The perils of urbanization

April 4, 2013

Sumeet is a person with very interesting ideas, and in a recent conversation, he talked about his liking the following definition of independence by M K Gandhi:

“Independence begins at the bottom… A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Growth will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.”

This took him in a different direction, about the state of schooling in our country today; but I thought in another direction, and my response was,

“Rapid urbanization is one of the banes of our present form of society. If we had been able to develop all our villages, we would not have everyone leaving other means of livelihood because they are not economically viable, and rushing to the urban centres, weakening them further with demands….resulting in both villages and cities being inimical to a good quality of life, in various ways. I still find it very hard to articulate this problem that we’ve allowed to develop over the decades. The same problem happens in other countries, too, I think…this rapid urbanization is, I think, something that impacts our quality of life very adversely. It’s like the rats on a ship…as long as they are evenly distributed on a floating ship, all is well. But when the ship is in trouble, instead of remaining that way, they cluster to the few floating spars….and that ensures that all of them sink that much faster…or, at least, suffer being immersed in water, perhaps not drowning, but having a ‘poor quality of life’.”

I’ve seen this problem happening, in graphic and immediate detail, in my city of Bangalore. The population exploded, exponentially, as the IT industry boomed, with no commensurate increase in infrastructure. Government agencies either ignored the need, or struggled with measures that were too little, too late. And as the focus went to meet power and other demands, the rural areas suffered even more, making them that much less desirable to reside in. A vicious cycle of rapid urbanization was set up, and resulted in the creaking and inadequate infrastructure that my city is staggering along on, today.

In every sphere, it is, ultimately, letting go of a small, well-knit, I-know-you-you-know-me kind of caring circle for an impersonal, run-it-from-far-away system and culture that doesn’t seem sustainable in the long run, but which only postpones the problems to a date in the future. In my country, I see overpopulation, and the extreme increase of demand over supply, as contributing largely to these problems. But I am still trying to think of how the situation can be rememdied….