INDUTOPIA: REMARKS ON THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INDIAN CITY

India is a place where complexity and chaos are embraced as key ingredients in the warp and weft of the urban fabric.

Indian culture also embraces patience. She has waited, and can wait: the still center around which a whorl of change and continuity, parochialism and vision, the very old and the very new join one another in a cosmic dance.

This center is the Extended Indian Family. The business of the nation is passed from generation to generation within this Family, along with language, tradition, and culture. Indians love their extended family, whether freely or out of obligation. They choose to share the same or adjacent living quarters at every socio-economic stratum. Wisdom is dispensed therein; support is given and empathy is freely available.

The nurturing world view required for the selflessness the Family demands has, besides the patience at its center, a tolerant if not respectful attitude towards others. This has enabled a large number of ethnic, racial, and religious groups to live side by side peacefully.

The Family is a refuge from the limits imposed by society. The caste system was, and is, hereditary. Poverty and wealth are hereditary as well. Even governance, where a Gandhi trumps political opposition generation after generation, has a strong familial element.

Enumerating the requirements of a city built to accommodate this moment and the future India must begin with this building block.

Ironically, Indians are now highly mobile within their own country. The newly educated and rapidly expanding middle class participates in a mass migration towards centers of technology and commerce and the prosperity they offer. What begins to break down is the Family. Parents, siblings, uncles and aunts; grandparents and their families are left behind as millions move to Hyderabad and Bangalore and fifty other cities destined to become decentralized centers in the internet age.

What these people achieve is held in very high esteem. Education, affluence, and professional growth conspire to create wealth and erode the Family at the same time. Across the country workers stagger home from 12-hour work days to new apartment blocks, going from co-workers to the television instead of to a relative for gossip and comfort.

They stay in touch with their family members by phone and computer but the physical proximity of others one takes for granted in Indian families is overtaken by the suspicions the culture encourages towards strangers.

Compound this suspicion with an environment of apartment towers which isolate the nuclear family from the ground and from their neighbors, a sense of alienation can arise.

The only public realm is for shopping. Malls and superstores are the town squares of 20th century America and India is following suit.

Slums, interestingly, have the urban infrastructure of a medieval Mediterranean city. Closed to vehicular traffic, they have narrow lanes where every inhabitant knows his neighbor. Urban infrastructure is improvisational but organized and includes waste removal, fire prevention, shopping, medical care, and restaurants.

This lies behind the squalor others pity or fear. It is fragile, but not ramshackle, chaotic but not lacking in clear hierarchy. When tower blocks are built for displaced slum dwellers, many choose a different slum, renting or just giving up their new quarters.

Still, slums appall for good reason. Squalor is the stuff of poverty, and poverty is the realm of the marginalized, disenfranchised and uneducated. The problems of poverty are innumerable; the solutions as varied and complex.

A good place to start would be education. If every man, woman, and child in India had access to basic literacy training and trade school, it would provide many with ascent from abject poverty.

How ironic that the poor can have a strong sense of community but the middle class may be without it, living in new tower blocks isolated from one another.

Starting out with basic goals for these groups of the population: we could propose places for informal interaction for the middle class and basic skill-driven education for the poor. These could be programmatic elements in a new Urban Infrastructure.

What of the rich? Popular belief is that they can take care of themselves very well. They can afford to live with extended family in the traditional manner, and they work and live along side their relatives. The wealthy also have enclaves for gathering with one anther, preferring other people of means as social companions.

One thing the wealthy do desire is immortality. That is why, in the west, they endow colleges, donate buildings, fund research programs and do other works that will bear their name beyond the limits of their mortal lives. Indians venerate their ancestors and that itself, along with respect for elders still living is itself a noble practice.

Western-style philanthropy seems uncommon among wealthy Indians. Indutopia (encouraged by the civil government, itself led by a cross section of the city population) this type of largess would be celebrated and elevated to the highest level of prestige.

The cultural institutions would have benefactors: theatres, music halls, cricket grounds; but so would the neighborhoods of the poor. This, the most populous part of Indutopia, would have quarters bearing any name their benefactor would choose. And what the benefactor could fund is one of the noblest gestures in the teeming city: transformation of the most poor into a class of workers with simple, but useful skills.

Among the simple masonry midrise apartment buildings that house the poor, there would be a network of open plazas with roofs so they can be used year round. In these, the same lesson of the same class would be taught eight hours each day, so people could manage them with other obligations in their lives.

There could be eight sessions, with attendance taken, with midterm exams, and a final one at 12 weeks with examination at the end and a certificate given to show prospective employers. As many of the attendees will be illiterate, testing methods would accommodate this. The classes themselves would build skill sets as is the custom in ordinary school.

Basic literacy, in Hindi and in English, would always be offered, as reading and writing are the first steps out of desperate poverty.

Graduating students would go on to be mechanics, word processors, domestic staff; hotel housekeeping crews, chauffeurs, and will fill all of the menial jobs with the advantage of training and basic literacy. This gives them an edge up in competition for these positions, and may even result in a slight uptick in wages.

Each plaza and the service it renders could be financed (with plaques and ceremonies documenting the event) by the wealthy or groups of middle class citizens. Largess is at the core of all religions, so the gesture could be viewed as piety as well.

Sell philanthropy to the new India. Its wealth and its capacity to help so many are new. There could be posh benefactor’s club, and opportunities to pay for urban amenities are always plentiful and always a cause for celebration.

For the Middle Class a place to meet informally or just experience the presence of others would help offset loneliness. Idealized streets, with shops and fountains and shade tree, could combine with plazas containing restaurants and night clubs (and produce markets during the day) to provide a forum for the chance encounters that humanity sees to thrive upon. Eventually acquaintances would be made, and then friends for those who want them.

In this quarter of the city one may encounter cinemas, a theatre, monuments to Iconic Indians, and opportunities for the wealthy to share their abundance.

Highrise office buildings could identify the city center, a city with life 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The model for this quarter of the town would be any traditional Mediterranean city. In Italy, the “passagiatta” at day’s end is the time
after the heat of the day when the bourgeoisie stroll through the pedestrian quarters of the city to meet and run into friends and acquaintances. In 21st century India however, the streets and squares are carved out of vast parking structures 6 meters in height and fronted on all sides with shops and other urban amenities.

Light manufacturing or back office space could also occupy these spaces, receiving natural light from above through skylights cut into the roof. Whole zones of this space devoted to noon-polluting activities would be inexpensive to erect and would grow outwards as demand for this space increases.

Atop these gargantuan structures, apartment towers rise in sylvan grace amidst densely planted gardens. Their inhabitants would be living in towers in the park, overlooking a pedestrian city bereft of carbon monoxide and honking horns.

This configuration would inevitably be stratified according to social convention, with shops and housing in synch with the level of its occupants’ affluence.

It would also guarantee consistency as the city grows. Parking and back office space built to accommodate demand would have the structure built into it to support housing that may not be needed at that time. Conversely, housing would have to be built on the garden podium to go up.

A Masterplan free enough to actually be put to use without penalty to developers would have to be enforced for a period of three generations.

A city organized in this way could approach the perfect modern Indian city: largess and opportunity for the poor; an ideal mix of city and garden for the middle and upper classes, and a social order informed in part by philanthropy for all.

INDUTOPIA: REMARKS ON THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INDIAN CITY

India is a place where complexity and chaos are embraced as key ingredients in the warp and weft of the urban fabric.

Indian culture also embraces patience. She has waited, and can wait: the still center around which a whorl of change and continuity, parochialism and vision, the very old and the very new join one another in a cosmic dance.

This center is the Extended Indian Family. The business of the nation is passed from generation to generation within this Family, along with language, tradition, and culture. Indians love their extended family, whether freely or out of obligation. They choose to share the same or adjacent living quarters at every socio-economic stratum. Wisdom is dispensed therein; support is given and empathy is freely available.

The nurturing world view required for the selflessness the Family demands has, besides the patience at its center, a tolerant if not respectful attitude towards others. This has enabled a large number of ethnic, racial, and religious groups to live side by side peacefully.

The Family is a refuge from the limits imposed by society. The caste system was, and is, hereditary. Poverty and wealth are hereditary as well. Even governance, where a Gandhi trumps political opposition generation after generation, has a strong familial element.

Enumerating the requirements of a city built to accommodate this moment and the future India must begin with this building block.

Ironically, Indians are now highly mobile within their own country. The newly educated and rapidly expanding middle class participates in a mass migration towards centers of technology and commerce and the prosperity they offer. What begins to break down is the Family. Parents, siblings, uncles and aunts; grandparents and their families are left behind as millions move to Hyderabad and Bangalore and fifty other cities destined to become decentralized centers in the internet age.

What these people achieve is held in very high esteem. Education, affluence, and professional growth conspire to create wealth and erode the Family at the same time. Across the country workers stagger home from 12-hour work days to new apartment blocks, going from co-workers to the television instead of to a relative for gossip and comfort.

They stay in touch with their family members by phone and computer but the physical proximity of others one takes for granted in Indian families is overtaken by the suspicions the culture encourages towards strangers.

Compound this suspicion with an environment of apartment towers which isolate the nuclear family from the ground and from their neighbors, a sense of alienation can arise.

The only public realm is for shopping. Malls and superstores are the town squares of 20th century America and India is following suit.

Slums, interestingly, have the urban infrastructure of a medieval Mediterranean city. Closed to vehicular traffic, they have narrow lanes where every inhabitant knows his neighbor. Urban infrastructure is improvisational but organized and includes waste removal, fire prevention, shopping, medical care, and restaurants.

This lies behind the squalor others pity or fear. It is fragile, but not ramshackle, chaotic but not lacking in clear hierarchy. When tower blocks are built for displaced slum dwellers, many choose a different slum, renting or just giving up their new quarters.

Still, slums appall for good reason. Squalor is the stuff of poverty, and poverty is the realm of the marginalized, disenfranchised and uneducated. The problems of poverty are innumerable; the solutions as varied and complex.

A good place to start would be education. If every man, woman, and child in India had access to basic literacy training and trade school, it would provide many with ascent from abject poverty.

How ironic that the poor can have a strong sense of community but the middle class may be without it, living in new tower blocks isolated from one another.

Starting out with basic goals for these groups of the population: we could propose places for informal interaction for the middle class and basic skill-driven education for the poor. These could be programmatic elements in a new Urban Infrastructure.

What of the rich? Popular belief is that they can take care of themselves very well. They can afford to live with extended family in the traditional manner, and they work and live along side their relatives. The wealthy also have enclaves for gathering with one anther, preferring other people of means as social companions.

One thing the wealthy do desire is immortality. That is why, in the west, they endow colleges, donate buildings, fund research programs and do other works that will bear their name beyond the limits of their mortal lives. Indians venerate their ancestors and that itself, along with respect for elders still living is itself a noble practice.

Western-style philanthropy seems uncommon among wealthy Indians. Indutopia (encouraged by the civil government, itself led by a cross section of the city population) this type of largess would be celebrated and elevated to the highest level of prestige.

The cultural institutions would have benefactors: theatres, music halls, cricket grounds; but so would the neighborhoods of the poor. This, the most populous part of Indutopia, would have quarters bearing any name their benefactor would choose. And what the benefactor could fund is one of the noblest gestures in the teeming city: transformation of the most poor into a class of workers with simple, but useful skills.

Among the simple masonry midrise apartment buildings that house the poor, there would be a network of open plazas with roofs so they can be used year round. In these, the same lesson of the same class would be taught eight hours each day, so people could manage them with other obligations in their lives.

There could be eight sessions, with attendance taken, with midterm exams, and a final one at 12 weeks with examination at the end and a certificate given to show prospective employers. As many of the attendees will be illiterate, testing methods would accommodate this. The classes themselves would build skill sets as is the custom in ordinary school.

Basic literacy, in Hindi and in English, would always be offered, as reading and writing are the first steps out of desperate poverty.

Graduating students would go on to be mechanics, word processors, domestic staff; hotel housekeeping crews, chauffeurs, and will fill all of the menial jobs with the advantage of training and basic literacy. This gives them an edge up in competition for these positions, and may even result in a slight uptick in wages.

Each plaza and the service it renders could be financed (with plaques and ceremonies documenting the event) by the wealthy or groups of middle class citizens. Largess is at the core of all religions, so the gesture could be viewed as piety as well.

Sell philanthropy to the new India. Its wealth and its capacity to help so many are new. There could be posh benefactor’s club, and opportunities to pay for urban amenities are always plentiful and always a cause for celebration.

For the Middle Class a place to meet informally or just experience the presence of others would help offset loneliness. Idealized streets, with shops and fountains and shade tree, could combine with plazas containing restaurants and night clubs (and produce markets during the day) to provide a forum for the chance encounters that humanity sees to thrive upon. Eventually acquaintances would be made, and then friends for those who want them.

In this quarter of the city one may encounter cinemas, a theatre, monuments to Iconic Indians, and opportunities for the wealthy to share their abundance.

Highrise office buildings could identify the city center, a city with life 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The model for this quarter of the town would be any traditional Mediterranean city. In Italy, the “passagiatta” at day’s end is the time
after the heat of the day when the bourgeoisie stroll through the pedestrian quarters of the city to meet and run into friends and acquaintances. In 21st century India however, the streets and squares are carved out of vast parking structures 6 meters in height and fronted on all sides with shops and other urban amenities.

Light manufacturing or back office space could also occupy these spaces, receiving natural light from above through skylights cut into the roof. Whole zones of this space devoted to noon-polluting activities would be inexpensive to erect and would grow outwards as demand for this space increases.

Atop these gargantuan structures, apartment towers rise in sylvan grace amidst densely planted gardens. Their inhabitants would be living in towers in the park, overlooking a pedestrian city bereft of carbon monoxide and honking horns.

This configuration would inevitably be stratified according to social convention, with shops and housing in synch with the level of its occupants’ affluence.

It would also guarantee consistency as the city grows. Parking and back office space built to accommodate demand would have the structure built into it to support housing that may not be needed at that time. Conversely, housing would have to be built on the garden podium to go up.

A Masterplan free enough to actually be put to use without penalty to developers would have to be enforced for a period of three generations.

A city organized in this way could approach the perfect modern Indian city: largess and opportunity for the poor; an ideal mix of city and garden for the middle and upper classes, and a social order informed in part by philanthropy for all.

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