We need better urban spaces to make us happier, more productive individuals…

What makes us happy? This isn’t something we decide for ourselves. Its what the world—our environment—tells us to want. The only really happy people in the world are those who have discarded that standard list and explored what pushes their buttons, independent of the perceptions of their friends, family and colleagues.

I see that around me everyday, not just among other women like me, who have young children and who are either living with a compromised career situation or have given up their careers altogether for an indefinite period of time. I see the same even among hardcore corporates, friends who are in senior management at banks, financial institutions, IT companies, BPOs, FMCG companies, retail, etc etc. Everyone complains wanting more out of life to make them happy. You ask what they need and there are two types of responses. The first is predictably the better pay package, better car, house, partner, job opportunity, etc. The other is the escapist reponse- i want to do something different, i’m bored!

In all fairness, its fine to be cribby and its great to have aspirations. But I wonder how many of my friends are actually chasing things that will make them happy? I know, for sure, that many are aspiring for what they think they ‘should’….and since its the accepted norm, they don’t think further. And every so often you meet the soul who has arrived and got everything he aspired for! And he’s unhappy too! And at a complete loss why!

To come to the point, I wonder how all this angst and misdirected energy impacts productivity in our urban environments. As a planner, I see a direct correlation between our urban environments and the state of mind of urban professionals, especially those who are bright, creative and have the capacity for greater output. It’s pretty simple, really!

Bright, young people need spaces to interact, recreate and renew their energies. Our cities don’t give us those. We don’t have places to play. Public sports complexes are all but absent and few and far between in Indian cities. We don’t have large green spaces that are safe and well maintained. If they exist, they are difficult to access and fenced, gated- you probably need to drive several kilometres to get to the entry gate even when you can see the park right in front of you, which usually destroys the motivation to go there again! Entertainment destinations other than the mall are simply not there! You have to really jiggle your brains to think of stuff to do with friends that doesn’t involve going to a movie or shopping or other equally mind numbing non-interactive activities!! Hey, I love to shop and watch movies, but we need much more variety in our cities. We also need a more vibrant night life culture. Thinking, creative adults need to meet other exciting people in a variety of spaces to spark new ideas and create new productive and enjoyable relationships (it would also answer the question many of my girl friends ask often- ‘where are all the fun, good looking guys?’).

Cities are much much more than mere concentrations of people. By being concentrated, we can not only be a lot more efficient about how to service them, we can reap a hundred-fold benefit from the concentration of the creative energies of these people. In Gurgaon (where I live) I feel its a downright shame that the country’s most dense settlement of educated people live in the most unstimulating urban environment possible. There aren’t even sidewalks,. so we’re too scared to ask for more!

In my mind’s eye, I visualize a Gurgaon where young and old have great opportunities to spend their leisure time. Where business can be done outdoors on a sunny winter day. Where children benefit from the presence of nature right in the centre of the city. Where aquariums, museums and zoos enrich knowledge and create talking points related to sustainability and the environment in a much better way that trade fairs and lectures! Where schools and schoolchildren , businesses and employees, citizens et al feel a sense of pride and fulfillment in living here!

Where we have half a chance of asking ourselves ‘what makes me happy’ and not fearing that the answers will open a Pandora’s Box of expectations that our urban environments will never let us meet. I don’t know how, but I crave to change things! Help!

About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on October 13, 2011, in Politics & Citizenship, Urban Planning & Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Cities are true reflections of what we think and then how we go about our lives- chaos is a function of our lack of foresightedness about our living spaces. On being asked, my Ontario based Indian friend informs me that the city government there is seized of issues that they foresee cropping up one and a half decade from now. And hence, future-organising themselves vis-a-vis the policies, planning and finance. Back home, a recent World Bank report, I don’t know how many of will sit up and take note, is unnerving- Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, will be left with no underground aquifers to sustain our water needs by the year 2016. And here we are with our state governments encouraging mindless real estate activity- in gurgaon the property price has doubled within less than a year, virtually all from everywhere in the country has made gurgaon their mecca and settling down here their salvation and divine pursuit. People like me are looking for relocation and life somewhere else…I just wish there were many more of us who could put our heads together to pull cities like gurgaon and many more out of the morass they are in or running into- mind you, Indian towns grew in number from about 5100 to close to 8000 within just a matter of decade and one sees no firefighting towards good living spaces not to talk about foresightedness.

    • totally agree….urban living seems to be the global trend. so we really do need to sit up, talk with each other and see how sustainable, meaningful and productive we can make it at both levels, the individual as well as collective.

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