Monday, October 3, 2011

'CITY IS GOING TO VILLAGE' - A horrendous hypothesis masquerading as a socially equitable solution

Dear Mr.Gautam Bhatia,
Your article in the Sunday Times of India, dated 2/10/11, looked like one against the unorganised growth and the pathetic state of affairs of our present day cities in India. Your dissection of the anomalies at the heart of the modern city, the lack of infrastructure, the lack of sanitation, the ‘daily wars for water, space in schools & roads’...they all paint a true picture of the ground realities in our cities.
Your analysis on the huge influx of migrants into the cities and the resultant impact on cities being relegated to ‘a modern day trading outpost’ is spot on. As you say, there are no innovative solutions yet as to how to integrate this urban migration into the fabric of our cities. True, there are administrative failures, a ‘lack of will to investigate new solutions. This attitude has left Indian cities imprisoned behind the stranglehold of conventional planning’. These are indeed the present state of affairs in our urban areas, further burdened by the demand and expectations of an ever growing affluent consumerist middle class.
Now, what is the solution to this? How do we overcome this state of affairs? How can we reclaim back our lost space? It is indeed worth examining if there are alternate solutions which can be implemented.
So far, the analysis of causes and ground realities stated are right on in the article. But now comes the confusing part, and I quote: “Today, the need to accommodate the rising numbers is extending the city into multiple corridors between the metros; a new way to include the many villages and small towns along the path. It is the government’s way of taking the city to the village.
Cities designed explicitly for the rural areas is not just a good idea for the poor, but can act as a game changer for the self centered ugliness created in the metros by the middle class”.
Mr.Bhatia, this hypothesis of yours, of taking the cities to the villages is pretty absurd. How will unleashing the unbridled forces of real estate development onto a village landscape help in the betterment of the villages, which in turn will help in reducing migration to the existing cities? It will be architectural & urban genocide. How will developing cities on agricultural land bring about a better state of affairs? How will this bring about a better life for the city dweller or for the farmer?
If you are assuming that merely by creating a city like environment will benefit the villagers, that it will make their lives better, that it will stop them from migrating to cities, then your stand is pretty weak. By exporting a city and its infrastructure into a rural setting, you would be doing more harm than good. In the name of creating infrastructure & liveable spaces, developers & other market players will take over agricultural land (and I assume that they will get land at cheaper rates due to the fact that they are doing a great ‘service’ to the villages), rape it and start erecting multi-storeyed apartments & luxury villas, which would then be marketed & sold at exorbitant prices, as they are set in a ‘pristine unpolluted rural environment’. Do you for one moment, Mr.Bhatia, think that the villagers, the original inhabitants of that place will get possession of such habitats? Will they be able to afford it? How will their social structure & support systems function in this new environment? How will their ways of life be accommodated? What will be the impact on their thoughts, their lives, their families? How will they cope when the cash doled out to them for their land is splurged on drinking by the men and finished? Where will the women and children go?
What will be the impact on the loss of livelihood be on the villagers? How will they be employed? How will agriculture & food production be affected? It will only be logical to assume that in such a scenario, more and more people will turn away from agriculture – they will find alternate employment in the ‘new city’. How will that contribute to the food shortage and malnutrition plaguing the country?
By turning our villages into miniature cities, we would be encouraging the use of more automobiles, more pollution, more eating up of resources – opening the door to all the problems found in our cities today. And my dear Mr.Bhatia, who will pay for all this development? Who will bear the cost of this Utopian proposal?....the government? The government & our public administration is so ineffective that they are unable to properly implement the existing rural welfare, education, health & social welfare schemes, which if properly implemented would have made the village a much better place to live in....So then it would have to be the private sector? As we all know, the private sector is attracted only if there is a great return on investment, lured only by the smell of profits. This then would simply end up as creating cities based upon the same template which would have been used in our present cities to create this present mess. And we would end up destroying our villages and agriculture lands to create the same pattern of monstrous urbanism.
Mr.Bhatia, this hypothesis of yours is simply playing into the hands of developers and real estate players, who have currently almost exhausted the development potential in our present cities and are now turning their greedy eyes onto the villages, so that they can make quick profits in the guise of altruistic motives. It is just like a noble sounding excuse used to fool the common man, to appeal to the moral conscience of the middle class. This article is reflective of the propaganda machine that the corporate media in India is turning into. A lot more was expected from such a senior architect & writer. It would not be asking too much, from someone like you Mr.Bhatia, to properly analyse & think through your hypothesis dispassionately, to evaluate the impact of ideas before proposing them, that too in a national daily. Or it would seem that the propaganda machine has already spread its net far and wide.

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