Ever wonder why organic cities like Bombay, Delhi, and Pune often make for fond memories and monotonously planned cityscapes like Chandigarh and Brasilia often conjure up images of dry, boring, and monotonous life? In part, America also suffers from the impersonal touch of its suburban life after the notable white flight from the inner cities in the 60s and 70s. The answer is simple: separation of living areas from social areas that are often connected to commercial businesses. Your local bania is probably located on the street level of the area you live in or maybe is just a walk away. Most of your daily needs like grocery shopping, hair salon, tea/coffee shop, eating joints, parks and playgrounds are merely within walking distance and you often tend to bump into your neighbors everyday. Atrios also ponders on this simple truth of city planning:
“What puzzles me is the fact that there are relatively minor changes to how we construct our suburbs which would both allow some people (not everyone probably) to reduce their degree of auto dependency while simultaneously adding a bit of nearby “small townness” for the rest of the nearby residents. One can transform an absolutely tiny piece of land into something more resembling a town — build a few blocks of mixed residential/commercial development with street level shops — without fundamentally transforming the way most people live….Many of the early suburbs already have this (and many such earlier suburbs tend to be incredibly pricey, and not just because of their proximity to the urban core) pattern of development, but it’s rarely replicated these days.”
Kevin Drum however blames the residents themselves who wish to isolate themselves in their areas of protective solitude (Crash, starring Sandra Bullock, Brendon Fraser, Don Cheadle, and others addresses this issue), away from the ills of the society. But I fail to see this problem in India where social ties are stronger although stratification by income and caste/religion aren’t uncommon. But in more cosmopolitan towns where often land is at a premium, convenience wins over social barriers.
For e.g. the housing society I used to live in Panvel, India was ironically called Middle Class Co-op Housing Society. Initially envisioned as a haven for middle-income (politically correct term now) people, it was hardly middle-class by the time a full-scale housing boom hit after the suburban train from Bombay arrived only a ten-minute walk away. Mostly planned on a plot allocation basis, the bigger thousand square meter plots were now valued at almost a crore. Subverting the society’s regulations, smart builders built apartment buildings which not only recovered their cost but also dramatically changed the social fabric of the microcosm. Although I haven’t been home in almost 3 years, I have heard of easily accessible retail stores and more families moving in (each plot now has eight families at least instead of only one few years back). The four-acre central open space now has a jogging track and an playing field with budding cricketers.
People would welcome a mixed development where possible because it not only makes daily services more accessible but also makes your living area more vibrant. More people in India in fact mean more security instead of the other way round in America. Senior citizens also don’t have to take pains to travel far for their minimal needs and in return are more comfortable in seeing people around. Help is only a shout away.
Things however are different in America. No wonder city planning is as contextual as it can get.