People Oriented Development – Part 1

Historically, developments have been inspired by something specific like cars, technology, commerce, heritage or sometimes even trees. But what usually lags this race is people! They do figure in the discussion but in an almost-a-by-product kind of way. Or worse still, they are used for advancing the development itself. But shouldn’t people be the end of any development rather than a means? Shouldn’t transit systems and land uses be the means instead? It is for this lack of priority that people are the ones who suffer or get used to make the development ‘successful’. It is this, development for the sake of itself, that I question.

For the first time in India, Corbusier laid out a city plan designed to accommodate the latest invention of that time – the car. It is to no surprise that Chandigarh now has the largest number of vehicles per capita. And this foundational idea has almost never ceased to reflect on our city plans since, and with that the ever-growing number of cars. It is no rocket science to understand that ‘if you build it, they will come’; and no matter how many roads and flyovers are built, they will never be enough. But the result is only choked roads, wasted fuel and squandered human hours. Not to mention those suffering pedestrians, who never make into the discussions when the city is getting planned. But yes, we do get a city which becomes ‘famous’ for having the most number of flyovers.

To beat this, a whole new wave of thinking came around and became popular by the name of transit-oriented-development. This new brain wave made great use of the societal impacts of conglomeration for maximizing economic benefits for the city. I agree that eventually it is some people who benefit from this development, but those who cannot afford living in or close to such TODs are left to suffer in the same way as the pedestrians of the above example simply because there is no plan B for them.

One reason I see is that we try to answer more complicated questions before resolving the simple ones. We start with questions like ‘how do we connect these two places in the fastest way?’ or ‘how can we generate maximum taxes?’. And in this process we unknowingly ignore simple questions like ‘who will benefit and who will lose with this development’. There’s almost always some people who lose. These people could be compensated, only if their loss is even recognized in the first place.

What the city planners need to do is to take their blindfolds off before they get inspired by any other plans, and just start with answering the simple questions first. Plan housings for the people. And places to learn and play. Plan how they will travel to and from these places.  Plan for their security. Plan. Plan for the people. After all, a city is for the people and not the other way around.


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