Thursday, January 24, 2019

Transport Killed Urbanism (Pretty much!)

The Rapid Metro - Golf Course Road

The idea that the means for getting people, or should we say workforces, from places of their unusefulness ( read, rest, family life, personal engagement and development) to places of employment has been for over half a century the primary preoccupation of city planning and infrastructure design.

In our own backyard we see the first signs of it in Chandigarh – lines drawn across the a dusty plane as fastest and straightest connection between two points for transport of people on movements using  autonomous motor-vehicles – what we call cars today! For ease of navigation and efficiency, the lines are straight, and a right-angle grid spreads across a predetermined area, establishing its primary structure. Everything else, though beautifully extolled and celebrated, could as easily be argued as unavoidable aftermath.

The motorized private  has been the engine of modern urbanism, providing access, and freedom, and of course aspiration. The image of the big, modern city was never without cars, flyovers, and even personalized flying transport. But in a century of it being around it hasn’t really made the city better.

And mass, rapid transport, has only added to that woe.

The issue one begins to see is not in the nature of the vehicle, but in the myopia and shortsightedness of the visions that have been driving their inclusion in urbanism. And of course the fact that the city, once again  has turned into an engine of economy and not place of Culture, Art and Life as was hoped.

You only have to drive/ walk around Delhi and Gurgaon, and the manner in which Transport oriented infrastructure has mauled and fractured the urban experience cannot be hidden by any amount of beautification or insertion of novelty. The absence of Pedestrian facilities at the massive flyover at AIIMS intersection,  or the completely callous placing of  Metro Pillars, sqauarely on pavements ( that are meant to be used by the very same people, the metro is provided for), or the huge messes of over-and underpasses for motor-vehicles that are designed without a thought that citizens walk too. The experience of walking should not have to be one traversing a obstacle course laced with death-traps, seems to be the least of the concerns of the designers and policy makers that pen these decision from their Out-look Towers, and air-conditioned chauffeured sedans. 

Nelson Mandela Marg - New Delhi

Much of the notion of the city relies on the car as aspiration, and that you haven’t arrived, or made it until, you can afford one.

I remember tweeting, once – The affordable (cheap) motorcar has been used to sell us (really) bad urbanism. I think you would begin to agree!

Every other day the city sprouts another marvel( or monster) of public work, destroying whatever is left of the Urban Public space, and it doesn’t help that there is this perception that the public space of the city is unsafe.

It was not always unsafe, that’s what the urban-designers, city-planners and policy makers have made it. Bit-by-bit, cutting it up, destroying any kind of legibility, de-humanising its scale, and completely neglecting the needs of citizens that live outside of gated safe-houses and controlled private enclaves.

It makes more sense to do this for two primary reasons – you can control people better, and the way more important one – privately help public space requires you to spend money, both to access it and once within to receive service. Neither of these were possible in the democratic space of the city.

Pedestrian Overbridge - Aruna Nagar, Majnu Ka Tila

Present day urbanism thrives on the aspiration of Private Space, controlled and limited access – a visit to Gurgaon especially along the high value Golf-course road would make this quite apparent. You can see the same in varying degrees all across the NCR.

The Notion that better transport infrastructure will make a better city, or give you a better Quality of life, of even raise your standard of living, seems to falling apart quite rapidly!

But you would see that if you walked on the streets, you had your feet on the ground! And you were not looking at the world from the back set of your luxury car with rose tinted glasses!

A Raod-side Baber's stall - Gurgaon

Post Script - The city as I see it now is a little zoo designed to keep you working, so you can make the money to buy the things that you never needed, that large corporations want to sell you after which, so you can get drunk on overpriced alcohol in safe havens on a weekend before you can go back to work on Monday! Its so much easier than making a city where you could go for walks, talk on the streets and meet people, and generally enjoy a beautiful urban experience. But then that wouldn’t make anyone any money!

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Sunday, May 13, 2018


I have taught at a good many design schools across the city, and been invited as Jury Member for various years and Departments.

All schools share a number of visiting faculty, (there was a time i was teaching at three schools and running my practice)and even full-time faculty are known to have switched schools.

Yet in the last 20 years of been part of the Design Community ( if we can call it that?) i have seen little (The Staging of ToD Plays by third year SPA at NIFT, Delhi in 1998-99 being the bare exception) or no cross school collaborations.

And i'm begging to know why? 

Theres more design work to do in this country than can be done by the total number of graduates from every single design school of the country can do combined, i would argue. And more than that there are opportunities for students to go out and work on real projects with actual transformatory influences in the public realm. 

Also with the growing awareness of environmental responsibility and disciplinary design, the design schools is where we can make the change and ACTUALLY demonstrate the potential of design, and collaborative work to the larger public ( which mostly thinks the design is an aesthetic passtime aimed at the rich)

Why dont these schools talk to each other? It isnt uncommon that students have friends in other design schools, of both similar and different disciplines, (not to mention even no design related courses in other universities and colleges)

So why don't we talk?

We are a Design Community

Or are we a Design Competition

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