Millennium Post

Lovability & livability of a cityscape

Our city planning must evolve to create not just mundane spaces to work and reside but places to live, to grow and to love

Cities and dreams in a strange sort of a way have a filial bond that has bred many a poet, a novelist, a performing artist and a rags to riches money maker. A city in India beckons many people, from the rural heartland, from a small hamlet or from the outskirts of lands beyond. There are many inspiring stories of how people made their fortune with nothing but a gifted talent blossoming in cities because of the urban ecosystem. There is an apt truism reflected in a folklore aphorism: 'jungle me mor naacha, kisne dekha', meaning thereby that the beautiful performance has to be in the middle of a large and appreciative crowd and not in the wilderness. A city that aspires to be a platform for such opportunities must have spaces not only for securing livelihoods but for the evolution of the souls as well.

There is a pithy saying that cities have a personality. The more cordial and lovable it's profile, the more attracted people are to it and seek to build their future in and around it. Yearning to seek knowledge, to seek cultural affinities, to seek fraternities with like-minded people and to establish ethnic linkages, they will flock to them. Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Kolkatta and many others became a beacon of hope to all kinds of people from every corner of the country. Indeed, people flock to cities to seek a better wage and in the course of their lives also pursue their desire for excellence. We all yearn for such havens. We speak of Paris, Rome, New York, London as cities with history, with culture and beauty of their architecture and long for making livelihoods in such cities. The aspiration for such legacies is a part of the civilisational evolution that compels each generation to mark its contribution in that progress and leave an imprint.

We are a young country but an ancient civilisation and our cities also reflect our heritage and cultural legacies by way of built spaces and oral traditions. Sure, population mixes change over time but every generation owes a duty and debt to their successors to bestow the values of preservation. Our cities have inherited cultural institutions and practices that have been varied in origins coming down from local residents, colonial visitors and other arrivals. Some brought music, some brought clubs, others brought dance forms and some gave us theatre traditions. The built environments were added to give vitality and life to these forms. These stand out today for their distinctive architecture, adherence to traditions and continue with the essence of their core activities.

There will always be a variety of conversations around the value systems and utility of preserving inheritances. Both the civil society and the institutions have to complement each other, to resonate with times to stay relevant and serve their role with integrity. The city managers and planners must add to such infrastructure so that the increased volumes also find access to similar services. Our difficulty has been our inability to anticipate and supplement the social ethos and etiquette with matching built environment. This leads to disaffection and even hostility among the larger body politic which is detrimental to the survival of existing institutions because of their inability to expand physical capacities. The solutions lie elsewhere and all of them on the supply side.

It is stating the obvious that cities must have welcoming spaces, sports arenas, theatres, art galleries, social clubs and as many informal cultural spaces as possible and that too in the proximity of housing complexes. We need a sea-change in the way our cities should progress. Going ahead, our planning psychology must shift to finding a comfortable compatibility in the built environment and the mental health needs across the various segments of the city dwellers. The old-timers recall with nostalgia and delight, local film societies of Pune and Chennai, gymkhanas for the sporty kind in Mumbai, theatre groups of Kolkatta and Bareilly, 'gharanas' of Varanasi, Patiala and many more. Cities with only workplaces are never attractive for settlers. Industrial complexes surely provide the economic momentum to cities but their utility is limited to the quality of life universally sought for by aspiring people.

Our urban development philosophy has been driven by the real estate boom driven by scarcity created by the inability of successive governments to add serviceable land at the pace needed by bursting populations. The only driver has been to provide shelter and that too poor quality shelter in terms of design and space. Artificial capping to appear affordable in reality gave a bad name to public housing. Equally, bad building laws have been a hindrance to the sensible use of public spaces. We have already suffered hugely in the livability indices because of bad planning. The way ahead is to preserve existing centres of culture and keep adding if we desire a concerned and proud citizenry that is in love with its proximate environment, neighbourhood, and its city.

The writer is the Additional Advocate General, State of Punjab, Supreme Court. Views expressed are personal

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