New urban development leading towards unsustainable consumptive lifestyles

Last week, I had a chance to visit and stay in Gurgaon, a new face of suburbia in India. I was appalled at the chaos that is Gurgoan. I had heard about the glitz and glamour of the city. The NH8 that connects Gurgaon to Delhi is lined with tall glass facade buildings, showing prominent corporate brands on their faces. The NH8 itself is a multiple lane freeway, where cars speed to and fro between Delhi and Gurgaon, carrying in them elite business class of India, churning wealth and pouring money into the country's economy.

While this is happening at one end, where the private sector is complacent in its own wealth, the roads and the urban infrastructure is terrible. The minute you step out of your own glass building and stand on the road, you see a high speed vehicle access but no place to walk! Footpaths are not only non existent, its extremely unsafe to walk along the road sides at dusk. The dusty landscape of this region spills on to the new roads, so the road sides are sand filled, making it virtually impossible even to step on it, forget attempting to walk.

The malls in Gurgaon are famous. They are huge and their ads proclaim that a so-and-so mall is 1 km of air conditioned shopping. However, its impossible to reach this mall unless you are in a car. Perhaps it makes sense. Since the customer that is supposed to come to this mall is 'supposed' to have a car at his/her disposal at all times. So for visitors like me, who did not have a car but yet wanted to visit the mall, I was forced to rent a car despite of the fact that I was staying at the exact opposite side of the road. When I say, on the opposite side of the road, I was separated from the 1 km shopping space by the NH8 - a wide 10 lane freeway. So the distance was less than 1 km, but there was no access. I could not believe my ears when the Hotel staff calmly told me that I will have to hire a taxi, take a long circuitous round about just to cross the road!

What are we doing? I thought. Why aren't we planning our cities where people can walk - walk in comfort and in safety? When thousands of rupees are being spent on freeways, with a daily toll collection amounting to crores of rupees, are we cash strapped to provide the infrastructure for pedestrians?

Its important to note that lack of pedestrian walks is directly promoting the use of a vehicle, making us more energy intensive and thus increasing our carbon footprint. The Delhi Metro project is planned to connect Gurgaon to Delhi, and the planners predict that the car travel will reduce between the two cities when the Metro gets going, alleviating the intense traffic jams and long travel hours currently spent. But I still think about those short distances within Gurgaon. The typical short distances that citizens make to corner grocery stores, neighbourhood malls and bank ATMs. All these short travels, which can be very much enjoyed by the citizens on foot, are being induced as car trips. The Quality of Life, that urban citizens can enjoy, with walkable, humane scale and accessible streets and buildings, are being lost to the monster of vehicular travel and (extra) wide roads.

We keep blaming our changing lifestyles that demand rapid urban development, leading to highly energy intensive and consumptive cities across India. But I realised in Gurgaon that the cities, by their inherent planning flaws, are themselves asking us to change our lifestyles towards more consumptive and energy intensive patterns. And I also realised that to some extent it was true to Pune as well and most other cities across India.

The sight of the footpath-less roads and attempts of some poor citizens in Gurgaon attempting to walk on the road sides and cross over barriers keeps haunting me. Surely, I feel, with these apparent flawed planning approaches for new cities of India, we are not walking but zooming in our cars towards unsustainability! But do we care? Or are we all happy driving around in our Hondas and Marutis, not thinking if we could have just walked down for some eggs and bread? Planners and politicians need to wake us, true. But we need to wake up to Sustainability as well and start rethinking of what we really want from our cities? Just high speed roads for vehicles, or also walkways for a leisurely stroll along the shopping street or along the riverfront?

Comments

  1. a very true and an ironic image.....though the planner must have had a better vision...the implementation is where we fail the most....that shows your insensitivity and lack of awareness towards the city we ive in...it so easy to put hoardings of keeping the city clean. but the essence of creating one is our first step and the most clumsy one!!....

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  2. Beautifully expressed sentiments about the eternal debate on the supremacy of the car over the 'poor' pedestrian and WHO should prevail over the other ! Having experienced Gurgaon and the predicament you faced, I have only TWO observations to make : 1) The TIME is not right for Gurgaon as yet ! Remember Le Corbusier's statement about the planning of CHANDIGARH - way back in the 50's ? The City is plannned for TOMORROW - not TODAY ! The cyclists who complained about Chandigarh's wide roads, grid iron layout and long distances in the late 50's are driving their Marutis to work very happily today. Perhaps the same will happen in Gurgaon. 2) The second observation is about the use of the word "PEDESTRIAN"! If you look up the OXFORD dictionary, the 'other' meanings of the word 'pedestrian' besides "one walking on the roads" is "unimaginative" " "dull" "uncouth" "crude" etc .. Thus it is a CULTURAL BIAS that drives Planners to IGNORE the needs of us 'pedestrians' who prefer 'unimaginative' modes of travel like WALKING (!) when Marutis and Hondas are available .. Hope you get my point ? RAJIV

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  3. Hi Anagha, i appreciate your initiation towards a 'much needed discussion' topic. I think there are a few things which need to go hand in hand (and obviously are missing at present in Gurgaon and innumerable such other places)......awareness of citizens and raising their voices in unity, politicians to think about citizens' welfare beyond filling their pockets and above all planners to think and act rather than imitating without sense!!!

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