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TECH TALK: Creating Indias New Cities: Think Big

April 13th, 2007 · No Comments

By Atanu Dey

There is something in the nature of the world that it is sometimes paradoxically more difficult to make small changes than to make big ones. Logically consistent big changes are more likely to succeed because of the interconnectedness of the world.

At times, big changes are forced on the system from external shocks which make the transition unavoidable because the old order is destroyed. It is suggested that around sixty-five million years ago, the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction (referred to as the K-T event) where 70 percent of all living species disappeared was the result of an external shock which was delivered by a 10-km diameter chondritic asteroid slamming into the earth. That extinction destroyed the dinosaurs but cleared the land for the rise of the mammals we belong to that class. Less dramatically but more palpably, India was forced to liberalize its economy when the external shock to the system arrived in the form of an external balance of payment crisis.

India is unlikely to face an exogenous shock to the system large enough to force it to build the cities that it needs for the hundreds of millions who are currently trapped in villages. The existing cities are dying and although the situation within them is dire and unbearable, it is the result of continuous adjustment to gradually worsening conditions over a sufficiently long period. These cities will not collapse in the next few years but if if present trends continue, in a decade or so, they will be dead. It is better to consider alternative plans now rather than when the collapse eventually happens.

In this series on the need for the urbanization of India’s population, I have explored the idea of deliberately building new well-planned efficient beautiful livable cities. I am convinced that it is possible to do so even in the face of the obvious challenges that such a gigantic undertaking would entail. I believe that the resources that are required will be created during the process of building the cities.

Cities generate wealth. That is, they produce stuff. That wealth itself can be used to produce the cities that generate even more wealth. With only a relatively little amount of resources but with a lot of gumption, one can start a process a self-catalytic process which can most certainly engage the considerable talents and resources of the country. Like the vision which impelled a nation to seek political freedom, the time is high that a bold vision was outlined for the nation for economic freedom. It is time to think big because the Indian people have what it takes to make a big vision a reality. We have done it in the past over two and a half thousand years ago with cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

I conclude with the words of a great visionary and urban planner, Daniel Burnham (1846 1912).

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.


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