Saturday, August 4, 2012

Expanding the City!

“In great cities, spaces as well as places are designed and built: walking, witnessing, being in public, are as much part of the design and purpose as is being inside to eat, sleep, make shoes or love or music. The word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship -- around participation in public life.” ...Rebecca Solnit.

Coming to the core part of our subject of merging the adjoining villages in to Municipal Corporations, the quote by the great planner certainly makes me think about the scene around. It’s not the question of merging but question is where are we heading for? I remember a story from my earlier days of starting my field work;  In a big industry there was a canteen for the people working at the industry & where a board has been displayed saying  " Our workers eat the same food which our Managers eat!" One day someone changed the board saying " Our Managers eat the same food which our Workers eat!" Leave apart the joke or sarcastisum in the story but same logic is applicable here is what many will say. Like the villagers will get the same infrastructure which citizen in the corporation gets or will it be citizen in our corporation will get the same infrastructure which the villagers have! Truth remains that however we accept the fact that villages i.e. Gram Panchayts are surely not structured for giving proper infrastructure to the increasing demands from urbanization; but are the Municipal Corporations  really capable of giving that assurance to the citizens? Sadly the facts here also says no. See the current water or traffic problems & you will know what I meant. Though these are just tip of iceberg when it comes to problems of city life! And the scene is same all around the country except few examples like Ahmadabad or Chandigarh where the not just the Civic Administration but even the State bosses also joined the hand to plan a better life offering city & then to execute what they have planned.

On such scenario many will say then what’s the need of acquiring or merging the new or adjoining villages when we can’t serve properly the existing citizen of the city? Well saying this is one thing & accepting this logic will be making ourselves  the infamous " Shaikhchilly" who cut down the very branch of the tree on which he was sitting! Looking around at what we call  our city & its planning then  the new DP i.e. development plan of the old city is in making & will be soon tabled before the city fathers. That itself has crossed the time limit but any ways at least now it’s been drafted. We have heard from many of the city prominent figures saying we should plan for minimum 100 years for the city! Well, saying is easy as words don’t cost but a city is never stand still & is ever growing; so are the problems generated by its growth. In such conditions to plan something which will be freeze for 100 years is simply illogical on the aspect of development. Instead take opinion of real great urban planning minds which are abundantly available in our country, a factor which we never took in account & what they will suggest is freeze the concepts of planning for 100 years & plan the DP around these principals for shorter spans i.e. 20 years & move ahead. This will ensure the basic principles of planning & road to access the  growth problems will remain same & a direction of the journey will be fixed. Then all what is left will be ensuring its execution on smaller spans which also needs to be monitored regularly even yearly.

We have things like Environment Report which seems to be being published now yearly & we do read the news about the same when its published, that’s all! What is more important is implementation of the same & making it more transparent by virtue of which we can actually assess the impact on common man's life with whatever policies we are making for the better environment of the city. I haven't read the Environment Report but I am curious whether it has interviews of people from all segments from the city & their views about the kind of life this city is offering to them! I am sure that will make the Environment Report more interesting as well realistic as a City don’t get read by the reports but by the people living in it & their day to day experiences with the City! We have  green belts which are being utilized for all sorts of things but greening! We have rivers & streams but they are worst than nallahs! We have hills which are turning gray with the slums & illegal constructions than being a green cover for the city! So many things needs to look in while fixing the policies & the main is why in last 30 years we could not implement the Development Plan of the city at its fullest? Statistics says we have not acquired even 40% of the reservations from the last development plan which was made in 87 & we don’t have exact figures how many reservations of acquired have been developed for the purpose they have been acquired! Classic example is we raise hell about the traffic problems & its solutions on one side & on other side we have the HCMTR i.e. High Capacity Mass Transport Route which has been planned since last 25 or more years but only on plan! Not a single inch of it has been built in all these years! So many such examples we have from the existing city planning which can be an eye opener while planning our any next move towards the future of this city! This column is not to blame Govt or ruling parties but to analyze the facts around us & may once we have got the problem then only we can have the solution, is the way I look at it. On all above back ground we need to seriously ask a question to our own self that are we ready to expand really? Or instead while making  a Greater City are we going to end up as a Greater Village!

One will again ask, what’s all this to real estate industry? It is any way growing so why to worry? Well, ignorance is bliss but not for long! When we say real estate is growing it’s not just the prices we should be looking for its the availability of a good home to all segments of the society is what we should be aiming for. And where we stand on this scale? Frankly even a small kid can tell how poorly we are doing  on this front. Series of illegal constructions, ever expanding slums & encroachments on reservation lands, shrinking of natural water channels & continuously expanding city limits in itself tell the story that we are far behind on providing good affordable homes to the citizen of this very city within the so called city! Just more & more people are coming here & willing to live in this city, that doesn’t mean all is well. It’s out of compulsion this may be happening, the day they will get better alternative they will choose that option over this city, let’s not forget this fact! We need to conserve our strengths & explore them than ruining our resources. Role of Developers also is equally important on this front as we need to plan the homes keeping in mind that Real Estate is not only money making thing but a service to the society also! Call it Municipal limit or Grampanchayat, the target should be giving a good accommodation to the common man which may not have a fancy living amenities but a basic infrastructure where they can live at peace & what more a good city can offer to its residents! For that need of the time is will power to do so; which seem to be missing & this responsibility is not of just the Govt or the Town Planning Officers or some department of administration but of every citizen. Unless we press our demands strongly we are not going to get them is a truth. And for that we need to table them & put forward on every platform then only some where some hope is alive. As to deserve an ideal city we need to be an ideal citizen first & that is in our own hands only!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

Envo-Power Committee, Credai, Pune

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