Monday, April 8, 2013

An attactive title: 'Myth of sustainable cities'.

 Being an urban animal all my life the title caught my eye. The myth of sustainable cities is an honest attempt to highlight serious issues. Achieving a sustainable urban environment means the city resolves formidable problems of shelter, poverty reduction, provision of basic infrastructure and services, provide equal opportunities and social justice to all, assuring them a basic minimum quality of life. In the age of globalisation, market forces and universal issues also become real concerns of sustainability.

The numbers are terrifying, there could be 513 million urban animals like me in India by 2025 . Probably I could be gone by then and hopefully to be born in some remote village. I do not think I have evolved enough to attain a release from rebirth. Earlier, I had no worries about rebirth, in fact thought it was cool to come back again. But the way we are, it is not so anymore. The thought that I would have to contend with lesser space, one fourth the per capita land area, is not  encouraging.
 
More gloomy facts are given: Nearly 75 percent of urban settlements are growing without any spatial plan or planned intervention. As far as planned towns go, we are on slippery ground. High levels of pollution, stress and insecurity are proofs, if proofs be needed, of the decline in quality of life in a large city. Consumption patterns of water, electricity and other essential items indicate a huge gap between actual demand and availability of the resource, which make cities inherently 'unsustainable'.
 
And the harsh realities: Our muncipal offices have a colonial mindset They do not consider the citizens as their customers, rather, see them as people with nuisance value with whom little information need be shared. Transparency is not high on their priority.... The author speaks of urban agglomerations, use of agricultural land, unrealistically high land prices and so on.
 
He concludes with: Active involvement of people is the key to bringing about accountability and transparency in administration. Power equations must be rewritten; top bureaucracy needs to loosen its grip on decisions at lower levels.
 
As I read this sincere effort by the professor. My thoughts were: An academic has spoken and the media has thought it worthwhile to publish it. They have done their job. All that is required now is a change of heart by the bureaucracy and of course the politicians who call the shots. But my question is, 'Will the fat cats oblige? Will the grass-roots people have the power to push them towards it?'
 
 I keep hoping that we leave this world a better place for our children and grand children. But, I am not so sure that this will happen. As I walk around I notice that we are building and over-building even in a small middle class, educated, community like Kumara Park West. We have  already let builders and owners steal from the future generations, there are hardly any playgrounds. I speak of the kids from age of  eight to eighteen. They have no place to play. The streets, where some could play, are dangerous due to irresponsible drivers of cars and scooters. In fact, all streets even in residential areas have become main roads due to the increase in vehicles.
 
 I do see one small nice park, which elders can use for a limited time and a playground for small kids, which is in a pathetic condition. Private schools and colleges do not have any sports facility. The only governament school has space, but it is not developed. If an educated community like KP West allows such things to happen, is there really a hope for us?
 
Anyway, coming back to my own selfish thoughts, I am glad that the almighty god has done one good thing. Thankfully I will not remember how nice my Bengaluru was in case I am reborn and am cooped up in one of these congested apartments!
 
But then I also console myself with: 'Be positive, you probably have good karma, you will surely be born to a good, well heeled family'. Hopefully some important Kannada family. Strangely, I have tamil origins, even though I do not think myself as a tamilian! And it is an issue nowadays.
 
One can ask, why not the Gandhi family? I do not think my karmic stream included politics anytime. It will be my 'karma' if I am sent there! Not likely unless Rahul Gandhi changes his mind!