Ordinary, but functional…phew!
Its certainly not enough to just do things well any more- you’ve gotta be the best. The pursuit of excellence, while laudable, has permeated every aspect of contemporary society. No amount of hard work is enough until you have achieved the highest possible accolades in your field. As a student, it is marks. As a housewife, it could be your husband’s admiration and your child’s perfect health. As a professional, it is a fat paycheck and regular promotions. As a grandparent, its a perfectly planned retirement and babysitting capabilities par excellence. I could go on and on. Individuals in society are crumbling under the pressures of these high, but highly impractical aspirations. Why can’t our children grow up to be ordinary, yet self-confident and satisfied people?
I ask the same questions of our cities. While Indian cities crumble with the pressure of growing populations, city governments and state Chief Ministers aspire for ‘world-class’ cities. Flyovers, glass-clad skyscrapers, mass rapid transit, wider roads, parks, high-end shopping districts–all these are elements of the cities they imagine as improved. The real improvements needed though, are far more mundane.
I am currently working on an in-situ slum redevelopment project with micro Home Solutions in East Delhi. The slum dwellers clearly told us that all they needed were basic services- improved sewers, drainage, water supply, electricity, schools and healthcare. As an organisation focused on housing, our plans to improve housing conditions were gently kept aside while the residents insisted that if basic services were provided, they would be able to lead fulfilling and far more secure lives.
This is the reality and city governments must face it. Yes, housing is necessary and so is livelihood security. Hygiene is critical and safety is too. And so are million other things. But those are the areas where communities want to exert their choices. No matter how grandiose the plans. the schemes, the policies, citizens want basic infrastructure to be in place. As Delhi has seen through the Commonwealth Games experience, a focus on aesthetics and cosmetics buys short-lived euphoria. For long-term gains and citizen satisfaction, governments need to join hands with non-governmental and private organisations and work at the very ordinary basic needs of the city. Lets aspire to be ordinary for a change!