Posts Tagged ‘Urban’

Just last week, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a seminal report on the future of India’s urbanization.  Some numbers they’ve calculated are totally staggering: for instance, did you know that by 2030, 590 million people will be living in India’s cities?  That’s twice the population of the United States today!  And did you know that to help these 590 million people get around, 7,400 kilometers of metros/subways will need to be constructed?!

After reading the exec summary, all I could think was how India certainly has her work cut out for her.  MGI paints a fairly grim picture of India’s cities today (e.g., citizens have access to 105 liters of water when they should have 150, only 30% of sewage is treated) and claims that in order to reverse the “urban gridlock and decay,” the country needs to invest $1.2 trillion in capital expenditure by 2030.

$1.2 trillion!  I feel like Dr. Evil wouldn’t even know what to do with that kind of money.

MGI, however, has a few tips on how to proceed.  Specifically, they believe that India should concentrate its resources – monetary and otherwise – on five areas to be successful:

  • Funding: How can India pull these resources together?  (MGI suggests monetizing land assets, collecting higher property taxes, and forming strategic public-private partnerships… in conjunction with “formula-based government funding”)
  • Governance: Who is the least corrupt group of people to manage this mammoth task?  (MGI suggests that India needs “empowered mayors with long tenures and clear accountability for the city’s performance,” along with building functional metropolitan authorities)
  • Planning: How can India develop the opposite of the existing sab chalta hai, everything goes, attitude towards city planning? (MGI believes that a “cascaded” planning structure, focused on public transportation and affordable housing, can help India save >6 million hectares of arable land)
  • Sectoral policies: How can India create sustainable policies for affordable housing, climate change mitigation, job creation, and public transport?  (MGI concentrates on affordable housing, and says that in order to get it up to par, India needs to increase housing stock through a combination of incentives and subsidies)
  • Shape: How should the country’ population be distributed for maximum benefit? (MGI suggests that India invest in its Tier 1 cities and large Tier 2 cities, while ensuring that services in smaller cities are brought to a “basic standard”)

Can India do all of this?  Can it muster the finances, the political will, and execution muscle to make this happen?  MGI gives the country some lofty goals, but is optimistic that with strong backing from the central government, it can achieve many of them.


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Ganesh Chaturti

Ganpati procession in Lalbaug, a neighbourhood in central Mumbai

After ten long days of prayer and celebration, of dancing on the streets and recklessly blocking traffic, of beating drums and reciting devotional bhajans, it will be time to bid farewell to Lord Ganesh.  Ganesh, widely regarded as the bringer of prosperity and remover of obstacles, will not slip away unnoticed.  Rather, devotees will make sure he is seen off in style, so that he may triumphantly return next year for a similar round of celebrations.

On the morning of September 3, 2009, hundreds of thousands of devotees — hands filled with some combination of coconuts, flowers, uncooked rice, and coloured powder — will flock to bodies of water.  They will loudly chant, “Ganpati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya” (Hail Lord Ganesh, return again soon next year) while dancing and dousing each other with colour.  They will then say goodbye to the beloved elephant-headed god by immersing their idols into the sea.  The idols, historically constructed of clay, are intended to dissolve in minutes and become part of the ongoing circle of life (a fitting choice, given how Ganesh himself was supposedly concocted out of sandalwood paste). (more…)

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Photo credit - Newsweek

Photo credit - Newsweek

“OMG, isn’t it, like, so disturbing to see all those beggars in India, with their disfigured limbs and stuff?”

You won’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that question. The sad part is that after living here for so long, it’s actually not that disturbing. It’s part of life. Regardless of how one may choose to respond (pay up, ignore, recoil, stare-but-try-not-to-stare), beggars have broadly been accepted as part of India’s daily urban fabric. Which is saying a lot, considering how this group includes children with severe malnutrition, men with missing limbs, broad-shouldered hermaphrodites, women carrying under-bathed infants, mentally retarded adolescents, and blind elderly couples. In certain societies, some of these guys may have a shot at joining a sickly voyeuristic circus; here, many have almost been normalized.

Despite India’s ability to absorb most “unusual” individuals, there is one sub-group that will probably always be shunned: the manual sewer workers. This sub-class of Dalits, known as balmikis, is forever destined to live on society’s extreme fringes. Unlike their brethren in the developed world, who are often provided bunny suits and respiratory gear before entering serpentine manholes, these Dalit sanitation workers usually enter with little more than a loincloth and a split bamboo stick. Upon entering the antiquated sewer pipes, they literally swim through pounds of liquefied feces to clear any blockages, all the while taking care to not touch the cockroach-laden walls. They continually breathe the offensive smell of human excreta, along with her toxic first cousins, Methane and Hydrogen sulfide. When they come up for air, they sometimes bruise themselves on the manhole’s rim, dizzy from the gases.

Within India’s silently strict social hierarchy, these Dalits are the untouchabliest untouchables. Even other so-called “untouchables” won’t go near these guys. (more…)

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dharavi1Three times in the past week, I’ve unexpectedly been a participant in conversations regarding Mumbai’s hottest new tourist spot: Dharavi. In case any of you missed the Slumdog Millionaire bus (er, bulldozer?), Dharavi has the dubious honor of being Asia’s largest slum. It houses upwards of 1 million people over a 175 hectare expanse of marshy land in the northern part of the city. First-time international visitors to Mumbai may be surprised, upon descent of their aircraft, to see the runway nestled against a sea of seemingly makeshift blue tarp and corrugated metal. Yup, that’s Dharavi.

Eight Academy awards and several Vogue cover shoots later, Mumbai has entered something of a post-Slumdog era. Local newspapers have always covered Dharavi, but now they actually take the trouble to talk to residents. International DJ’s are keen on using the area’s vivid neighborhoods as backdrops for their sickest new parties. And of course, slum tourism is shooting up faster than Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

Note: I must confess that I have not yet been on a tour of Dharavi, so my opinions here are based primarily on hearsay. Then again, I’ve worked as a consultant for over two years, so I’m quite accustomed to this :) (more…)

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The Mumbai Suburban Railway. Mumbai’s arteries, veins, and capillaries rolled into one functional hunk of steel. Even after living in this bulging metropolis for so long, I am continually amazed by the efficiency of its semi-antiquated local rail network. This is not a network built to help, say, a quaint German hamlet go about its daily business. This is a network that carries upwards of 10 million bodies – approximately 60% of Mumbai’s population – up and down its slender archipelagic body on a daily basis. Her compartments (yes, Mumbai’s train system is feminine in my eyes) do not try to please the occasional tourist’s camera lens; they are designed to take space efficiency to the next level. Similarly, the majority of her stations are not aesthetically pleasing in any conventional sense; rather, they are giant containers through which daily passengers… well, pass. But then again, what do you expect from a train whose body parts are called dabbas, or “boxes,” in Hindi? (more…)

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