to run the world', in the crest edition of TOI.( for some reason it is not letting me register on line!)

I like him because he has articulated my worries 'I love India but I am dispassionate, Kashmir, the North East, endemic corruption, Naxalite problem, the youth bulge without jobs to match -- these are the things India needs to worry 24 hours a day, not worry about China'.

A typical Indian situation, the elite who could possibly change to course of things are hiding in gated communities or engaged in endless debates on TV. They are just hoping the problems will go away while taking care of themselves, while the new decision makers from the inner cities and small towns, well most of them, had never had it so good!


RNS said...

Dear Uncle Nidhi,

It was interesting to read your post. I have been working on similar issues. I find that Indian cities are increasingly becoming polarised. However colonial cities have been inherently spatially segregated and our current cities only build on those dynamics. Incase you are interested you can read my chapter on Mumbai's spatial segregation. “Mumbai: Spatial Segregation in a ‘Globalizing’ city” In R.S. Sandhu & Jasmeet Sandhu (Eds.) 2007, ‘Globalizing Cities: Inequality and Segregation in Developing Countries’, Rawat Publications.

VATSALA said...

Agree with the sentiments. We are stuck with a demographic process that evolves on its own. All of us can make our observations (inc Ms Roy). While isolating ourselves is not an option, we will have to face the music!

srinidhi said...

Dear RNS
Nice to see your comment. I will surely take a look at the book you have suggested. Thanks

Hi Raghu
Good to see your comments!

Rohini said...

It is very depressing! There are fancy restaurants,malls and fancy buildings coming up but the tiniest of approach roads are provided. The road is already too narrow. There is no parking facilities for all these fancy restaurants and people park in no parking areas and make things worse.

prati said...

Real Urban Planners are people with vision. They plan for how a city might develop 50 to 100 years hence. Today's planners are greedy and just want to amass wealth. When today's authorities develop new areas, width of roads is not given any importance. The more the no. of sites, the more is the money available under the table. Hence there is no room for the development of infrastrusture. No wonder Bengaluru is facing immense problems today.

N L Sriram said...

Bangalore, at least the areas of the city that I was familiar with, has undergone a radical transformation and much of it has spoiled whatever beauty there was. The Malleshwaram to engg college commute would take me on Sirur Park Road, Swastik Circle, Ananda Rao circle, Race course road, Maharani's college circle and KR circle, and the roads, while reasonably busy with traffic, were nice and fairly quiet. But the new traffic pattern has totally changed the area, and as you said, impossible to walk, and also takes forever to traverse in an auto.

I only got one glimpse of MG road this trip, and the metro had totally blocked off the nice views from MG road across the brigade grounds.

Vishwesharapuram and Basavanagudi used to be so nice in the evenings for quiet walks, with fairly wide roads shaded by old trees on either side and even boulevard like across from National college, all that is totally gone now.

I guess that it is considered progress, but at what cost?