Gurgaon, the city that has been my home for over 15 years, is infamous for the stark contrast between its gleaming office buildings and crumbling infrastructure. It is a city that exploded its seams in a little more than a decade (coinciding with the time I have lived here) through the land accumulation and development by private sector real estate companies working in close cahoots with politicians to ensure conducive regulation and laissez-faire governance. A city that attracted well-educated globe trotters and young BPO workers from mid-town India, but also poorly educated rural migrants from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal to work informal sector jobs in manufacturing, construction, transport, security and domestic work. While the city’s ‘planned’ development trajectory has sprouted numerous gated communities that house the former, the latter occupy the crevices of the city as renters in urban villages and unauthorised colonies. With State assembly elections looming ahead, some of us are asking uncomfortable questions, aiming to provoke thought about the real problems Gurgaon’s residents face. And by doing so, articulating a Citizen’s Charter of demands for candidates for the MLA seats from Gurgaon and Badshahpur.
Today’s blog post draws on conversations at a joint meeting of two collectives representing street vendors and e-rickshaw operators in Gurgaon, held on 29th September; it asks: What are the daily struggles and aspirations of Gurgaon’s urban poor? How can a Citizen Charter best articulate these?
Now, street vendors and e-riksha drivers are not natural collaborators; in fact, they are engaged in an everyday tussle over space in the city, as they jostle for spots at the edges of roads. A lack of space to earn their livelihoods is the key issue they brought forward. Not just space, they talked about a lack of services that are vital for them, like clearance of waste bins and dhalaos and the availability of drinking water and public toilets at their places of work. Far from a litany of complaints, these men and women proposed solutions: the creation of e-riksha stands, the implementation of the Street Vendors Act, and road designs with lanes for high speed and low speed vehicles, for cyclists, pedestrians, e-rikshas and for vendors too! In another conversation, e-riksha drivers proposed a redesign of the public transport system by enhancing and recognizing their role in providing sustainable and affordable last mile connectivity for buses and the Metro. Not educated? Many of their suggestions sounded more intelligent than the expert opinions we hear in conferences and seminars!
Everyday experiences of violence and harassment were common to both groups, as well as the experience of systemic corruption in which the agents of local politicians, police personnel and the local government bureaucracy constantly demanded bribes from them in return for temporary reprieves from harassment. The harassment was not only for ‘illegal’ activity or illegal occupation of space however; many vendors complained that they were being accused of dirtying the streets when in fact the municipal workers and contractors deliberately did not clear refuse from their vending areas.
Fiery youth leaders, men and women, spoke at the meet about the need to organize and resist this constant oppression but giving up a day’s work to protest was also clearly a struggle for many. I was struck by the broader narrative of business being very slow. Some in the group were, till recently, factory workers and supervisors and had recently been laid off! It was apparent to me that the numbers of those in the informal sector was rising everyday, but there were no plans to accommodate their livelihoods or create new opportunities for the poor, many of whom were migrants who had been in Gurgaon for varying lengths of time. Even as minor wins were reported from protests within the city, there were volunteers being lined up for a larger agitation at Delhi the next morning!
The meeting helped us add specific demands about the needs of informal sector workers in Gurgaon. We demand spaces for them to pursue their livelihood, and an enabling ecosystem that, instead of oppressing them, integrates them into supply chains for goods and services. However, the detailed stories about corruption drive home to me a key point: Gurgaon’s economy is in trouble, and rent seeking is the one sure means to earn money. The city, like others across the country, is a stage on which a macabre and elaborate dance is being staged; a dance in which those with relative power relentlessly prey on the powerless to capture rents, not just at the cost of lower incomes but also of the health and well being of residents. Rupturing this cycle should be the citizen’s overarching and clear demand!
So today the 5th of January, I got to work in my odd numbered car, and it took me 10-15′ or so less than usual. I have the privilege of working part time and flexi-time. So the ‘odd-even’ formula has not had me scrambling for solutions to commuting problems.
For those unfamiliar with the term that has become part of the our lexicon of late – Delhi recently achieved the distinction of the ‘most polluted city in the world’ and the State Government took a decision to implement a policy of ‘on the roads, only cars with odd no. plates on odd days and even on even days’ for the period of 1st to 15th January. They did this around 10th of December and in the 20 days to the New Year, build up was interesting (hmmm!!) and showed up the petty side of many players. While the print media…
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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.
The role of public transport in integrating labor markets, discussed in the South Asian context
By Anjum Altaf
The discussion of megacities has drifted into a combination of oh-my-god and pie-in-the-sky narratives displacing potentially sensible and useful analyses.
As an example of the first, consider how often one hears that Karachi had a population of 11 million in 1998 and is twice that now – as if that was enough to clinch the argument that we have a mega-problem on our hands.
My response is: So what? I am not particularly bothered if the population rises to 30 million. What matters, and this is the real question we should be asking, is whether Karachi is well managed and whether its management is improving or deteriorating over time.
Suppose the answer is that Karachi is not well managed. If so, does that have anything to do with its size? As a test, I would ask the proponents of the size-is-the-problem argument to go live in Mirpur…
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There is something hypnotic about being transported at high speed across the city crushed within a sea of human bodies. Zoom in and you see myriad expressions, people’s worries and preoccupations etched so clearly on their faces. The hassled employee late for work, the group of women armed with passes to go to the India International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan, gloating over how they had lied to their bosses and mothers in law! College kids withdrawn into their own world, earphones welded into their ears. Groups of them yapping away, discussing boyfriends and profs and other stuff I no longer understand.
Zoom out and all the noise around subsides. All you hear is the rhythmic sound of the train on the track, the sound of comfort and excitement. The sound of motion, familiar from zillion childhood journeys and yet signifying another adventure, another destination.
It is impossible not to love this journey on the Delhi Metro. To me, it has come to mean precious time to myself. I read, I listen to music or I simply sit and imbibe the sights and sounds, the feel of Delhi citizens off to work, study or pleasure. It is a lively place, this train, despite some serious and glowering faces. Most of us seem to enjoy the status quo that comes with being on a train, suspended between somewhere and elsewhere. I see many lost in thought, one with themselves, introspective or simply dormant.
It is this opportunity that high speed travel offers that people around the world love so much. Many songs and books eulogise the metro experience in New York and the Tube in London has an iconic status for people across the works, even if they’ve never been to that city. The most bizarre scene in Skyfall, Bond’s latest, is the one jn which the train falls through a hole and crashes into the subterranean landscape of the tube. All who see it imagine the horror of being on a train that meets such a fate and we hate the bad guy who would want to go that to our beloved metro!
Indeed, I have come to love the Metro ride. I greet it as I would a dear friend and savour the experience each time. I remind myself that this is a gift we must appreciate, considering that only a few years ago we were helpless commuters with very few options.
Back in Gurgaon early this morning. I cannot deny it feels good to be home, but my mind still lives in Istanbul and the images will continue to play inside my head for some days to come. One post a day was insufficient to write about the myriad experiences and observations. But then if I had posted more, I wouldn’t be out there experiencing and observing, would I? And so I told myself to hold the thoughts in and keep writing once I’m back home.
So here’s a round-up of the rules that worked well for us for our 5-day halt in Istanbul.
Flexible itinerary works great: We did not pre-plan too much and we took no guided tours. Yet, we managed to see most stuff and some out of the way places, with sufficient time to spend everywhere. I hate the rush-rush tick mark style of tourism, so this suited me fine. But if you do want something more organized, the hop on hop off buses seemed the most suited to offer you flexibility while taking you everywhere.
Most of the heritage monuments are within walking distance of each other, in the Sultanahmet area- Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Obelisk, Basilican Cistern and the Topkapi Palace and museum complex. As a UNESCO World Heritage City, Istanbul ensures all the main monuments are well marked. Entry fees are not exorbitant, 25TL (TL=Turkish Lira, approx equivalent to Rs 30 as of now) for Aya Sofya and Topkapi and 10TL for most other places. Some exquisite areas like the Sultan’s Tombs and Gulhane Park are free.
Best experienced on foot: Do pack sturdy walking shoes. We walked for hours everyday. The scale of the old city is perfect for exploring it on foot and public transport takes you everywhere else, mostly.
Eat when hungry: Food is everywhere in this city. It’s affordable, nutritious and freshly cooked. A street side cafe cost us about 12-15 TL for a main course dish (kebabs are delicious), say under 50 TL for an entire meal for a couple minus alcohol. Chai/cold drink costs about 4 TL. Bottled water about 1 TL. I recommend the freshly squeezed orange (malta, actually) juice if you go in summer, costlier but super refreshing! Fancier places cost us about 100-200 TL for both of us, when we were drinking wine, which is expensive. The variety of street food (nuts, corn(misir), a jalebi type sweet, sesame bread (simit), etc) and food in general is delightful and I’ll pen more on that later.
Use public transport, it’s hassle free: We bought an Istanbul card, which can be used on the tram, the ferry and the buses. You can keep charging it for as much as you want at a multitude of corner stores. A trip costs about 1.5-2TL, depending on the time of the day. Trams run frequently and cover most tourist landmarks. Easy to find transport till about midnight. If you’re far from your hotel for dinner, try and wind up by eleven to be on the safe side. We didn’t use taxis at all, but they’re everywhere in case you miss the trams. Ferries are highly recommended. Being out on the water with the cool wind whipping my face was a great feeling.
It’s easy to carry prams and wheeled baggage on the trams, as we found out while getting to the hotel when we arrived. We used a shuttle, basically a shared car to get to the airport yesterday, which worked out to about 23TL per person. My guess is that a cab would have cost us 60TL or thereabouts.
Be clear about your budget while shopping: Istanbul’s bazaars are great for shopping. Carpets and kilims can be expensive though, and the price differential is huge from one shop to another. It’s hard to tell the value for money in terms of what you get for what what you pay. It’s best to be clear about how much you are willing to spend upfront. Touting does happen, though they are not too aggressive and you can wiggle out without unpleasantness if you are firm and stand your ground. Ceramics, magnets and charms are easy buys, but feel free to haggle like you would in India!
Exchange money into TL as and when needed: There are plenty of places to exchange currency in Istanbul. We found the best rates near the Grand Bazaar. You do not need a passport or ID usually to exchange money, but you do need an ID (and photo ID) if you plan to hire an audio guide. No need to carry passports around. Best to leave them in the safety deposit box in your hotel room.
Totally safe: The best thing about Istanbul for me was the stress-free experience. Unlike even other European cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona, we saw no pickpocket gangs, no pedlars of illegal wares fleeing from the police. We never felt unsafe even moving around at night on deserted streets (which were few, to be frank!).
I may have left some stuff out. Do feel free to ask if there is something specific you want to know. If you plan to go to Istanbul in the near future, have loads of fun! And if you don’t, do put in on your list. It’s worth it!