Devaansh Singh is 12 years old and lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. A 7th grader who loves reading, Devaansh is into robotics and enjoys playing chess. Last year, he participated in the national Future City Competition and is currently considering entering the NASA space colony competition as well.
Comment: Devaansh’s entry was refreshing in the way it gave free reign to his imagination. In contrast to other entries that commented on existing cities or wove together real and imagined urban experiences, Devaansh describes an urban utopia of the future complete with planning, engineering and environmental details. An interesting read indeed and a commendable effort for someone so young.
Moana Kulana Kauhale, the ideal city
In the beginning of the year 2015, a technologically advanced future seemed on our doorstep, but fatal problems were everywhere and all of our efforts were to stop them in their tracks and our marvelous future was postponed. Well, that future is today, 100 years after this competition, and today we are introducing the most amazing city of the future, Moana Kulana Kauhale. Named by the creator Devaansh Singh, its name means Ocean City. It is located on a former Hawaiian Island and creates a future that resolves many of the problematic issues that have been plaguing our world for the past 100 years Plus, all of the solutions are both innovative and environmentally friendly making Moana Kulana Kauhale the ideal city to live in.
Before we start, here is a brief description of the residential, commercial, and industrial zones of the city. Moana Kulana Kauhale is like a doughnut, the hole is the industrial section, then around it is the commercial zone, and around that, the farthest away from the industrial zone, is the residential zone. We do this because the industries can easily transport goods to the commercial zone, and residents don’t have to go too far to go shopping. The only disadvantage in this situation is the worker who has to go from the residential zone to the industrial zone , but that is taken care of by the speedy transportation, like the Vactrains, offered in this city. There is a specific train whose only purpose is to transport the workers to the factories and back. The industrial zone is built down, not up. Meaning entrances to the factories are situated above ground and the rest is all underground . The buildings that are above ground are the company’s headquarters which lies on top of the factory and the solar panels, wind turbines. PCUs are devices that power the city and the factories. PCUs are devices that catch pollution and convert it into energy. All the pollution made by the industrial zone is managed by the company and released into underground caverns. There, the PCUs are at every five feet and produce enough energy to power the factories and headquarters. The next zone is the commercial zone. It’s main power supply comes from the many clean power generators in the industrial zone and it receives shipments through the hyperloop train system which is underneath the ground. All the windows have solar panels installed in them and merchandise is made from clean energy produced in the industrial zone so we are independent The commercial zone is connected to the residential zone through multiple hyperloop tracks which are divided into centers, one per station. By center I mean shopping center, divided by type of store (i.e. clothing, groceries, etc.) and stations are where the train picks up and drops off its passengers. Now, that leaves the residential zone. The outside circle of the city is the residential zone. It has many neighborhoods and each neighborhood has a skyscraper to use as apartment buildings and offices for the neighborhood. To keep things fair and to have no homeless people, we have people who want a house to go to a government building. They tell them the house they want, the amount of people who are going to live in the house, and the buyer’s income. Then the government gives you a fair price. If you accept, then the government takes your money and gives half to the real estate agent managing the house and helping their clients. They keep the other half to use. The major source of energy for the residential area is clean, environmentally safe energy. All of the zones are as clean as possible and do their jobs well
The infrastructure of our city is truly remarkable. Our sewer system is one of the best. The waste goes into the various pipes that run way under the city. The waste all accumulates in a big cavern with a vat in it. Their, everything that isn’t sanitized is filtered into a big tank. It will fill up eventually and when that happens it will be sent to a plant so that it will be sanitize enough to be reused as toilet water or will be sent to a plant where we will burn it in a PCU area and collect energy from the heat using geothermal generators. Roads are only inside individual centers for people who don’t want to walk. the rest is managed by the citywide train stations. Each train’s tracks are connected to each station in individual tracks that run in a circle around each zone If you want to travel to a different zone, then you just get off at one of the tran-zone stations that has a special set of tracks and trains just for shuttling people around the two zones.
Our city has one main transportation mode: Our trains. They transport our people anywhere they want in super high speeds. We have two main types of trains; the Vactrain and the Hyperloop. The Vactrain is like a normal super fast magnet train today, except it is in a vacuum tube. The vacuum tube sucks all the air out of a place so their is no resistance. This allows the train to go many times faster than a normal magnetic train and is great for long travels, but can be used transport people in short distances. The Hyperloop works a similar way. the train is magnetic, shaped like a bullet, in a long tube which contains the tracks. Once the passengers board the train, everything closes off. Then a huge burst of air comes in and shoots the Hyperloop through the tube like a very big bullet. It is best used on straight tracks or in transporting goods. The system is fairly straightforward. There are tracks connecting to each other that is in a never ending square in each zone and a set of tracks in each station that connects to it’s counterpart in another zone, so everything is nice and connected. Another transportation perk is that these methods are all very eco friendly and do not harm the environment. These trains are also used for long distance travels with other cities and countries. Instead of an airport with airplanes, we just ship people and goods out with the trains.
One of our cities biggest strengths is its power generation. Our city is on a geothermal hotspot and so we have geothermal power generators in all the underground areas of our city. All of our pollution is redirected into PCU’S, or Pollution Capture Units These units capture pollution and convert it into electricity, so it is good for the environment and helps power our massive bustling metropolis. There are multiple solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal generators in the middle of the city and power is distributed through that. The coast has hydroelectric generators and every house has at least one solar window. All of these factors invariably make our city extremely self-sufficient.
The educational system of our city is quite comprehensive. Everyone is homeschooled and can go to a big virtual classroom software. One room in each house is completely dedicated to this for the children. Each child is sorted into a classroom where a teacher will help them if they need help on the work assigned to every child in the grade. The course is extremely vigorous and the students who can keep up with the program, that we call TOOLS, become extremely talented in their field of expertise. That is the average. The students who mess around on purpose and don’t care for their studies are expelled and are left to find a job among talented people. The students who really try hard but aren’t blessed with the brain to keep up are taken to a separate, slower paced course until caught up. That does not make them any worse than the others, it just means they needed help, and everyone needs help in their studies at one time or another.
And those are most of the facts about our amazing city, Moana Kulana Kauhale. It is extremely environmentally clean, it has marvelous transportation, and most importantly of all, we have an awesome educational system. With all these great minds being trained and going to the job everyday, our city evolves a bit every day. Soon, when Devaansh Singh sees his city again, he won’t recognize it because of how much it evolved, and it will make him happy, because his goal and mission would then be complete.
Women’s safety has become a rallying cry in Delhi and its environs, where I live. Arguably, it’s become a talking point across India and in many parts of the world. Arvind Kejriwal’s election promise of 100% CCTV coverage reflects the widespread phenomena of the elite fencing themselves into gated havens, imagining they are keeping the unwanted at bay. Extend that thought and you have private cars ferrying kids to school when they should have taken the bus and girls being asked to restrict their choice of college because commuting is unsafe. Clearly, safety and the perception of safety is driving how people live and work, how productive they are and how they interact socially.
Well-designed quality infrastructure is non-negotiable
A large number of studies have shown us that it is quality infrastructure that will provide the base for making spaces safe and livable. A recent study that asked the question “What is the latest time in the day that you feel safe returning home alone?” in rural and urban spaces across India found that amenities and infrastructure had the largest impact on perceptions of safety.
It doesn’t matter whether it is urban or rural, basic infrastructure, including lighting, sanitation, electricity, streets, drainage and efficient public transport, is non-negotiable. More than any other interventions, including quick-fix technology, well-designed hard infrastructure for public use will empower everyone (not just women) and, over time, change attitudes too.
Technology is redundant if physical infrastructure is simply not there
The soft infrastructure that integrates tech can be a great complement, but fails when infrastructure is missing or badly designed. I’ll give you two examples.
#1 School bus alert systems
I get a set of SMSs everyday before the school bus arrives to pick and drop my kids. One of these gives me a time for arrival of the bus. The estimate is made by a computer based on an algorithm that factors in the route map, expected traffic at time of travel, etc. But the large number of uncertainties introduced by water logging, poor quality roads, mismanaged traffic etc mean that the estimated time is almost certainly off. Every afternoon, someone waits anxiously for a bus that announces it will arrive at 4:00PM when it actually shows up 8, 10, even 15 minutes later! A clear case of redundant technology.
#2 Women’s helplines
Asha, who worked as a nursing assistant for my grandmother a few weeks ago, pooh-poohs my suggestion for using the police helpline to report harassment, which she says she faces several times a day on her two-hour, 21-km long commute to work and back everyday. I would say she would not have hesitated to to dial the helpline if her daily commute was largely hassle-free, but as of now she has internalized the violence she faces and the technology appears redundant to her.
Let’s focus on the right things: Fix the pavements, lights, roads…just fix my city!
Personally, I don’t want the protection of my brothers and male friends when I get home late from work or a dinner appointment (As we know from the Nirbhaya case, this is no protection anyway). I want a lit pavement to walk on and the assurance of a late night bus service instead!
I don’t want a CCTV camera on every street corner of my city. Instead, I want clean, lit, accessible public spaces where families, young girls and boys, the elderly, basically everyone can access, frequent and make safe by their participation. The central park in Connaught Place (Delhi’s central business district) shuts down at sunset, while student theater groups who try to practice there have been asked to leave because they are a threat to security!
I don’t want a helpline that is flooded with requests and unable to help anyone. Instead, I want a safe city where the police can concentrate on those who really need their help because the majority of us are able to get on with our lives empowered by decent public amenities and infrastructure!
I deboarded the Shatabdi late last night at New Delhi Railway Station, aka NDLS. Waiting for Rahul to pick me up, I walked out onto the main road staring at the glitzy multi-level parking opposite the station entry and the long line of cars streaming in, winding their way out, looking for parking, honking, waiting in strange place. And I thought of all the zillion times I have dashed into this station, usually on the Ajmeri gate side where trains to and from Lucknow tend to loiter. I have missed trains and boarded moving trains and also waited for hours on these platforms. I have come here by auto and car and recently by Metro as well. NDLS has been incarnated and reincarnated, but the chaos caused by simply too many people always remains. I was smiling, standing there by myself.And then I remembered the most hilarious incident I associate with NDLS. Rahul and me were here to drop someone off, I do not remember whom. Just as we turned left into the station entry (at the same point were I stood, but back then it was dingy and potholed, narrower too), the car before us braked suddenly and came to a complete halt. There was no car in front of them, but they wouldn’t budge. From the corner of my eye, we saw a cat slink into the shadows. I remember our eyes meeting for a brief instant, Rahul’s and mine, before it dawned on us. We were expected to cross that line first! ‘Billi rastaa kaat gayi thi’, the cat had crossed in front of them and superstition says that if you cross that line first, you get bad luck! So this car just sat there, passing the bad luck to us, as we overtook and drove past the fateful cat line!
Suffice it to say that no bad luck chanced upon us, but we now have another beautiful memory of NDLS and a story to recount to our grandchildren, who hopefully wouldn’t encounter the madness of people so steeped in superstition (wishful thinking I know!).
We are finally braving a road trip with the kids. In a Mahindra Xylo, the kids enjoying having the rear row all to themselves.
I say finally because after years of traveling with Udai, who was a placid baby and a happy traveler, Aadyaa’s restless nature was hard to deal with. She did not settle easily in the car seat as a baby and was easily bored. We stopped going anywhere by road if we could help it.
So today had been a good day with the children quite enjoying the drive, except for poor Sushma, the maid, who is motion sick every so often.
I don’t blame her. The roads have been patchy indeed. The Gurgaon to Jaipur stretch of NH8 has a series of half constructed flyovers. Traffic crawls along narrow slip roads and passengers stare at the numerous seemingly inactive work sites.
Though the latter half of this route gets better, crossing Jaipur is a challenge as well. The bypass is under construction and traffic passes a large slum area, close enough to literally glimpse the routine activities of the residents here.
The first hour on Tonk Road after Jaipur towards Kota was another stretch of road construction. Bumpy as hell. It was alarming to see how far out from the city real estate projects are bring built. Jaipur is growing fast, like many tier 2 cities across India. But we fail to grasp the ground reality of this. While the main city of Jaipur fights hard to preserve its identity and heritage, in contrast these outlying suburbs are being built with little sense of design or relevance to the context of this region, historical or climatic.
For a short while now, starting shortly before Tonk, we have the fortune of smooth roads. Here too, only two of the four lanes are operational so it’s not easy driving. Like countless infrastructure projects across India, we can only hope this will be a dream ride some day in the future. Till then, we bump along!
The funny thing is, the road expansion means all those endearing little milestones are gone, as is the quaintness of those tree lined two lane roads of yore. The pleasure of seeing the names of the places we pass and the distance remaining lost, we must resort to google maps!
Urban professionals are likely to view Minister Kamal Nath’s obsession with higher FAR with a liberal dose of skepticism. Turning Delhi into a Shanghai or a Manhattan is exactly the kind of glitzy dream private sector developers have been selling to the government for many years. Which makes me suspicious indeed about how exactly this all will happen, who it will benefit and who will lose out.
We do know that Indian cities have a really low Floor Area Ratio (FAR, or Floor Space Index, FSI). We also know increased FAR would create a lot more space. Space that is much needed. But will we be smart about the kind of space we want to create? Let me explain. There is this peculiar herd mentality among developers in India and developers tend to have a short-sighted approach. NCR towns have many ghost malls and ghost commercial buildings that were built to sell space to speculative investors. That may not happen in the city centre, but in order to make the optimum use of the increased space, we do need to be really smart about ensuring the right mix of uses are accommodated in the high FAR zones. We need a new kind of vision, new ideas, innovative fresh thinking. Affordable housing, public spaces, large green areas, accessible public spaces at suitable scale, safe spaces for children, walkability, transit-oriented development, mixed-use, mixed-income communities, sustainable communities, a whole host of new concepts need to be built into a new vision for Delhi.
To densify is not enough, it needs to be done very sensitively. People need to be involved. We need to take firm decisions, not pander to a specific class of people, politicians, bureaucrats, the usual suspects. Increased density will need a new moindset and buy-in from all the above mentioned anf that is an uphill task. For instance, New Moti Bagh is a government colony recently built. Driving past is enough to see what a colossal wastage of land it is, in a prime South Delhi location. Smartly built apartments or duplex villas would have freed ample spaces for more multistorey housing and a large green lung for the neighborhood. Instead, the government has built a large number of ill designed, poorly planned, sprawling ‘bungalows’ that smack of an outdated post-colonial mindset of what the ‘sahib’ is entitled to. Urban Harakiri is what I call it.
And of course, there is that critical piece- infrastructure. Roads, sewage, drainage, electricity, water, public amenities, parking, so many details to get right if increased FAR is to be a reality. The carrying capacity of the land needs to be increased hugely by planning, engineering and investment. This is an enormous opportunity for sustainable design as well.
My third concern is more at an urban design scale. How exactly will the FAR increase happen? Will low-density areas that are now aging and dilapidated, like some Central Delhi government colonies, be slated for the redevelopment? I certainly think that is a great opportunity to give the city much-needed housing, retail, commercial space and public spaces right in the heart of the city. Then there are sensitive areas in the city that cannot be touched, like historic precincts. Will redevelopment happen in an incremental manner, or will we expect things to be razed to the ground and replanned and rebuilt? These are all issues that impact the lives of common people as much as they affect the economic survival and success of the city.
All I know is that there should be far more public debate about the measures proposed by our Urban Development Minister. Citizens deserve more information, more transparency about monumental changes that will impact their lives closely, give a new identity to their city and therefore impact their identity as well. Citizens and urban professionals must be involved to build a new vision. I cannot emphasize this enough. If we do not insist, we will once again see our beautiful city being raped and plundered, like it was when the invaders came in during the Medieval Times. Ironically, these would be invaders from within. And we would be defenseless and defeated.
The last memory of Istanbul was also the most magical. A few hours left to leave, our bags packed and waiting, we decided to look for the Basilica Cisterns. Rumored to be in Sultanahmet, the area we had made our home for the 6 days in Istanbul, we had to walk around before actually locating this obscure gateway and were only able to find it thanks to a tour group operator trying to get his 45 people in through a narrow opening.
The Basilica Cisterns are a massive subterranean chamber built in the 6th century to store water to supply Istanbul city, then a most remarkably populated center for trade and commerce and the capital of the mighty Byzantine Empire. This is the largest of several such cisterns built by the Byzantines. The credit for this one goes to Emperor Justinian I.
With the proportions of a cathedral, the cisterns measure about 140 meters by 45 meters. Some 336 marble pillars, built in the typical Ionic and Corinthian styles, support its roof. A 4-meter thick waterproof firebrick wall keeps the water safely held. At the peak of its utility, the cisterns held an astonishing 80,000 cubic meters of water, which was transported into it via aqueducts from forests some 20 kms away!
Even with hardly any water in it, it was cold and damp, with the pillars and ceiling sweating droplets of water. The floor was slippery and it felt really eerie in the darker parts. Quite a fantastic experience for those of us who have spent many happy childhood days buried in strange mystery books. They also added spooky music to enhance the ambiance!
Restored several times over and most recently by the Istanbul municipal corporation, the cisterns stand as a testimony to man’s urge to urbanize and his ability to create infrastructure to sustain urban life. As an urban professional, I was inspired to see the remarkable feats of engineering and water management that have truly survived the test of time. At the same time, I was reminded of the bitter disappointments and frustrations of providing our modern cities with amenities as basic as water and sanitation.
Here are some images of the magical Basilica Cisterns. Forgive the blurs; these were taken with very little light and no tripod.
Rampant redevelopment of Delhi’s residential colonies cannot be the sole mode of housing supply -Apr 26, 2012
I walked through Pamposh Enclave in south Delhi today, a route we take often to get to our office in Greater Kailash Enclave. An astonishing number of private homes in this quiet, sleepy residential colony are being torn down to be replaced by larger, higher, swankier builder floors (commonly used term for the conversion of a single family home into a set of apartments, usually three or six depending on the size of the plot).
Something fundamental is changing in these localities. Built perhaps in the 70s, Pamposh (which means lotus) was an enclave of migrants from Kashmir. These Kashmiri Brahmins imbued the place with the elegance and charm of their community, which largely comprises highly educated people, many of them doctors. The edges of the colony abut major roads and have already seen commercial development in the last decade, but of late the redevelopment mania has reached its innermost lanes. Two major changes are immediately seen. The increasing density achieved by replacing one or two families with a minimum of three brings more traffic and poses a greater load on infrastructure. The increase in volume and height dwarves the trees and changes the experience of walking and living here. The buildings bear down on you now, whereas they appeared receded before.
The other thing hard to miss is the new aesthetic that uses wood, glass and steel as its vocabulary. As blind an aping of modern architecture as we see in the pseudo Greek and pseudo Gothic elements in homes around the city.
You see a seemingly more professional approach to construction (cordoned off sites with large logos of construction companies and developers) co-exist with sites that follow the most primitive practices (mixing cement haphazardly in small basins, slathering plaster willy nilly, etc).
It is alarming that a city as large as Delhi has this type of redevelopment as the only type of housing supply to its middle and high income groups. A much scaled down and poor quality form of the same accommodates Delhi’s swelling numbers of low income residents in urban villages and unauthorised colonies! And then there is the mushrooming of satellite towns (Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad) that are growing so fast they are unsustainable and barely liveable!
This city cannot go on like this. Urban land that exists within city limits desperately needs to be freed ( through densification, reasoning, etc) to allow for a more sensible housing supply scenario. The government needs to think this through and develop a vision for Delhi that takes in the needs and desires of its citizens. They say Delhi belongs to those with a heart (Dilli dilwaalon ki) and our hearts do not deserve to be broken!