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World Class Cities?

World Class Cities?

June 17, 2011

The tale of two cities within each city.

Cities have become the symbol of a country's growth. On the first day of my Engineering course, I had heard about the new Bangalore Metro. Four years have passed and I still hear tales of metro rail in the city. Metro rail is yet to arrive but the consequences have been lingering around for a long time now. Price rises, traffic jams, road blocks, unavailability of basic amenities; and Bangalore today is a city struggling with poor infrastructure still awaiting its big news.

On that note, let me ask you a question that has troubled me for some time - "What makes a city world class?" I believe the answer is that good security and a citizen-friendly police, efficient governance, regular garbage collection, uninterrupted power supply, clean piped availability of drinking water, well-marked and signaled roads with efficient traffic management, reliable ambulance and fire services are some of the essential elements of a world class city. In a nutshell, a livable, lovable, and laudable city is a world class city. Which Indian city today is livable?

In the blind run to make a city 'pseudo-world-class', the original core of the city turns into what has come to be known world-wide as ‘downtown’. It becomes the symbol of decay and degeneration. In the process, we create two cities in every city. One, the up-market, mall-studded, high-street, new age one. The other, neglected, crowded and that is loathed by the gen-next. This is the fate of most metropolitan cities all over the world So, we are not only breeding disparity between urban and rural masses, but within the city as well.

Downtowns are the ugliest faces of metropolitan life all over the globe. They have become bases for juvenile delinquency, crime, drug peddling and illegal trafficking. For New Delhi, it has Purani Dilli, Bangalore has a KR Market, Mumbai has a Dharavi- you name a city and I will show you its dark side.

For decades now, our cities are following this upgrade model. Breakdown of basic amenities seemed natural parallels to urbanization. We convinced ourselves that this is the price one pays for modernization. We did not take crowded public transport systems, traffic jams, scarcity of drinking water, and uncollected garbage as marks of our incompetence (or impotence I should say). We perhaps took them as indices of growth. The more brutal our life became, the more urban we thought we are.

Cities won’t be like villages, we told ourselves and slept.

The modernization processes of cities has copied only the glitter. We are eager to have clones of the developed world’s airports, multi-layered flyovers and shopping malls with glazed elevations. But we ignore all the related but essential urban needs such as decent public transport, parking facilities, sewage treatment, fire safety, garbage collection, decent footpaths and road crossings for pedestrians. Cities are not just about malls.

It is high time we stop looking outside and start setting examples of our own. In the run to make Indian cities world class, we have made our cities disgusting places to live. It is high time we borrow not just the glitter but also make our own gold. Only then will cities become our country’s pride. 

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