Saturday, June 26, 2010

Panchatantras for the city of Bangalore

Panchatantras for the city of Bangalore

DNA asks urban planning experts to write about their vision for Bangalore, on the occasion of the 500th birth anniversary of Kempe Gowda, the founder of the city

Prof Sathya Prakash Varanashi



Even as I started typing this essay, I thought I should not be writing this piece. What follows is possibly known, spoken and written about for ages and, today, I continue to echo similar sentiments.
May be history is repeating, unfortunately only in repeating ideas, but I am doing so hoping the authorities concerned would take note and act upon them. We, including the people in the government, blame the system for all our shortcomings, while, honestly speaking, we should be blaming ourselves.
If the idea of the earth is a complex creation by nature, the idea of a city is an equally complex creation by humans. The common mistake we do is in believing that a city can be managed and governed by anyone, without professionalism, skilled manpower, expert advice and such others. By saying so, I do not intend to demean the employability of government staff, their passion for city or their will power for change. Much good has happened to Bangalore during the last decade, which is laudable. Most people in power have knowledge and awareness, but helplessly let the short-sighted system take over. If people in power act powerless, Bangalore has no hope.
From the urban design and heritage perspective, I have short-listed five ideas:
n Implement 74th constitutional amendment to decentralise governance, give power to people, check on corruption, organise public hearings, ensure all committees have non-political members and engage varied subject experts behind every urban intervention. Bangalore has noticeable number of urban experts with worldwide exposure, whose ideas could be tapped if they are involved right from ward committees to the proposed metropolitan planning body. Inter alia, some priorities may get set and between a flyover or power generation unit, we may do the latter.
n Revive Urban Arts Commission with regulatory powers towards city aesthetics, heritage bye-laws, streetscapes, historic precincts, traditional ambience, appropriate built forms and respect for the holding capacity of each locality. Preserving the city's beauty cannot be preached at today's land prices and increasing cost of building maintenance. All such public suggestions, if only accompanied with incentives, can be implemented.
n Cut down on vehicle-based road-widening and urban renewal, where road-widening has no real end. Mumbai's Fort area and Kolkata's Park Street area have huge vehicular congestion. Central London and New York have similar stories to tell. The wide road of today is bound to become a narrow road tomorrow at the present rate of vehicle sales. We let car manufacturers make money, while the mental agony, social displacement and property loss for inhabitants cannot be justified. If we understand the city mechanism, the self-regulatory powers of a city can be re-instated.
n Discourage city land becoming an investment for returns, where people seem to be buying sites just to keep it vacant. Bangalore sites have often ensured more returns than what gold and shares have managed. No urban idea can survive against such monetary gains. City expands at huge cost of providing roads, phones, buses, water and other services, while site owners enjoy huge return of investment. Owners of vacant sites should be made to pay for expanding city, so taxpayer's money can be utilised for developmental works.
n Introduce implementation monitoring systems where unemployed youth can earn from the penalties charged for violations. If posters deface city walls, we decide to spend money to paint them. Alternately, violators could have been fined to collect funds for the administration.
Bangalore has become a city of in-migrants, who do not even pay the actual cost of services and infrastructure. We all pay subsidised price for water, power and mostly for everything public, which never happens in private sector. Let the private attitudes and public concerns come together in governing Bangalore. We, then, would have taken one more step towards a better Bangalore.
(The writer is founder trustee, Institute of Urban Designers India; convenor, INTACH-Bangalore; former founder trustee, CIVIC Bangalore; and a consultant)

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