Redefining Urban Development in the Indian Context
Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz says: "If you look at a cancer under a microscope, a cross section with cells of healthy tissue, it looks exactly like an aerial view of a city in which the old sections are surrounded by new, irregularly built regions or else by those that are monotonously geometrical - both are possible, after all. The parallels between the formation of malignant tumors and cities in a state of cultural decay are very wide ranging."
Singapore urban development model is the Asian solution to western living style and comfort; say many western economists and observers. Their growth story, without a debate has been getting acknowledged as remarkable. The pace of effortless transformation from a thatched roof village in 60's to its high-rise tower blocks today, is unheard of in Asia. However, scratch the surface and another facet shouts for attention. Few years ago, a study showed that one in every eight children in Singapore suffers from emotional disorder. A 2007 study, emotional and behavioural problems in Singaporean children based on parent, teacher and child reports, also shows up that up to 17.2% of primary school children report symptoms of depression. The Asian parent website reported in Sept. 2012: "In a study of over 600 children aged between 6-12 in Singapore, researches found that 22% indicated that they wanted to kill themselves or had harboured thoughts of killing themselves".
So to learn a lesson, let us look at the definition of Gurgaon's development in a social and cultural context. The terms "standard of living" and "quality of life" mean two significantly different things. One focuses on economics and GDP and the other around concern for better human life and living. They cannot be substitutable. Developing equitable measures to enhance quality of everyday life and living can be the Indian answer to the west as its very own development solution that would finally lead to a more inclusive and sustainable increase in its GDP numbers.
GMUC 2031 creates a blueprint for development up to the Manesar Industrial area and encompasses all service facilities including open spaces, medical and education facility areas, power grids and waterworks. This gave Metro Valley an opportunity to work on a strategy for creating an equitable, healthy, interactive and vibrant community driven city plan.
This is an attempt to create a city designed for children, elders in the society and women as focus; with great and inviting outdoors, mentally stimulating neighbourhoods with traffic calming planning and vibrant living streets, mixed opportunities infrastructure, bringing the city within walking and cycling scale so that residents can interact with both nature and community in a variety of ways across incomes and age groups.
Children not only constitute the future but also liven up the present of any city. These children, as young boys and girls in teens and as college going students form the most visible and vibrant part of any cityscape. They bring life, colour, buzz, give character to any growing city by altering and livening its streetscape each day.
Till early 70s, children in cities grew up climbing trees, cycling or playing around in groups, drowning each sunset with their shrill sounds that lit up every neighbourhood. Small wonder, the society was more connected and humane. Today, due to modern zoning practices, car centric planning, escalation in property values coupled with population density, children are growing up as unhealthy, obese, socially unskilled members of a new India.
Modern day urban living confines children in their own social strata or similar economic background at home and schools. This in later years causes anxiety, fear and ends up in reclusive behavior and dependence on the world of make believe, external stimuli and computers. A direct fall out is their feeble health, lack of independent thinking, frail emotional and mental well being, their silent dependence and expectations from others, feeling of isolation or feeling unequal in society; all of which results in anger and misplaced rebellion. The growing incidents of reported violence which becomes a last replacement for putting their point they consider valid, across; they feel handicapped verbally, physically or communicatively to get their way.
During their growing years well-planned cities can play a dominant role to open up these young personalities. The state can be an important instrument in creating a platform for social inclusion, creating a positive social environment through creation of a strategy that engages people of a city productively together in their childhood and later formative years. Social skills and social relationships based on debates disagreements and forming common understanding cannot be acquired only from one's limited circle or even classrooms. This isolates
|| them from connecting with real everyday world and its opportunities by distinguishing relationships merely through a keyhole of need or hierarchy; which strikes at the very roots of a democratic and caring society. Ability to communicate effortlessly, negotiate their space with other children and adults from diverse backgrounds, economic status, temperaments and diverse physical and mental outlooks, initiate and maintain relationships, negotiate through divergent views, celebrating social relationships with self confidence cannot be acquired only from one's own family circle or classrooms, especially if the adults kids look up to are themselves stern, reclusive or not free spirited.
Public Parks play a huge developmental and equity enhancing role in the life of a well planned city by making distances more walk able and the city closer and friendlier for all its residents. For the young they create an avenue to either hang out or burn extra energy, create a competitive healthy environment, usher respect, tolerance, communication and reduce social and class divides while enhancing the opportunity of people to seamlessly connect and engage with each other while giving a sense of security and being protected to its citizens. For the elderly they offer outdoor activities and engagement while lending the city its eyes. For the older and the middle aged they become great places of relief, connect with nature, give a sense of belonging by drawing people outdoors from the confines of their homes, offices and engagement with technology. These are nature's factories that provide the essentials of everyday living: fresh air for the lungs, flora and fauna for rejuvenating the spirit, exercise for the bodies and minds and social engagement, involvement and communication for release of pent up negativity. These essentially lend the city an identity and attractiveness by raising the standards of everyday living by bringing residents together, back in nature and finally livening and charging the outdoor activity quotient of a growing city thereby making it safe, vibrant and more livable.
Play fields and sports facilities bring out the best of the people in the city on display; their character, their acumen, talent, sportsmanship, bonhomie, trained regimen, spirit of excellence and human engagement, team spirit, positive competitiveness while taking the steam out of everyday work and living under urban stress. They help in identifying and nurturing talent and future medal winners. The selection process is done in public parks, which lends credibility to sports and enthuses and encourages many more into physical fitness regime. These facilities fill the need gap for both space and infrastructure in the society, in schools and otherwise, creating a new hierarchy of recognition based purely on merit. They attract talent from industrial workers, their children, nearby villages, and boys and girls from across the city, defying all distinctions, unified only by ability and talent. As tools of state policy, sports, gyms and training centers can help lower health care spend by adding fitness to everyday city living. These places can multi task for children by nurturing future sport heroes, adult men and women by taking the pressure out of every day living while the elderly come and celebrate the joys of their family's well being. These can be rented to schools for their annual day games and sports events. Inter school tournaments and various sports training classes can be held here during daytime to nurture talent. Adults at nominal costs can use the gyms and this would enhance the fitness level of the city as a whole.
The State, as a policy, simultaneously must introduce community and civic service as a part of school curriculum to be graded and commended. City maintenance, vigil and upkeep should form a part of students home and schoolwork. This will help the authorities an upkeep brigade for the city's facilities while giving the children and the youth a stake and a sense of ownership in the city's development. Community service will create more inclusive and caring adults laying a foundation for a healthy society and a nation. The State must recognize and acknowledge these efforts by ensuring easier access to higher education for such children.
Cities must then be planned around the needs of elderly. This makes the city design caring and humanizes their offerings. Elderly form close rapport with children enhancing experiential value, learning and compassion in the young ones. There is an immense focus on universal accessibility in the west. Newer cities tend to be designed for nuclear families and have infrastructure that's definitely unfriendly to the elderly. Gurgaon must lead by defining the hierarchy of need fulfilment its public places must conform to. These must be; young children, pregnant women in Indian dresses, parent carrying a child, an adult carrying luggage or shopping, frail, elders with walking sticks, adults on crutches, adults in
|| wheelchairs. The needs of all above must be factored while designing its entire public infrastructure especially city sports centers and parks, roads infrastructure, public place for recreation, transport and entertainment. All the city's facilities must be designed to cater to those who have special needs. This creates humanized scale in development and ensures watchful upkeep of these spaces through greater public use. This gives rise to an administration and resident partnership that enhances the livability index of the city at lower cost.
Public transport is the lifeline and basis of growth of any emerging and healthy civic society. It has the potential of democratizing the city's public infrastructure by reducing importance of individual transport. The major benefit of having public transport is that it takes the people faster and in comfort. Citizens across age groups become the watchful eyes of the city to instill feeling of security and deter crime. Such a transport system creates vibrant neighbourhoods and makes the city's infrastructure accessible with enhanced use and participation.
The increase in numbers of professional working women has dramatically changed Gurgaon's urban life. Many families are now two income homes, which result in aspirations for the bigger upscale homes offering greater comforts, conveniences and privacy. Such families necessitated by greater say of women in decision making have changed urban living planning and design forever. Its time the state took notice and also changes its urban plans to factor this welcome change. Since working women sometimes work late or even stay out till late, the environment, safety standards and transportation options in the city planning have to factor these lifestyle changes. These would include issues like lighting, signage, pedestrian paths, last mile safety and accessibility as well as hygienic and safe public toilet facilities to be addressed. Women and girls feel safer in public spaces if they are busy and lively, they feel others can see them and also know the way to leave at will. Directional signs and maps with good lighting and a clear design help make a space easy to navigate. Multi tasking of spaces ensure the presence of a variety of user groups at different times of the day and night thus making the place safe. If women feel isolated and do experience violence, danger or fear, access to emergency phones or helplines that connect directly to the police or social help neighbourhood groups lend confidence and deter mischief mongers. The security guards of neighbourhoods should be accessible on these helplines through GPS systems for safety and security of women.
The concept of introducing Local Activity Hubs in the walking or cycling vicinity of each neighbourhood adds huge value to city living. Creating opportunity of making facilities, amenities and things of daily family needs available at the doorsteps of each residential cluster through a series well designed community spaces decongest the city roads, create local economies and employment opportunities, promote artisans and crafts, and take away the real estate costs from everyday household purchases in the city. Places that can multi task as hobby, dance, theatre, art and culture learning centers, small gyms, reading rooms, bill payment centers, can double up as yoga and cheap medical facility centers at appointed times. It has potential to open up huge avenue for young trained doctors to access patients without the accompanying financial risk of opening private clinics. In the late afternoons and evenings these community spaces can be multi tasked to become family function spaces at low hourly rentals. Engaging haats and farmer markets in the mornings and afternoons in the vicinity can double up at lunch and dinner time as fresh on site cooking hawker centers. This will bring a variety of flavours from all across the country to spice up the lives and homes thus giving housewives a respite from the kitchen. In the vicinity kids playgrounds should be planned to make it a family outing. Children, young, adults and elderly will find more meaning to their everyday living by acquiring freedom to experiment and learn without the costs imposed by big institutions and this will open up a new parallel talent economy in the country that will enrich our society and our people's daily lives. There should be well-planned cultural hubs and outdoor auditoriums to engage the city in recreational and cultural pursuits. These would be a way of engaging the whole family with an alternative to films as the only means of recreation. This would nurture our theatre, public performance of various art forms and create local cultural centers filling in a major void and bring freshness to urban living style with social and cultural diversity. Only with all this can Gurgaon lead the way in creating a new vibrant economic model through relevant social methods linked to our culture and every day living, by enhancing the quality of each individual's life as a route to achieving a higher standard of living for the city, its people and the city. -