Unscrambling urban complexities
Several models of development or non-development have got telescoped in the chaotic ecology of urban India
Nearly two decades ago the centre of gravity of business development infrastructure slowly began migrating out of the centres it occupied, in what was referred to as the Union Territory of Delhi. It imperceptibly and non-so-imperceptibly seeped into the neighbourhood of NOIDA, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and more. The indicators came by way of migration of corporate offices followed by the drinking and eating centres, not to overlook the malls and office spaces which followed. One is not quite sure of the sequence of this all. However, there are two relevant factors. One is, no one had a realistic estimate of the potential demand of spaces and the reality of the time horizon. There is also the fact that many parts of NCR have been continuously in digging-filling-construction mode of roads and lanes.
As a summation therefore, there is a bewildering pool of confusion, aspiration, exasperation and perhaps helplessness. To expect the instruments of governance to solve it in a retrospective frame is of course a fond fantasy.
The settlement of real estate in places like Gurgaon was often dominated by the reach and power of the purchasers. Consider the almost posthumous allotment of HUDA plots to people who did not have adequate reach or power. Boundaries of office and shopping plots were pushed to give shape to the roads. Large patches of which are still symbols of neglect and inability of the developmental agencies to cope. Not strangely, therefore the directions of traffic movement are often altered to the bewilderment of most.
This makes NCR living an effortful and painful process. There are several Governmental and quasi-Governmental agencies at work. Still an overall picture ,is deficient. The results are there for all to see. This has affected not only business but living. As fall out, it has become the quintessential domain of many crimes to which many bear testimony.
There was a time when it was fashionable to the rich and the powerful to invest in setting up malls. There is a time when many of the malls have large spaces not only unoccupied but even those which have been taken have limited business to justify the high costs. Many of the footfalls are of a segment of society which goes there, perhaps to beat boredom and hopefully add colour. The crux of business, in many cases, goes by default.
The relationship between the kind of outlets malls encourage and an important component of urban living — that is retail-- is quite undefined. Trying to get a simple repair job on a watch or any machine for that matter requires visits to areas which are legacy areas, quite untouched by the mall culture. The explanation lies in the cost of having an outlet in the mall.
This is bound to happen when several models of development or non-development get telescoped. Consider the kind of affluence which major corporate breed, match it with the availability of skilled manpower which the successful family needs. Be it the cook, be it the driver, be it the gardener, be it the person who is the truncated version of the classical 'dhobi' and more, there is an endemic shortage. The spaces are filled up by the unskilled, unemployed manpower of several villages embedded in these large townships. There lies the recipe of not just exasperations but the potential breeding ground of crime.
The glitz of the pubbing culture embedded in an environment of strange versions of rural mindset, creates many situations, which are conflict prone.
On this descend legions of multinational consulting and survey firms which in the last few years have been the primadonas of analysis for planning and development. They are serviced by a whole army of people who are not only alienated from indigenous potential but have a limited understanding of the forces at play. Their analysis becomes the bedrock of planning and preparing for the future. Need one say more?
No solution can be attempted without the right framing of questions. Somewhere we have to start understanding the building blocks of complexity that surround us. Sometimes the framing of the right questions is as important as framing of the right answers.
(The writer is a well-known management consultant)
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