Cities, Youth and Development of a Nation

Two days ago, I came across a very pertinent news article in Hindustan Times of May 16, 2011 titled as 'Our Forbidden Cities'. In my Environmental Planning class, for Masters students in Architecture, I make it a point to point out that Cities are Beautiful and Cities are the future! I often get glances from students suggesting why I should prefer rural over the urban, as most of 'us' fondly remember our sojourns to villages and yearn for the calm pace of life it offers. But it is necessary for India to accept the fact that cities are here to stay and sooner we accept this, better equipped we will be to tackle the so called monster of 'urbanization'.

The author Francesco Giavazzi of 'Our Forbidden Cities' argues the case that today a youth in Mumbai gets a heavy pay packet to carry home, promising a comfortable lifestyle in India, yet the yearning to choose Singapore or Dubai or even London is because this representative Indian youth is looking for a city that he/she can enjoy after the work has been done. The author argues that there are two forces that are making Indian cities un-livable - one, is exorbitant property rates if you look for homes closer to work (central city areas) and congested due to high density. Second, is that if the home is far away from work, then a major part of the day (apart from work) is spent in commuting in dirty public transport or air conditioned cars that are stuck in traffic jams. When and how does this youth then enjoy the city?

The author further argues that if India keeps pushing the cities on the brink and the youth away to other countries, India has much to lose! Finally, he says that the youth and the cities are what creates wealth and wealth provides access to everything else like education, health and even Quality of Life.

I related this article to the inquiry on urban-rural linkages that I have written about. The author validates a solution that I have been thinking for sometime now. To manage urbanization, lets allow the city to spill out towards its rural hinterlands. The concept of restricting a city to a boundary has never worked, so why try it again and again! Of course, while the city extends, it is imperative that the public sector responds with urgency and speed to connect the dots with efficient and fast public transport like an urban metro.

Of course, when I say, let the city spill out, I mean let the urban advantage (of accessibility) extend beyond the city's boundaries but lets keep the urban landscape from taking over the rural landscape and heritage. Lets plan a regional Urban-Rural system that is woven like a spider's web - each point connected effectively to allow fast mobility and yet retaining the 'distance' from each other.

Some may argue that cities are expanding and spilling out already. Yes, so my point is to further open up the hinterlands without trying to restrict its spilling over. Lets manage urbanization and NOT control it! And of course, the response to city's growth should be met with public transport and NOT private transport.

The challenge for creating an effective urban-rural linkage model is for us to balance the forces of private real estate markets' access to hinterlands (more areas will open up) and development of public transport infrastructure that is fast, reliable and accessible! If one happens without the other, Indian cities will end up being bipolar - rich people staying outside the cities (using private vehicles) and poor people remain in the inside!
Is this the city that Indian youth may enjoy working and staying in? Or will Indian youth like a family home in a rural setting that he/she comes back to (fast and efficiently) after the day's work, to unwind? These are the questions that we need to ask and address, finally!

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