In recent times there has been a lot of talk about the abolition of death penalty. The main point put forward by the advocates of abolition is that, should there be a mistake in judgement, there is no reprieve after the sentence is executed. Let us now tum our attention to what is happening in our cities. A very glaring thing is that we are sentencing many an innocent citizen to death daily without being aware of our guilt. There are people dying on the roads, there are people dying in slums; yet nobody seems to pay attention to such deaths in the way I, and I hope, some more people look at these. Such deaths are written off as accidents or God’s will. But I think they are caused by the error of human judgement, may be thoughtlessness. In most of our cities, even today when we consider ourselves very enlightened, we are not only not looking for means of preventing such deaths of innocent people, but also, are we increasing the means of increasing such deaths.
Nature has its own methods of restoring balance in the world, that is in case the human beings fail to do it themselves. The development of atom bomb is not merely a human caprice, but is also a warning of nature to human beings. Our cities have been becoming more and more unbalanced for quite sometime, and the saturation point is reaching very rapidly. Unless something is done by us, the atom bomb may have to do it.
What is a City
A city is like a human being, both physically and spiritually. City has character. It bears and reacts to the stresses and strains of life like a living body. Its roads, streets, lanes and paths arc like the arteries and veins. The city has its nervous system, disposal of waste-matter system, acquiring of fresh-supplies-system. If a human body is well looked after it is happy and prosperous. Occasionally it is attacked by germs from outside; sometimes germs grow inside, and cause disease. If they are not accounted for immediately or in good time, the whole body becomes diseased, decay starts and then gradually dies. A city reacts in exactly the same manner.
A good city is that which functions well, is aesthetically satisfying, has a character of its own, has respect for the past, and is prepared to receive the future.
What is the Function of a City
The function would vary from city to city. Some cities are industrial, some the seat of Government, some are business centres and others are tourist or health resorts.
But some functions are common.
A city must provide:
(1) Peaceful, comfortable and homely dwellings.
(2) Means of care, relaxation and exercise of body and spirit, parks, lakes, museums, art galleries, community centres, health centres, hospitals.
(3) Means of acquiring and increasing knowledge (educational institutions, libraries).
(4) Efficient and safe means of communication, vehicular and pedestrian, internal and external.
(5) Good supply and disposal, services (water supply, electricity, drainage, telephone, gas).
(6) Places of work and commerce for earning a living (factories, offices, shops, banks, insurance companies).
(7) Essential needs of life within easy distance.
(8) Good environments.
Aesthetics and character are matters of feeling. Different persons are apt to describe these diff When we say that a place has character we mean that it is able to express its personality and what it expresses seems to us interesting and satisfying in value. Character conveys an idea of the quality that goes with a building or a landscape or a townscape that is conceived in the mind of the designer but lives in the social and economic and cultural world of its time. No matter how one describes these qualities, I believe, everyone can feel them. Inhabitants of a city play a large part in forming its character, and the city, in its turn, imparts a certain character to its citizens.
Respect for the past is also evidenced in the character of a city, but how to receive the future is the main purpose of this paper.
What were our old cities like: In the old days cities were built to serve some specific purposes, to cater for certain needs. There was usually a wall round to protect from sudden invasions. The streets were narrow, but sufficient for the traffic, mainly pedestrian, that moved on them. The houses were built round a big courtyard which apart from serving other purposes, admitted enough light and air into the rooms. There was not much sanitation problem, for the cities were essentially small, and there was enough countryside surrounding them where waste matter could be disposed of easily and profitably. The problem of traffic, electricity, gas, telephone, etc., never existed. Life was of a diff pattern, and the cities catered for that. This is a very generalized and broad description of old cities. So long as the rate of growth of these cities was slow, they usually catered for the gradually changing needs successfully. Fundamentally the pattern of life remained unchanged. It is when a sudden impact of something new and far reaching takes a city unawares that a growth starts which can be detrimental. A few such impacts I can think of are the following:
(1) A big industry springs up or is brought in by discovery of some raw materials. mine, or the invention of a new process of manufacture.
(2) The city becomes big business centre by introduction of some new means of communication or by the growth of some industry inside or in the vicinity.
(3) The city assumes political importance by its becoming a Capital, or the seat of some national or international organization.
(4) The city becomes an important seat of learning by location of some University.
(5) The city assumes military importance due to introduction of some new means of warfare, or by the danger of flare up in some parts of the world.
(6) The city becomes a tourist attraction due to finds of an ancient civilization, or development of some neglected amenity like a lake.
There must be many more aspects causing sudden change of which I am not aware. But I am sure, as time passes, newer aspects will play part in causing vital changes in city pattern. In the near future, ‘air travel’ and atomic energy are going to influence our cities considerably. The various aspects mentioned may influence a city singly, jointly, or in any number of combinations. The general tendency, however, is that a growing city tends to keep on growing.
Normally these influences should enrich the life of a city and sometimes accidentally do, at any rate, they always appear to do so. But the unawareness of the rapid change and failure to cater for it generally prove disastrous. Although the wealth, and people, and equipment pour in, within the city takes place a cancerous growth which begins to eat into its very vitals. People begin to build on every patch of land available, and encroach upon the public land as far as possible. The city becomes congested, un healthy and slummy. Well-to-do leave the interior and move to the outskirts in healthy open environments. The suburbs and model towns grow. But no one tackles the cancer in the interior. It spreads its fangs around. The first belt of suburbs is in its grip, the next belt grows round it. Thus the city goes on growing on the survival-of-the-fittest system and the diseased core goes on spreading. What was formerly a happy healthy city now becomes an unhappy but wealthy and chaotic conglomeration.
Let us examine the pattern of life in such a city. There is the old city and there is the new suburb. The functions of both are clearly discernable. One is a living mechanism in spite of all the disadvantages, the other is an escape from life. See the old street of the old city: It is filthy, dirty, breeding germs and disease, full of squalor and bad language. Yet it is vibrant with the noise of children playing, the men-folk spontaneously gathering in the house of one another, discussing the problem of the day, the pleasures of tomorrow, or the glories of past; women gossiping from their respective balconies on the two sides of the narrow street, and then sometimes meeting each other on the water tap or the community wall or shopping place. There is perpetual activity, struggle, merry-making. sorrow-sharing. Everyone knows what is happening in the street and has a part to play in that happening—and that is life.
People who find city life frightening and can afford to leave it, escape to the suburbs—the retreats—and give them beautiful names, least apt of which is ‘Model Town’. There are wide stretches of Tarmac, lots of trees, houses at comfortable distances from one another. This sounds almost heavenly, but is it? What is life in a model town? There are children who are kept like pickles or preserves, preserved from the stresses of life fearful lest they catch this habit or that infection, fearful of life itself, being sent to schools in protected cars, and led to play by governing ayahs. The men and women seldom meet except by appointment, or on occasions when they pay social calls. Escapism is no solution. Solution of our cities’ problems has to be found within the city itself. Here is the method of doing it:—
The first essential is to take stock of the condition of our cities by doing thorough surveys of each city, for each is bound to have its own peculiar problems. Such surveys should include the for aspects of a city:
(1) Condition, livability and utility of all types of buildings.
(2) Services, i.e. (a) Electricity, (b) Water supply, (c) Drainage, (d) Gas, (e) Telephone, etc.
(3) Traffic conditions, i.e. (a) Vehicular traffic, (b) Pedestrian traffic, (c) times of maximum and minimum traffics of both types.
(4) Location and catering capacities of the essential community and educational buildings like schools, clinics, temples and their draw acres.
(5) Animal population of the city and provision for them.
(6) Density in various parts.
(7) Working places, industries, offices, business houses; their employment capacities and draw areas.
(8) Parks and open spaces.
(9) Trends in future development.
Such surveys should be put on transparent papers so that each aspect of the city life can be studied singly or in combination with one or more other aspects. Such surveys can, of course, only be made by personnel qualified to do such work. There are so many cities in India, and the number of trained persons required is tremendous. Yet no one seems to have thought of setting up such training institutions. However, such surveys will automatically suggest the steps to be taken to remove the malaise from which our cities suffer and also show the ways for future development. As I said before, each city will have its own problems and its own solutions, but some common factors are apt to be visible:
(1) The slum areas which appear to present the most formidable problem can be improved tremendously by some relatively simple operations. The first thing that is likely to suggest itself is the opening up of the choked interiors of these areas not by widening the streets (or dissection of the arteries) but by removing such properties as are in a dilapidated condition. This will result in the formation of open squares here and there which will act like vent holes for sucking fresh air and feeding it through the narrow streets.
(2) There will be certain areas which are absolutely blighted, and there is hardly any change of improvement in those. Before coming to this conclusion the houses in such areas should be carefully studied. It often happens, that the houses have a substantial courtyard for admitting light and air. It is only the streets which are too narrow. It may be possible to widen the streets. If it is a case of completely clearing a blighted area, it is a formidable problem. Here the problem has to be tackled boldly yet imaginatively. It will be worthwhile to note in this connection that:
(a) People have affinities, sentimental attachment, even for the worst places they live in.
(b) Even if the sentiments are overcome, it is not possible to move these people in far removed places, for that will upset the economic and social pattern of their lives.
(c) If these people are forcibly removed they may fa prey to the ever vigilant speculator who will build shanties for them on the outskirts and charge as much rent as possible;
Thus the basic thing that accommodation has to be found for them in the area where they live, and density of population has to be maintained. The answer would be to build vertically—blocks of flats—and let out cheaply to the inhabitants of that area. Of course no private enterprise will undertake such a losing concern. The Government will have to do it as a national job.
(3) In the shopping streets it is likely to be discovered that these streets were originally quite wide. But with increased business and lack of control, the shop keepers started building platforms outside their shops. The next step was making a roof over the platform and then build yet another platform. This process went on till the streets could not be narrowed further. There is nothing to it but to restore to the street the width that belonged to it.
(4) The moment the interior of the city is opened up in the above manner, there is a very grave danger—the danger of the invasion of the automobile. The moment a street is wide enough to take a car. it hoots its way through, throwing the tranquillity of the place out of gear. Today, there is no problem more difficult to solve than the problem of the automobile, and yet this problem is the least appreciated except in so far as it causes road accidents and traffic blocks. I do not wish to undermine the tremendous advantages of an auto: a motor car has been rightly described as a pair of seven legged boots, a rain coat, a shopping basket, mobile office, and a make-shift week-end cottage, always at our disposal for as little as two annas a mile. and virtually no break downs. But what nobody seems to realise is that an old city was never designed to take a motor car in it, that its advent has deprived the common citizen of the dignity with which he used to move about in the streets, that it has snatched from the children their play space, that a motor car generally carrying one passenger occupies as much road space, parking space, and garage space as a public vehicle carrying twenty persons need occupy. Widening of streets is no solution to the car problem. The only solution is the segregation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The survey of an old city will have to be care fully studied to determine which streets should be allowed to take cars, and up to which points the cars may go. It seems to me that the cars may enter the city from a few (four, five six…… according to the size of the city) controlled points leading to an inner circular road from which all the dwellings are within easy walking distance-say 15 minutes. On this inner circular road may be located a number of garages and parking spaces, but it must not have any shops or houses opening on to it. Thus there would be formed neighbourhood zones surrounded by roads which will take all the vehicular traffic on them, but no vehicles will go inside. Within these it should be ensured that essential needs of life—e.g., shopping, education, and health amenities are provided, so that crossing the vehicular traffic ring may be minimised.
The other remedies for improving the lot of our old cities are of more obvious nature, and are, I believe, in the minds of most people. These are provision of adequate underground drainage, garbage disposal, water supply, electricity supply, provision of schools and health centres, parks and open spaces, etc.
While on the subject of services, electric, water supply and drainage, it is worth while drawing attention to the forest of poles, pipes and wires that clutters the landscape of our cities. It is all right to provide the services, but the manner of providing them is no less important. Running underground cables for electricity and telephones may be costly but not impossible. Even if they have to go overground, they can be provided with proper planning, and a satisfactory system devised for tapping connections from them to individual buildings. Same remarks apply for street furniture like letter box, bus stop, water kiosk, man-hole covers, dust-bins, and road signs. These things can be cheap and simple but elegant, and should be placed with due consideration in a street. Street furniture is to the street like the garments to a human body.
No treatment of a city is complete without laying on a plan for its future development. For this purpose it is imminent to enforce a Town and Country Planning Act on the lines of that enforced in Britain in 1947 according to which no piece of land can be developed beyond its existing use without prior permission of the Government. Again such a Town and Country Planning Act would be useless unless development plans are prepared for the whole country. This is a gigantic task. yet it is not even taken in hand. I wonder what our Second Five-Year Plan says about Town and Country Planning. There is no Ministry for this purpose either in the Centre or in any State. However, it is worthwhile to lay down a few basic things to be borne in mind while planning for posterity.
(1) We are given to thinking that we have enough land on which we can build in our country. This is a misconception. It only appears to be so because most of the people live huddled together in small hovels. The moment their standard of living rises by increased productivity and better distribution of wealth, there will be (and there actually is just now) tremendous demand for more and better houses.
(2) In our city and building planning, services like electricity, gas, sewerage, water supply, air conditioning, telephone, etc., will play greater and greater part every day. On account of these it will be possible to live a lot more comfort in smaller houses than we are prone to think today. These two considerations lead us to the conclusion that we will have to provide quite high densities of building in relation to land in our cities. Greater the spread or lesser the density, the higher is the cost of services and greater the encroachment on agricultural land. In spite of the higher cost of construction we have to start in terms of building vertically in our cities. Until we can do so, we must definitely stop practically all detached housing which appears to be the fashion of the day. It is wrong not only because it takes more space, and building and services cost more, but because it beats the very purpose for which it is intended—privacy.
(3) We are going to have more and more automobiles on our roads. It is essential, therefore to build separate auto-roads and pedestrian ways.
(4) The air travel is going to increase year by year, and in not very distant future people will start owning helicopters like they own cars today.
(5) It is going to become State duty to provide compulsory free education at least up to matriculation.
(6) It is going to become State duty to provide free medical facilities to all its people.
(7) Atomic energy is going to revolutionise power factor in our development works. Thus development work will be much faster than we are used to thinking today.
(8) There will be more and more contact between the people of the world. Tourism will become an industry. There will be more and more cultural exchanges between the countries, and art, music, drama and all other cultural activities will flourish.
(9) More and more people will move into the city, as farming will become mechanised and cities industrialised.
(10) Many new building techniques which are already in use in other parts of the world will be put to use in India. India will develop some techniques of its own also.
From these it is evident that the pattern of life, and therefore, of cities will be a lot more complex. Organization, team work and planning will be the pass-words on every lip. We must be prepared to receive this future. But are we?
Let it be known that if something is not done immediately about the adequate planning of our towns and villages, and countryside, we will have to devote several subsequent Five-Year Plans in only undoing the damage that will have been done. The situation today is like that of a train of disaster going down-hill with accelerating momentum. It will take all our strength and energy, and all our capabilities to bring this train to a halt, and even more to take it up the hill of betterment.
Let me conclude this paper by saying that Chandigarh is probably the only place in this vast country of ours which is being built with due consideration of the shape of things to come, with due regard for aesthetics and efficiency. Let us hope that Chandigarh will start a ball of awareness of planning of our cities and countryside rolling which will bring awakening in the whole country, and let us hope that we shall be able to live well in a happy and prosperous country.