Dubai now is about scale and size. They are trying to attract the worlds best with their custom-created vertically-focused cities (Internet City, Media City). They recognise their limitations and are working around it to create a region which combines brainpower and capital. The oft-quoted answer for why Dubai and Singapore can do it and we cannot is that they have lots of money and their populations are small as compared to India. But we are barking up the wrong tree.
Once upon a time, Dubai and Singapore were just spots on a map. It is someones Imagination that has created the modern-day wonders we look up to. And that is perhaps the biggest differentiator. Imagination and the ability to envision a future that doesnt exist today is what has and will set apart the winners from the also-rans. Of course, Imagination has to be combined with Capital and Execution but the starting point is the ability to make big plans and dream big, along with the ability to learn from others who have faced similar situations in the past.
Take the way we construct our roads in India. Even after all these years, we cannot build them right to withstand the monsoons. Of course, ask any person on the street and the response will be that the municipal corporations is hand in glove with the contractors so building (the same road) becomes an annual ritual. And we sit by idly and watch as the money is wasted again and again.
I write this because even as India needs new cities, we have to worry about our existing cities. There are tens of millions living in these cities. Can we create a better lifestyle for them actually, ourselves? Or will we just accept the traffic jams, the inadequacy of the schools and playgrounds for the children, the lack of green spaces, and take things they way they are because we cannot imagine anything better? Can we imagine the equivalent of a Snow Park (see the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai) in the desert that urban life in India threatens to become?
Tomorrow: A Choice Not Made