Our Mangaluru City Can Do Better – Why Corporation Elections Should Matter To You?
By Dr. Shreekumar Menon IRS (Rtd.)
People all across the globe are working to build world class cities by using forward-thinking and innovative efforts in technology, architecture, city planning, and social issues to become models of modernity. The cities of tomorrow are not built, but designed. They are no longer haphazard urban centres thrown together with no consideration for future infrastructure or aesthetic value. Instead, they’re planned down to the last block. Cities are reckoned as engines for sustainable development. It is where ideas, commerce, culture, science, and productivity germinates and flourishes. Urban conglomerations offer scope for people to prosper economically and socially, but this is only possible in prosperous cities that can accommodate people in well-paying jobs and where land resources are not over stretched by rapid and unchecked growth. By 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion. Nearly 70 percent—6.7 billion people—are projected to live in urban areas. Unplanned urban haphazard expansion occurs as cities spill beyond their formal boundaries, this can be counterproductive to national development and to the global goals for sustainable development. Urban spaces are also excessive emitters of greenhouse gases and contribute to the growing climate change, and rising temperatures. It is estimated that half of the global urban population breathes air that is 2.5 times more polluted than standards set by the World Health Organization.
Mangaluru city can do better in style, generation, demeanour, and background, only we need to have our Mayor and Councillors to be great visionaries and determine how the city should be in 2030, 2040 or in 2050. Is there any Vision Document prepared by our existing City Councillors? Elections to the city corporation will be held soon, and if we keep electing people who have no futuristic vision for the city, Mangaluru will become another squalid mess, like any other Indian city. Towering skyscrapers are mushrooming across the city without any consideration for water, electricity and drainage requirements. What about firefighting systems and training for the residents? A whole host of issues are not taken into consideration at all, the only concern is collecting money for approving plans. As Councillors, the city needs architects, engineers, landscape artists, health professionals and experts in urban transportation. We need to bid goodbye to the system where the people keep electing Councillors only on considerations of caste and religion. We need distinguished professionals to guide the future of this city.
The architectural and urban planning firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) was asked a question: How would it design a city of the future? Their solution was that any plan should allow ECOLOGY to guide development. WATER sources should be protected and systems designed to capture, treat, and reuse it. ENERGY should be renewable, and the city should become more liveable even as it becomes more densely populated. All WASTE should become a resource. FOOD should be grown locally and sustainably. High-speed rail to improve MOBILITY for rapid access to all parts of the city. The CULTURE AND HERITAGE of the increasingly diverse population should be publicly supported. The INFRASTRUCTURE needs to be carbon-neutral, and the ECONOMY should be largely automated and online.
Whenever a city is assessed, the following parameters are taken into consideration – food, drink, culture, nightlife, community, neighbourhoods, overall happiness, safety, affordability, beauty and convenience. In addition a city should ideally have a thriving arts scene, great museums, and well-designed architecture. The employed in the city need modern facilities to blow off steam, so there are many 24-hour shopping malls, pools, and restaurants offering a variety of gastronomical offerings. The modern architecture is balanced by a healthy proportion of protected country parks. A futuristic city therefore has to be distinctly cosmopolitan, ethnically-diverse, and eco-friendly. Another new parameter that needs to be examined is, are the citizens happy with the way the city is developing? People need to be committed to the public good and display a high level of personal and public satisfaction with the city.
Mangaluru possesses diversity, dynamism and creativity in abundance, but we need men with vision, experience and dynamism to mould it into a unique urban design that can improve quality of life and curb environmental problems. We need a city that engages all of our senses, and, in effect, becomes an environment tailored for a thriving public life scaled to the individual. Mangaluru should be the ultimate people-friendly city. Jan Gehl–a Danish architect, writer, and the most respected urbanist alive for his research on the importance of urban design has this to say “What we have to address now is making liveable, healthy, safe, and sustainable cities.” It’s a topic he’s written about in his books ‘Cities for People’ and ‘Life between Buildings’, and spoken about in The Human Scale, a documentary about his life’s work. To Gehl, two of the most pertinent macro issues that city planners can address today are climate change and public health. “For 50 years, we made cities in such a way that people are almost forced to sit down all day in their cars, their offices, or their homes,” he says. “This has led to serious situations health-wise.” He attributes the problem to cars and the availability of cheap gasoline, which have dictated city planning for the past six decades. “Those factors enabled developed countries to build the enormous suburbs and nobody thought that would be a problem–they thought that [suburbs offered] a good life, this is how it should be done,” Gehl says. “I call it architecture for cheap gasoline. The moment there’s not enough gasoline or it’s not cheap enough, it’s no longer a smart idea. If people get sick of suburban living, it’s not a good idea. I recently read a study in the Lancet, a medical journal, which found that people in suburbs were having shorter lifespans than people who live centrally [in cities] because those who live centrally walk more during their lives than ones who live in the suburbs. There’s a direct effect on the number of good years you have based on where you live. Nobody knew about that, or thought about that, when cheap gasoline and affordable cars were streaming into society.”
In 2009, Copenhagen (where Gehl is based) enacted a plan called “A Metropolis for People,” which was based on Gehl’s work. It envisioned what the city should look like in the future. “The city council decided upon a strategy to make Copenhagen the best city for people in the world, and it is interesting to read what their arguments are: We have to walk more, we have to spend more time in public spaces, and we have to get out of our private cocoons more,” Gehl says. “This becomes good for society, good for the climate, and good for health. They said that if people spend more time in the public spaces, the city becomes safer. It becomes more exciting and more interesting. And it furthers social inclusion. This is an important part of having a democratic society: having citizens who can meet each other in the course of their daily doings, and not only seeing different people on television or on screens.”
“We were created as a walking animal, and our senses have developed for slow movement at about three miles an hour,” Gehl says speaking to our range of vision and hearing. “A good city is something built around the human body and the human senses so you can have maximum use of your ability to move and your ability to experience. That is a very important issue. For many years, we have broken all the rules to make automobiles happy. If you want to point to a place where there are people walking, and it’s a great sensation, where the senses can be used extremely well, look at Venice. And if you want the other experience, go to Brasilia.”
Social equity is a great challenge in cities today, which is a by-product of rising demand for real estate and higher land values. This often pushes lower income people farther away from urban centres, where many jobs are located. Gehl argues that access to efficient, affordable, alternative transportation (i.e., not in car form) is essential to promoting equality in cities.
“As it is now, you’ll find that the further out in the suburbs you go, the lower the incomes generally are and a higher proportion of the income is spent to transport a family and keep their fleet of cars running,” Gehl says. “Further into the city where [housing] prices are higher, you’ll find higher-income people who actually spend much less of their income on transportation. So that in and of itself is something that creates inequality.”
He also states “Cars are leftover from another time.”It’s no secret that the good days of the automobile are over,” Gehl says. “In 2009, we saw the peak of driving in the world, and it’s on the way down. The automobile was a good thing in the ‘Wild West’ of Detroit in 1905. It’s not at all the smart mode of transportation for the general population in a city of 10 or 20 million people, like South America, Africa, and Asia. The days of the automobile as something for everyone in the world are definitely over. ”To highlight how car-centric design is not an option for megacities approaching total gridlock, Gehl points to Singapore. “There’s no more space for roads on that tiny island. In a denser city, with walking and bicycling you can get anywhere quickly,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, that is a much smarter solution in all the growing cities and the big cities than using old technology from 1905 Detroit. Cars are leftover from another time. And all these ideas of self-driving cars will not solve the problem of finding space and having friendly streets. They will just enable more cars to be on each street and that will not be a situation that’s good for mankind. It would be good for the auto industry.”
Since many Mangalorean’s are familiar with the Persian Gulf cities, let us examine the situation there. “In Downtown Doha, we are making individuals and the community the focal point. We want the architecture to serve people and not vice versa.”— Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson, Msheireb Properties. The network of connected squares, courtyards and streets help to create a cohesive community, and an enjoyable public realm that enriches community life in the city. It is not that Mangaluru does not have its share of brilliant visionaries. Recently, I had an opportunity of reading a string of articles entirely devoted to the futuristic development of Mangaluru, namely:
- ‘City of the Young’: Developing Mangaluru into world-class study space
- ‘City of the Young’ Part II: Building a world-class University City
- ‘City of the Young’ Part III: Need for an Icon for Mangaluru
- ‘City of the Young’ Part IV: Developing Mangaluru as Medical Tourism Destination
- ‘City of the Young’ Part V: An ocean terminal for Mangaluru
- ‘City of the Young’ Part VI: Making Fortunes from flowers
- ‘City of the Young’ Part VII- The power to change our Mangaluru
In addition, the writer had also unearthed two unknown historical facts about Mangaluru, the first was about a unique incident that happened during the Opium Wars, about a ship named “Mangalore”, that participated in the battle of Kowloon, the article is titled ‘Mangalore in Kowloon’. The second article is about a unique love story between a Tunisian Jew and a Mangalorean girl, L’affaire-Ashu & Yiju in 1130 AD. It makes us feel proud that there are citizens amongst us who not only know interesting vignettes from the past but also have fantastic visions for the future of the city.
Cities are hugely complex and dynamic creations. They live and breathe. Think about all the parts: millions of people, schools, offices, shops, parks, utilities, hospitals, homes and transport systems. Changing one aspect affects many others. Which is why planning is such a hard job. Architects, engineers, construction companies and city planners have long used computer-aided design and building information modelling software to help them create, plan and construct their projects. But with the addition of internet of things (IoT) sensors, big data and cloud computing, they can now create “digital twins” of entire cities and simulate how things will look and behave in a wide range of scenarios.
“A digital twin is a virtual representation of physical buildings and assets but connected to all the data and information around those assets, so that machine learning and AI algorithms can be applied to them to help them operate more efficiently,” explains Michael Jansen, chief executive of Cityzenith, the firm behind the Smart World Pro simulation platform. Take Singapore as an example. “Virtual Singapore is a 3D digital twin of Singapore built on topographical as well as real-time, dynamic data,” explains George Loh, Program Director for the city’s National Research Foundation (NRF), a department within the prime minister’s office. “It will be the country’s authoritative platform that can be used by urban planners to simulate the testing of innovative solutions in a virtual environment.” In addition to the usual map and terrain data, the platform incorporates real-time traffic, demographic and climate information, says Mr Loh, giving planners the ability to engage in “virtual experimentation”.
Another paramount factor that needs to be given priority is the rising drug addiction in cities. Mangaluru is also fast becoming a drug affected city. Addiction is a force that can grip and drag people of all backgrounds down with it. The harsh truth is that drug abuse blights the name of the city. Rising drug addiction is no doubt a worldwide phenomenon, but how do we protect the city and its youth from being devoured by this monster? For too long we have been dependent on the Police and other enforcement agencies like Customs, Narcotics Control Bureau and DRI to tackle the drug problem invading the city. The city corporation, councillors and Mayor were unconcerned by the constantly growing drug epidemic vanquishing our educational institutions and streets. Tackling drugs has to be made into a “city priority”, as new local challenges and new trends have emerged. There is a pressing need to develop a pool of anti-drug advocates amongst young people’s peers. Illegal drugs market generates a huge black money economy in the city. These activities not only tarnish the image of the city but also the future generations.