Design Prose

Great City, Terrible Place

Posted in City Scapes, Sustainability, Urban Planning by designprose on April 9, 2010

This is an expression coined by Charles Correa on his impression of City of Bombay. Charles is a renowned architect, activist and a thinker of contemporary architecture and urban planning. In his essay, Great City…Terrible Place he outlines his views on cities and their evolution and how they work occasionally and sometimes fail miserably. A passage quoted below is from the above mentioned essay which captures the essence of underlying urban forces and fabricated sense of ecstasy which is often misrepresented in expressions like great spirit of Bombay or the City that never sleeps.

This is true of Bombay. While it is getting better and better a city, and disintegrating (very rapidly and quite unnecessarily) as environment…perhaps what we are experiencing in the last burst of energy…the spastic twitches before the end. Living in this city we wouldn’t notice it ourselves.

If you drop a frog into a saucepan of very hot water, it will desperately try to hop out. But if you place a frog in tepid water and gradually, very very gradually, raise the temperature, the frog will swim around happily…adjusting to the increasingly dangerous conditions. In fact, just before the end…just before the frog cooks to death…when the water is exceedingly hot…the frog relaxes…and a state of euphoria sets in (as in hot-tub baths). May be that’s what is happening to us in Bombay. As everyday we find it is getting to be more and more of a great city…and a terrible place.

This holds true for the most talked about city of Bombay in a developing India and perhaps this has worked negatively and has brought Bombay on the brink of explosion. Bursting with people, diversities, cultures and its related social implications and grappling to find its identity and some sense of order in all the chaos and confusion. An attempt to create this Utopian  city which will accommodate every Indian and his or her dream and offer squalor and confusion garbed in hopes and misery and a drive to keep fighting in just one single city is a failed strategy. It has become a hub for almost every upward bound economic engine with an exception of Bangalore and Hyderabad which brings migrants in extremely large numbers. Not all migrants want to leave their place of origin if it provided access to basic needs and means to empower themselves and sustain locally.

We need multiple hubs spread strategically around the map of India which will give more even spread of population. So, need for evenly distributed development is not just a humanitarian call but a practical solution for city to sustain. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty will not be able to live too peacefully in close proximity and extreme forces from both ends will create imbalance as we have seen in the case of Bombay’s class divides. One will find people commuting from farthest northern suburbs to work in southern commercial hub. Attempt to redistribute the work force and organize work and housing locally in short distance have been made in places like New Bombay, Bandra-Kurla complex, Lower Parel and Andheri but it hasn’t changed things dramatically and commute still remains a nightmare for residents. Roads remain congested, traffic unruly, urban spaces heaped with garbage littered everywhere and more importantly the complacency and civic sense of people remains questionable.

Lack of planning and unorganized spurts of development remain chaotic and confusing. Dynamic forces like diversity, migration, cultural clashes,  disparities are not given enough consideration & research and it amounts to solutions that do not seem to be working. Thus Bombay remains a place for constant chase, unsatisfactory living conditions and unfulfilled, unrequited sense towards excellence.