Pune’s broad economic base and cosmopolitan culture make it a place of huge opportunity. All it needs is a professional urban development team, and a strong, clear vision of how the city should be
|Mirror’s May 11 report. The Pune Metro could remain a dream if not planned
Pune hides within its fabric its peoples’ destiny. It tempers their laughter and lightens their sorrow. It gifts them their pride of place, and it is their lean on eternity. A strong city plan reins in crass desire, while giving wings to the poetic spirit. It pulls rustic fibres into a tasteful thread from which the finery of history is woven. Within Pune’s fabric there can be no place for compromise, hesitancy or fickle minds. Too much of life’s vagaries lie in the hands of fate to toss about in the making of our city.
Humanity’s most compelling achievement is the creation of cities! The state of our cities is a mirror of our civilization. The quality of cities is the outcome of myriad decisions made by the people who live in them. In many cases, these decisions have interacted to create compelling forms and clear patterns from which great places to work and live have emerged. My reason for putting pen to paper is my belief that a deeper understanding of these decisions can give us the clarity necessary to create a great place to work and live, in this place we call Pune.
What is the nature of the decisions that have taken place in the past; what were the influences of the circumstances in which they were made; how did these decisions interact with one another to generate the unfolding pattern that is, and will be, Pune? My purpose is to push aside the notion that human settlements are a serendipity accident beyond the control of human will, emerging out of organic chaos. New Delhi, Pune Cantonment and Chandigarh grew out of utopian Garden City Movement concepts that inspired bucolic green avenues, large plots and parks for a ruling elite to build bungalows and school their children. Grand cities like Paris and Sydney, through a spectrum down to small towns like Thimphu, Bhutan, are noble settlements creating humane places to live and work. All have been caldrons of immigration and rapid, uncontrolled growth. Few had to deal with the poverty and marginal human resources of Pune’s immigrants. Pune, like other Indian cities, has its unique challenges and huge opportunities. It has a broad economic base, great institutions, a dynamic cosmopolitan population and a rich culture. It has unrivaled hills and rivers as its setting! I maintain that professional urban development administration, tempered by transparent and participatory decision making can make Pune a true expression of the most refined aspirations of Indian civilization.
Recent interventions in urban settings, ranging from Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, and Delhi prove that we have the planning, construction technology and management skills to create amazing things. Pioneering work by the Ahmedabad Study Action Group in the 1960’s and 70’s, government shelter initiatives through HUDCO in the 1970’s and 80’s; and work by Pune’s Mashal and Habitat & Associates in recent years have given us concepts from which a more humane urban society can be created. Public urban assets like Delhi Haat, gardens in Ahmedabad, or Hussein Sagar Lake in Hyderabad are eye openers.
I am not proposing that we will suddenly impose some sort of utopian dream, or that we imagine large infrastructure projects will act as panaceas. Utopianism got a bad name in the twentieth century because of its elitist, impractical and dangerous aspects, forcing reality into preconceived forms that bore few resemblances to “human societies”. Such is the present Metro Rail Project in Pune! The colonialists created unaffordable administrative cities that were to rule over the unplanned “native cities” next door! This underpins the top down administrative style of Pune’s bureaucrats and the exaggerated standards for middle class Pune and the total neglect of our low income settlements.
No corporate body like Pune can move forward without a professional team of visionary strategists, competent planners, investment analysts, infrastructure specialists and legal advisors. Such a corporate team must be guided by the people of the city, visionary leaders and sound social science research. Pune is a unique region that floats ignorantly forward, spreading over multiple, independent jurisdictions, depending on the personalities of a few politicians and on bureaucrats to direct the metropolitan area’s growth. We are a large and energetic body with no head!
Pune stands as the solo example of a metropolitan region with no active urban development authority employing the kinds of professionals required to solve its problems. So long as we citizens of Pune are treated as the “native city” by our leaders, this city will deteriorate.
If Pune is to become the city of our dreams, it needs to get smart fast!