Thursday, March 13, 2008

Citydwellers or Citizens?

Urbanisation has been a subject of constant interest to me. Now since half of the world will be urban by 2025 - as par an UN report, Urbanisation and urban centres escalate on the agenda of policymakers and on to the public conscious. I live in Pune, a city which is on verge of becoming the new IT destination of India. With a network of quality educational institutes, large student population, good traditions, and nearness to Mumbai, Pune is expanding at an explosive rate (the best indicator of a city's growth is the property rates - in Pune, the rates have quadrupled in a short span of 3 years!). But, on the other hand, the infrastructure issues in Pune are rising at an unbelievable rate. Traffic, housing & pollution are the case in point. I won't say as to what is ailing Pune...it's the burgeoning population, an easy guess. Rather, I would say 'what can change this situation?'. The answer for me is the citizens. However, in city, you 'dwell' not 'live'. My thoughts are echoed in this well-thought article in Live Mint. The writer is Ramesh Ramnathan.
However, while these debates about infrastructure, public transport, water and sanitation, affordable housing, environment and urban planning are critical, they miss one key ingredient: the identity of the urban citizen.Our urban centres do not have an essential rooting, an organic connection between the urban citizen and the city she lives in.Examples abound: There is no mechanism to stop the illegal violation of the neighbourhood park, no system to prevent the neighbour’s residence from being converted into a hospital that could soon dump toxic waste in the storm drains, no opportunity to participate in decisions on local development, no grass-roots answer to manage the voter roll errors which are upwards of 50%, no space to even vent one’s frustrations.While the urban resident can see herself as a producer of urban goods and services, or as a consumer of urban comforts, she cannot so easily see herself as a citizen.These gaps exist for everyone, even for those working in government. Be it a Supreme Court judge, a cabinet secretary or an employee of the railways, they know all about the empty edifice of citizenry and often come to terms with their civic emasculation by leveraging their positions and titles. Even for the elite, this same sense of disconnection prevails: the industrialists, the writers, the media, the film-makers, the intellectuals, and even the activists. None of us can individually survive in the city without the coping mechanisms that our particular position offers us—our networks, our identities. Strip away these identities, and the hollow shell of citizenry provides cold comfort. Imagine if this is true for the “empowered” urban Indian, what it could be doing to the 35% and more of the urban dwellers who are the urban poor. They are twice forsaken, once because of their state, and once by the state.
A second-class citizen - livemint
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