City spaces…

It has been a weird Monsoon season, where I’ve been boxed in for the most part. There has been the fear of rains in the evening preventing any adventures. The one evening I managed to go out, convinced by clear blue skies, it rained 57mm in one hour and I drove my way home through crumbling roads flooded with water, entering puddles with no clue how deep they went and heaving a sigh of relief as the car climbed out without stopping.

Daytime rides are restricted to outside the city. Within the city brings on an inertia. The bad roads, the mad traffic, the back ache that follows are the reinforcement I get for venturing out into the city and I decide to stay put with a book or a movie. 2011 already looks far away in the past when I returned to a city that seemed to be on the path to somewhere better. That hope is gone. I venture out and come back feeling more hopeless, more lost than ever.

I see a city that has moved on from what I know. Plush places I remember and ventured in with trepidation now feel decrepit and aged. Places where out of place generations come in search of the past. The sad thing is it has nothing do with just Bangalore, it is true with more and more Asian cities in their relentless pursuit of plushier buildings, ‘development’. Cities that are being eviscerated of their souls, their characters. 

Community spaces that are being converted to places where people congregate to make money and dispose that money in ways that channel back to them. It is almost a guided tour to living. You come here, live here, travel this way, come back home that way, eat here, go here on weekends and get entertained this way. A template for life in an Indian city, that you adhere to so that you feel less out of place.

But can a city maintain a culture, a soul, when it is a constant flux of people coming in and flowing out? Where population growth happens in areas that were the hinterlands, buildings raised over lakes and marshlands? You create a culture there, a way of life and when you don’t have a vision, you ape, you create a template. And then replicate it across the country. So that different cities have the same interfaces that you plug into. “Which is the nearest mall? Does it have a KFC?”.

The city still has its spaces, places which hold on to a tradition, a culture. Ironically, it might just be ‘development’ that saves them. With crumbling roads, indifferent public transport and maddening traffic, reaching different places in the city becomes more and more difficult. The city gets divided into multiple enclaves, getting from one to the other an effort and a pain. You do it a few times, but the negative reinforcement eventually wins.

I think of two models – New York City and Melbourne. The former, where one can get from one place to another without hassle, and without having to endure any traffic stress, and the latter with a spread out suburban model, where once you move to the suburbs you stay there over the weekends, seldom venturing out, recharging to take on the commute to the city over the week. Which one do we want to be? I think the choice has been forced upon us already.




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