"Mamma, why is India like this? No other country we've been to is like this." And he's been to Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Australia and Egypt.
This was my 11-year old lamenting as we walked on the footpath on one of our Bangalore roads. We encountered numerous obstacles on the way - mounds of mud and rubble, poo, burnt leaves, a broken commode, packets of old clothes, stinking garbage, fighting dogs, a pani-puri cart and its customers, an old man stretching his hands out for alms, a man relieving himself at the 'footpath urinal'. Some places had gaping holes filled with rubbish, clogging up the storm water drain that ran beneath it. We even encountered impatient two-wheelers who found the footpath quicker than the four-lane road. We finally did most of the walk on the road instead of the footpath, dodging the oncoming traffic whose space we were using. All this because we decided to do the 2 km distance on foot instead of taking our car. The driving road and the walking road are two different things.
On another day, I needed to take my 92 year old grandmother to the diagnostic lab for a routine blood test. The lab is hardly 500 metres from our house and very convenient for her to walk, but where would she walk? The footpath, if it does exist, is too high for her to get on to. And even if she manages to climb the step, it is so uneven that I would be putting her life at risk. So I took her by car, dropped her off, and took the car back to the house because I couldn't get a place to park the car near the lab. We walked back home... we walked on the road because the road was the safest place for her to walk.
These two examples are mainly about footpaths (traffic is one of the major challenges that our cities face today), but if we look deeper, there are challenges everywhere and in all the basic human necessities - in food, housing, education, healthcare. 'Growth', 'GDP', 'Development' are meaningless words when we lack the basic amenities that are a given for people in most other countries.
I am convinced that something is wrong with most of us Indians in India. We've failed miserably. The administration has failed by not providing basic infrastructure and the citizens have failed by not demanding it. The administrators have been singly driven by cash-rich 'infrastructure' projects like land conversion, road widening and flyovers. We citizens have been so focused on building our own cozy homes and achieving our own life goals that we've had no time to stop and think about what is happening just outside our compound walls. And even if we've noticed something not quite right, we've been waiting for someone else to correct it for us. On the flip side, those who do things are like misfits in the system.
"Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him." - Mahatma Gandhi
Most of our 'city improvements' would answer 'No' to the above. We've had the guiding light and we've failed to follow it.
Today, our cities are just surviving. It's day-to-day survival. It will take a lot of will and courage to change things. But it's never too late.
About two months ago, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) sent out a public notice for Revision of Bangalore's Master Plan 2015 inviting citizens to give inputs/ suggestions in writing by July 7, 2012. This is a statutory requirement starting the process to define and guide how Bangalore needs to develop till 2035. In asking for citizen inputs ahead of the process to construct RMP 2035, BDA is seen as being sensitive to the views of citizens. The document that will finally result from this exercise is Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2035.
The Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF) has been consolidating the suggestions of Bangaloreans, RWAs, NGOs, industry associations, social groups to send to the BDA. PNLIT took this opportunity to list out some of the things on our mind and we have sent inputs/ suggestions to NBA for inclusion in the document that they will submit to BDA.
Being no town planner myself, I've been doing some reading to see how other countries have planned their towns and how they have managed to provide their citizens with the quality of life that they have. A lot of it is just common sense and I have concluded that the master plan of any city should be developed with public open spaces as the foundation. Read PNLITs inputs/ suggestions here.
"The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems." - Mahatma Gandhi
We have the capability. We just need to honestly do.
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