The Indian ‘public’


My time in India thus far has yielded some really interesting case studies, or uniquely Indian examples, of what public space is and how ‘the public’ is defined.  In the UAE, I was able to find specific places to document, to study within the cities I was interested in.  Here, it is harder to pin-point such worthy locations and it is more difficult to wrap my head around the boundaries of a city or a space engulfed in informalities.  I think that is the most striking feature that I notice everywhere: the informal nature of how things are done and how things are built, and how spaces are used.  There is the constant juxtaposition of formal space making, informal uses, and the policy that constantly tries to address a future.

I chose to study Mumbai (Bombay) because it was a great example of a very old, established city with a booming population and new development happening both inside the city and on the outskirts, in the suburbs of Navi Mumbai (New Bombay) and the SEZs.  On Thursday, the World Bank announced that Mumbai is the world’s most densely populated city.  Mumbai’s population more than doubled since the 80s.  If you experience this density on the ground, the traffic, congestion of people, vehicles, buildings, slums, you wonder how this city can tolerate any more people or development.  New cities seem to be the only answer to a city that seems to have bottlenecked all of its internal flows.  How can you combat the filth, overcrowded districts?  This was my question….I am slowly uncovering some possible answers.

“Instead of worrying about the size of metropolises, cities and towns,” the World Development Report called urban policy makers “to worry about making sure these places work well.”  -The Hindu, Friday March 13, 2009

Just like everywhere I’ve been thus far, India is upgrading and investing in tons of infrastructure.  People who work on the paving of sidewalks and aligning of curbs, sleep on the surfaces they have built that same day.  In Ahmedabad, plans for a new Bus Rapid Transit were underway.  In Bangalore, an elevated metro line, several steps down from the one going up in Dubai, is in progress.  Real estate development has mostly slowed here as well.

Is the recession slowing the pace of cities to such an extent that they will no longer ‘work well’?   How is it affecting the public spaces?  Well, here, they are more congested, workers are there….of a single caste and class.

All eyes on Obama…wherever I go, whatever paper I pick up…the world is waiting.  I think my dad’s words actually affected me the most.  He talked to me online about Obama’s charisma and the best thing to happen since Kennedy, “I’m an Obama man, now!”


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