Time to reinvent cities


Rajnish Wattas

“If mankind is to reside on, the city sample

he occupies would require main unravelling

and reweaving”

— Arthur B Gallion

Does it take calamities to create new metropolis fashions? History of urbanisation appears to recommend so. Most world metropolises underwent main renewals following artifical or pure catastrophes: be it London, Paris or Chicago. And now, the post-Covid-19 metropolis, too, should be reimagined.

Foliage altering colors on V3 highway, Chandigarh

Even when the pandemic subsides, the belief that metropolis life will return to the outdated ‘normal’ is unlikely to occur. The propensity for pandemic hotspots to sprout predominantly in dense, poorer and polluted city clusters will make folks inform themselves, ‘governments cannot ensure our health safety, we must secure ourselves’. In India, heart-wrenching defining photos of lakhs of migrant employees trudging again to their rural properties, tons of of miles away, echo that.

Not surprisingly, most Covid hotspots in India are congested, low-income, slummy city clusters that not solely bear overwhelming illness burden, but additionally the brunt of air air pollution and water contamination points. Cities, particularly metropolitan ones like Mumbai and Delhi, are additionally abodes of sharp inequalities and rich-poor divide. Antillia — Mukesh Ambani’s skyscraper villa — soars excessive above the shanties of Dharavi of Mumbai, symbolising discordant scales of privilege and poverty.

Cluster of bushes in Sector 17 Chandigarh
Photos by the author

In the developed world, too, there have been sharp variations in Covid-19 circumstances relying upon city densities. New York, one of the vital crowded cities in America, remained on the world high of the pandemic’s mayhem curve with 20,000 dying over three months until the current dip. By evening, the Manhattan Island holds 1.6 million inhabitants that doubles within the morning, with folks pouring in like excessive tide, crowding up its workplaces, espresso retailers, streets and iconic plazas just like the Times Square. Most of them are empty now.

Urban-rural redux

New York skyline

Ironically since late 20th century, city planners and economists serenaded the rise of huge cities globally. Harvard University don Edward Glaeser, in his e book Triumph of the City, referred to as them ‘engines of growth.’ Other planners, too, drum-beated that city density will increase, ‘workers’ productiveness and minimises their carbon footprint’. It was argued that megacities with excessive densities allow economies of scale and produce collectively expertise, producing new concepts and improvements by means of multi-disciplinary interactions. By 2016, greater than a fifth of humankind was residing in cities of 1 million folks or extra. The largest 300 metropolitan areas now generate half of the world’s wealth. But Covid-19 has questioned the relevance of such high-investment, high-density cities with their gleaming skyscrapers on this planet? There is speak of return to smaller natural satellite tv for pc/suburban cities with greenery and cleaner air, assuring romanticised countryside life.

Paris boulevard after Haussmann’s redevelopment

The urban-rural redux shouldn’t be new. In the 19th century, coal-driven factories solid palls of smoke and air pollution over most western industrial cities. However, Ebenezer Howard, an English court docket reporter, planner by avocation, modified all that along with his e book, Garden Cities of To-morrow, printed in 1898. The Garden City aimed to marry the well being advantages of nature with city conveniences. It was to be encircled with an agricultural belt and business was to be deliberate on its preserves, in order that the poor may earn their residing although at slightly distance. Howard managed to get two Garden Cities constructed — Letchworth and Welwyn — in England; and within the United States, the suburb of Radburn in New Jersey, in addition to different such impressed townships. It is ironic although that the centenary celebrations of Welwyn metropolis, slated for April 29 this yr, needed to be cancelled resulting from Covid!

The backyard metropolis in India

The Garden City concept took root in India through the colonial period with examples of Bengaluru (then Bangalore) and Edwin Lutyens’ New Delhi. In 1947, with the Partition of India, the East Punjab Government determined to construct a brand new capital metropolis at Chandigarh to replenish the void of Lahore going to Pakistan. A.L. Fletcher, a high bureaucrat tasked with the preparation of the temporary for the brand new metropolis was very impressed by Ebenezer Howard’s idea for Garden City and championed it because the inspirational mannequin for Chandigarh venture.

The unique crew of American architects and planners for Chandigarh comprising Albert Mayer and Mathew Nowicki, too, had been huge proponents of the Garden City ideology. However, owing to tragic loss of life of Nowicki in a aircraft crash the American crew needed to be quickly changed by Le Corbusier. But most of the inexperienced metropolis concepts underlined by the Mayer crew turned precursors of what Corbusier additionally developed in a while. In 1922, Corbusier had introduced his mannequin of the Ville Contemporaine, “a city of three million inhabitants that featured tall office towers surrounded by lower residential blocks in a park setting” that he fondly referred to as the ‘Vertical Garden City’. Though ultimately he needed to make a horizontal ‘Garden City’in Chandigarh, it imbibes most of the core values he advocated for new-age cities. The incontrovertible fact that Chandigarh has finished a lot better in containing Covid-19 endorses the relevance of such inexperienced cities sooner or later too.

Conceptualising a sustainable metropolis

Many specialists forecast that the present, ‘working from home evolution is likely to turn into a working from home revolution’. In the long run, the financial advantages of being packed tight in centralised workplaces could be misplaced if distant working that facilitates higher residing situations, doesn’t dent city financial system a lot. The decline of densities within the city realms shall be loud and clear.

Since the paucity of land will inhibit institution of huge variety of ‘green field’ cities, retro-fitting current ones will grow to be de rigueur. The sustainable metropolis or inexperienced constructing will now not be mere avant-garde buzzwords for metropolis directors. Rather, substantial reconfiguration of city plenty and open areas should be quick tracked. Numerous applied sciences for erecting vertical inexperienced buildings are already in place and may be additional refined and made cost-effective. London architects Foster + Partners’ imaginative and prescient sees metropolis house remodeled, “With parking consolidated in empty plots nearby, the street regains a community focus, with cyclists and pedestrians prioritised and the area reclaimed for planting, seating and more efficient waste management”.

It’s time then to reinvent town.


Rebuilding post-calamities

Frequent epidemics had been endemic to the outdated, filthy and dingy crowded London metropolis. Soon after the bubonic plague in 1665-66 killed practically 1,00,000 folks, one other disaster quickly adopted: the Great London Fire. Sir Christopher Wren ready a brand new plan for outdated London as sought by the King. Similarly, Paris obtained rebuilt variety of occasions resulting from calamities. In the center of the 19th century, Voltaire, the nice thinker, bemoaned of Paris “established in narrow streets, showing off their filthiness, spreading infection and causing continuing disorders”. However, when Napoléon III got here to energy, he tasked Georges Eugène Haussmann in 1853 to redevelop the decaying metropolis. The Emperor instructed Haussmann to ‘aérer, unifier, et embellir Paris: to give it air and open space…to make it more beautiful’. Similarly, Chicago in America was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Daniel Burnham the visionary, grasp planner commissioned to reconfigure town, had famously mentioned, “Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

In India, the sooner JNNURM scheme and the current a lot drum-beated ‘Smart City’ venture by the present authorities had been anticipated to create magical city transformations, however these have remained principally paper workout routines.



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