With Clashes Between Traditional And Modern, Are Indian Cities Ready For The Demands Of The Future?

Posted on October 15, 2014 in Specials

By Anesa Kratovac:

Big cities in India are places of innovation, education, arts and are a vivid clash between the traditional and modern. Despite so many advances, the cities are still struggling to come to terms with the effects of high density populations- pollution, traffic, garbage, lack of side-walk space- which results in the inability to feel safe and enjoy public spaces. Sustainable urban development design has worked for many big cities in terms of applying sustainable solutions to outdated infrastructure and design problems. For example, New York City has replaced all of its public buses with hybrid buses that generate less carbon oxide emissions and lower the overall pollution levels in the city. Likewise, many urban architects have utilized open space multi-purpose areas that serve for both public enjoyment and operate to fulfil other operational needs. Using space in a multi-purpose way enables cities to multiply functionality and usefulness of the existing foundations, and, at the same time, promote a sense of enjoyment and participation of citizens in their communities.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

For India, to make its cities meet the demands of the future, a thorough evaluation of the current infrastructure problems and proposed solutions has to be done by the city governments. The current state of affairs is messy and without any measures to make changes by foreseeing the demands of time, the cities will crumble under the modern demands on outdated infrastructure.

Plans to renovate cities with sustainable architecture, technological advances that are less costly and more advantageous public spaces that warrant safety and comfort should be a priority for city officials in India who are currently too preoccupied with consequences of inadequate urban construction; rather, they should look to invest in fixing the roots of the problem that would make such issues of garbage, potholes, traffic safety and other public hazards irrelevant.

In Mumbai, for example, there are various measures that could be taken to fix some of the biggest urban issues, and, at the same time, answer the demands of the future- technological advances, climate change, new industry demands, population shifts and poverty eradication. Here are just a few examples of advances that could work very well in big Indian cities like Mumbai and would create vast amount of difference in the quality of life in the concrete jungle today. And what is the underlying concept behind the proposed measures? Innovation…

1. Innovation in Transportation
Recently, I got to know an extraordinary piece of technological advancement- the AirPod vehicle. This new invention uses an older technology of condensed air propulsion to change the transportation landscape of big cities. Not only are AirPod vehicles cheap to manufacture, the maintenance costs are extremely cheap. The vehicles are very easy to drive and are very environmentally friendly. Can you imagine the transformation its introduction would have on India’s urban pollution and the decreased costs of operating vehicles? The biggest impact would have to be on the rickshaw industry with both micro and macro benefits. If the AirPod was introduced as a replacement of the current rickshaw, the overall reduction of pollution and engine noise by the vehicles would have an enormous impact on the urban landscape in India. Likewise, rickshaw drivers would be healthier and would pocket the money that conventionally goes towards fuel purchases and vehicle maintenance. Like the rickshaws, motorcycle drivers would benefit greatly from the AirPod. Other innovative vehicle inventions- solar and biomass, for instance- are also commendable alternatives but do require greater maintenance infrastructure in place to operate on a massive scale.

A great example of transformation of cities through the use of renewable energy in transportation can be found in Brazil. Here is more information on the success of bio-mass and renewable energy in reducing urban pollution in Brazil.

2. Redesigning Current Public Spaces
Through innovative, human-centric design, many urban development practitioners were able to conceptualize gardens on rooftops, public parks on abandoned railway stations, solar operated building parts that run the building’s energy needs, organic community gardens and spaces that feel safe for women and children. Innovative urban design is a true sign of progress and can solve the inefficient ways we use and abuse urban landscape today. By enjoying and being proud of our public spaces, we can take greater ownership of them through upkeep and aesthetic maintenance. Here are some legendary examples of innovative urban development initiatives around the world that could serve as a blue-print of what is possible in Mumbai and other Indian cities.

3. Our Responsibility
Changing physical landscape may be a feat, but changing people’s relationship to their environment will probably prove to be much more difficult. Currently, there is very little ownership of Mumbai as a public space by its citizens, and the effects of that can be seen in the extensive loitering, spitting and urinating and the lack of upkeep and preservation of the city’s landmarks. Instead, treating our public places as we treat our private places would have to be the necessary approach towards the reconciliation of our collective neglect of the environment around us. This calls for us to change our habits and cease doing in public what we would not do in our own homes. Only through this collective mindset shift could we couple the physical transformation of our cities with the affection it requires to maintain them for our own needs and for those of future generations.

What else can we do? We can reach out to our urban development officials with workable ideas, with photographs and stories of infrastructure decay and with strong messages to incorporate renewable energy and innovation into our cities’ infrastructure. Public pressure works wonders in enforcing government accountability! We can do this by writing or calling the Ministry of Urban Development. If we just sit back and relax, things will go on as usual; instead, let’s start an active movement to ensure that our cities are beautiful, enjoyable and ready for the unpredictable demands of the future.