This new book by American journalist and writer Daniel Brook is an essential addition to the bookshelves of anyone interested in how cities like Mumbai both aspire and attempt to fulfill ambitions of becoming global and modern metropoles. An adventurous narrative of St Petersburg/Leningrad, Shanghai, Bombay/Mumbai and Dubai, embracing more than three hundred years of modern history, Future Cities is a refreshing comparitive account of global cities outside of their nation-states.
Brook romps through the take-off periods of St Petersburg in the 1700-1800s, Shanghai and Mumbai in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Dubai in the late 20th century, comparing the growth of these custom-built “gateway cities” in Russia, China, India and the Middle East.
These “windows to the world” were purposely created to expose and reform their backward peasant and colonial populations to modernity and globalisation. By contrast with their inland bureaucratic capitals – Moscow, Delhi, and Beijing – these novelties contrived by reforming emperors, merchants, and imperialists created new settlements and lifestyles by importing and imitating the latest “Western” forms of architecture, industry and public life.
Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier (New York: Penguin Press, 2011).
The past two decades have seen large cities in North America and Europe decisively rebound from a painful postwar history of technological change and spatial restructuring. Since the 1980s, urban centres throughout the developed world have been built new business districts and gentrified into consumer zones, as educated workers and families returned to cities hollowed out by decades of de-industrialisation, suburban flight, and social upheaval. Urban manufacturing hubs and ports whose fabric was shaped by the production and shipment of goods and commodities were left behind by finance, information and business services in a new global economy centered in cities such as New York, Chicago, London and Paris.
This post-industrial city has since become the archetype for mega-cities across the world, and Edward Glaeser’s The Triumph of the City is a tribute to the endurance of the age-old metropolis and the capacities of its citizens to rebuild spaces and reinvent economies. Weaving historical comparisons with policy discussions and the passion of a committed urbanist, the book is a foray by a respected academic economist into mass market non-fiction. Like Thomas Friedman’s writings on globalisation or Samuel Huntington’s on the clash between the West and Islam, Glaeser’s styles his theories into simple universals. Globalisation works hand-in-hand with urbanisation, therefore the world is “paved, not flat”. Civilisations don’t simply clash, but also exchange goods and transfer ideas through via cities which are “gateways between markets and cultures”.
This essay was written the day after the catastrophic floods in Mumbai on 26 July 2005 and was published as Some Reasons to be Optimistic, or, Mumbai and the Global History of Urban Disasters in TimeOut Mumbai Vol.1, Issue 26, 26 August to 8 September 2005.
Whether you consider the recent floods in Mumbai to be either a natural disaster, or a man-made crisis — or a bit of both — most will agree that we have just been through the biggest social crisis to face the city since the communal riots and bomb blasts in 1992-1993. It is not often in history that an urban disaster prompts wide-ranging public reflection and institutional changes. There are many contemporary lessons to be drawn in Mumbai from the global history of urban disasters, from floods and famines to terrorism and riots. Crises such as these prompt immediate action, but often the most sweeping and epochal changes they inspire happen once the original impulses to act are forgotten. These impulses are buried away in subsequent events and history, obscuring their effect in prompting wider, often revolutionary changes.
The catastrophic earthquake which destroyed most of the Portugese capital Lisbon in 1755 and wiped out most of its population — and the philosopher Voltaire’s satirical reflections on its causes and consequences in his novel Candide, or Optimism inaugurated the Enlightenment in Europe, the tradition of thinking which questioned the divine right of kings and priests to rule.
Who is really to blame for the floods and chaos in Mumbai this week? The monsoon downpour last week was not strictly a natural disaster. It was a man-made crisis, and the public have spent the past week searching for explanations and solutions to this human disaster. The answers provided have ranged from the opportunistic to misinformed, and almost all are lacking in a longer term perspective on institutions, particularly those concerned with urban infrastructure in Mumbai.
The latest assertion, by environmentalists and activists opposed to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, is that the overflowing of the polluted Mithi River can be solely blamed on reclamations for the Sea Link and the Bandra-Kurla Complex. While this is plausible, the claim is being made without any scientific or ecological evidence to substantiate their arguments about the effects of reclamation. But then where are the real experts? In a city which boasts some of the nation’s finest institutes of technology — insular enclaves of global expertise which rarely interact with the city’s public problems — very few academics or qualified engineers are to be found raising their voices.
Heritage architects have complained for years that the Soviet-style concrete statue next to the Flora Fountain ruins the visual sweep of the Fort’s colonial facades and streetscape. But did you ever wonder what this monument is supposed to commemorate? Fifty years ago this year, the struggle for Samyukta Maharashtra spilled onto the streets of the city formerly known as Bombay.
This socialist realist sculpture was later erected as a martyrs’ memorial to Marathi nationalism — the Hutatma Chowk — marking the 105 people who died in protests against Nehru’s plan to make Bombay into a City State after Independence. Like with the Shivaji statue opposite the Gateway of India, the statue at Hutatma Chowk was intentionally placed to ruin a view of a famous colonial landmark, and reorient the symbolic geography of the city.
The battle for Mumbai heated up when the States Reorganisation Committee report, published in 1955, recommended statehood for Telugus in Andhra Pradesh, in the old princely state of the Nizam of Hyderabad. But the same report proposed the erstwhile Bombay State either be a bi-lingual Marathi-Gujarati unit with Bombay as its capital, or that Bombay be made an Union Territory, separate from the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
These proposals stirred a popular outcry against the denial of a Marathi state without Bombay, and a coalition of anti-Congress activists and political parties united in the demand for Mumbai to be the capital of a united Maharashtra — from Socialists, Communists and trade unions to the Marathi press, literati and workers across the city. After popular unrest and street violence, the Centre capitulated, and made Mumbai into the capital of the new state of Maharashtra on 1 May 1960.
It is no coincidence that Maharashtra Diwas is also May Day, the annual holiday when working-class solidarity is celebrated throughout the world. Samyukta Maharashtra was important because the demand for linguistic statehood was in Mumbai combined with a popular movement against rigid class hierarchies in an industrial city dominated by big business interests.
In the years before and after Independence, city politics was a conducted in back-room deals between the Congress Party cronies and fat-cat industrialists — the Parsi, Gujarati and Marwari sheths and sahebs of the popular imagination. It was this corrupt party machinery, identified with S.K. Patil and the party bosses, that was targeted by the Samyukta Maharashtra movement as unrepresentative, and not in keeping with the new order of things in independent India, where common people should participate in governance.
While today we identify the official changing of the name of the city from Bombay to Mumbai with the Shiv Sena in 1995, it was a generation earlier, during Samyuka Maharashtra, that “Mumbai” was first extensively used in the public sphere to signify a city different from “Bombay”. For Acharya Atre, S.A. Dange, and Prabodhakar Thackeray (father of Balasaheb) — the leaders of Samyukta Maharashtra — Mumbai was to be a working-class city with better employment opportunities and social justice for all — not just a city that spoke Marathi, favoured sons of the soil, and suspected outsiders of stealing their jobs.
Class justice was as important as linguistic unity in the socialist vision of the Samyukta Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena was founded in 1966, more than ten years after the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, when the city’s economy stagnated and shrunk, and popular dissatisfaction with the hopes of statehood led to the emergence of more parochial forms of linguistic politics.
Originally published contra the case made by J.B. D’Souza on Should Mumbai be a City State? in TimeOut Mumbai, 10 April 2005.
There are several arguments routinely invoked about making Mumbai into a City State. They go something like this — for most of its modern history, Bombay was an island off the coast of India, a cosmopolitan port city with enterprising migrants and bustling industry and commerce — symbolic of India’s engagement with the world, rather than with its rural countryside.
This pre-Independence Bombay is now viewed with sepia-tinted nostalgia by heritage enthusiasts and the media as an innocent age of civic order, a beautiful city which existed before the filth and chaos of democratic politics. Bombay became the victim of narrow linguistic politics when Maharashtra was formed in 1960. Since then, the story goes, public culture has been parochialised by Marathi chauvinism and mismanaged by vote-bank-seeking politicians. The beautiful city is now a horrible mess, and this situation must be reversed through bold action, to make it a world-class metropolis again.
The economic rationale for creating a new City State is the counterpart to this narrative — that Mumbai is denied an equal share of the revenue it generates (which the Centre invests elsewhere in the country), that the city’s resources are otherwise plundered by rural politicians and illegal migrants who don’t care for the city, that new industries are locating elsewhere, and we cannot keep up either with Singapore or Shanghai, or even with Bangalore or Hyderabad. Something must be done to avert what the media have recently termed the “death of the city”, and statehood for Mumbai seems like a bold solution to a host of very real problems affecting the quality of life and governance in India’s biggest city.
In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival in the past ten years in the same historical moment when manufacturing industries have closed and factories emptied throughout Greater Mumbai. Heritage discourse and conservation practice have only implicitly acknowledged this economic context. Since the Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-3, entire working-class communities across the city have been retrenched and dispersed in the Mill and Dock Lands of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Mumbai, and across the Metropolitan Region.
With job losses going into tens of lakhs, and uncertain growth prospects for Mumbai, several years ago the media and civic elite began speaking of the “death of the city” they once knew, whereas planners and academics eagerly awaited the birth of a new “global city”. However one described this restructuring of the city’s economy, it is clear that manufacturing has declined in value compared to the new service industries, not just in Mumbai but in big cities throughout the world. The post-industrial landscapes of London’s Docklands and New York’s Lower Manhattan are oft-cited symbols of this change monstrous, gleaming high-rise districts dominated by banking, finance, and white-collar services. In today’s urban economy, the making and marketing of immaterial signs has replaced the production of durable goods as the primary circuit of wealth creation.
The concepts and practices of cultural heritage, architectural conservation, and public arts, (whether they realise it or not) are enmeshed in this new economy of image production. While buildings are still very much made of brick and mortar (or steel and RCC), the production of images of the urban built environment is one of the intangible, high-value commodities of the global city. Whether in the space-age absurdity of Hafeez Contractor’s garden city in Powai, or the sepia-tinted romanticism of the South Bombay heritage enthusiasts, the value of a building has less to do with its physical qualities than its iconic presence as an object of consumption. So it is not difficult to explain the phenomenal growth of concepts and practices of heritage conservation in Mumbai.
Originally published as Mumbai Vision 2010: Reporting the Future in TimeOut Mumbai, 19 November to 2 December 2004.
If you look left while crossing Haji Ali into Worli, the brightly-lit ground floor showroom of a well-known auto major is emblazoned with the words “Improving the Quality of Life”. You can’t miss it, because this is a congested junction, with cars queueing up at the next signal to ascend the Worli Fly-Over. Stuck in the gridlock, you’re forced to ponder the shiny cars and hopeful slogan, and try and forget the honking horns, choking exhaust fumes, and street kids trying to sell you fashion magazines, before the signal changes.
Surely the guys at McKinsey and Bombay First, who must also get stuck in traffic jams, would appreciate the irony. Their recent report on making the city “world-class” and yes, improving its “quality of life” has just joined the long queue of studies, reports, and consultancies on the city’s ascent to becoming a global city. Recent changes at the state and centre have shown the government is increasingly keen to step in and clear the traffic on the road to Mumbai 2010. Plans and strategies that piled up for decades are beginning to move, and the authorities are trying to play traffic cop between contending visions of the city’s future.
While McKinsey is a recent entrant into the global game of urban brand-building, city architects and planners are its most usual suspects. For the past several years, the media and corporate world in Mumbai have been arguing over the “death of the city”. There seems to be neither enough money nor political will to tackle the monstrous problems of housing, transport, infrastructure, and the city’s slipping position in the global economy. Visions of Mumbai have been stuck between the apathy of our elected representatives — the politicians — and the elitism of our un-elected representatives — the NGOs.
LEXICON OF THE CLICHES, BANALITIES AND TRUISMS OF INDIAN JOURNALISM as conceived by Nikhil Rao and Shekhar Krishnan
For a while now, we have been engaged in a great philological project, our very own 21st century Hobson Jobson, as it were: that of compiling a lexicon of the marvellous cliches, truisms, banalities, and other little idiosyncrasies that litter the pages of our Great Indian Newspapers.
Contributions by David Clingingsmith, Aaron York, Eric Beverley, Arvind Rajagopal, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Namita Devidayal, Shailaja Neelakanthan, Anagha Neelakanthan, Rajeev Rao, Avtar Singh, Rohan Sippy, Rohena Gera, Rochona Mazumdar, Paul Beban, Sanjay Bulchandani.
All text for all news in the English print media in India is essentially generated out of these words. Feel free to add, append, and modify the lexicon and the master paragraph below.
confabulate: to confer. “The party leaders confabulated about the new agreement.”
work out the modalities: sort out the details. “The party leaders confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
supremo: head dude. “The party supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement.”
brigand: bad dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
crack sleuths: smart dudes. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
strongman: big dude. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand.”
hardened criminals: tough dudes
airdash: to move at other than usual glacial pace. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in.”
beefed up security: more bodies, but not necessarily more security. “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security.”
second only to Scotland Yard: usually cited while hailing the work of the Mumbai Police; the subtext is that they’re not anymore
swing into action: to finally stop drinking chai and reluctantly get off your ass.
swoop down upon: “The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force, second only to Scotland Yard and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.”
flying squads of nuisance detectors: These are the Mumbai Police’s intrepid stalwarts who have been relentlessly patrolling the city enforcing the B.M.C’s recent ban on plastic bags of less than 20 microns thickness.
abscond: to evade police.
scam: normal conditions of doing business in South Asia.
to the tune of Rs 10 crores: estimated dimensions of scam.
point the finger of suspicion
stung by criticism: react to weary but yet admirably persistent public outrage.
take stock of the situation: to pretend to give a shit.
take umbrage: to give a shit.
take up cudgels on behalf of: to stand up for.
cuddling and fondling: [this, we must admit, we have never seen, but Aaron assures us that he has seen newsprint to the effect of “Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma were seen cuddling and fondling in post-election bliss.”]
fracas, also known as dustup: most often seen in close conjunction with unseemly. often applied to parliament and other herdings of political animals.
inveterate, sometimes confused on sub-editor’s desk with invertebrate so one can find references to ‘invertebrate followers of the political scene.’
the India Today ending, also sometimes the TOI edit page ending, which always takes the form of a rhetorical question, e.g.,
is anyone listening?
have the ends of justice been served, that is the question
only time will tell (that old tattletale)… ad infinitum
the ends of justice scattered all over, especially in the Calcutta journals. where are the beginnings of justice? doesn’t anyone care? is anyone accountable for the beginnings of justice? Is that the question?
Eves and Romeos: young women and men, most often seen together in the context of roadside Romeos being accused of Eve-teasing.
hardcores, ultras and clean shaven culprits associated with the Punjab action and other trouble spots.
hot pursuit: recently-much-in-the-news
the classic epitaph/retirement speech phrase: so and so must receive kudos for having rendered yeoman service to such and such.
the enigmatically enhanced pressurise
cooling their heels in the lockup
The Ur Paragraph of Indian Journalism
The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu supremos, in consultation with the Maratha strongman, confabulated with the Special Task Force’s (S.T.F.) crack sleuths about working out the modalities of the new agreement with the forest brigand. The PM himself has been airdashed in under conditions of beefed up security. Meanwhile the Mumbai police force (M.P.F.), second only to Scotland Yard (S.Y.) and having been called in to assist with the situation, have now swung into action and are ready to swoop down upon the brigand and his associates.
In other news today, a flying squad of nuisance detectors (F.S.N.D.) managed to nab red-handed three hardened criminals who have been remorselessly violating the ban on plastic bags (B.O.P.B.). Two other associates in the plastic bag scam (P.B.S.) are believed to be absconding in Delhi. Meanwhile, the Bombay Municipal Corporation (B.M.C.), stung by criticisms alleging that it is involved in the scam, has promised to take stock of the situation. The municipal workers union (M.W.U.) has taken umbrage at the allegations and has vowed to take up cudgels on behalf of their comrades in the flying squads. The scam is rumoured to involve sums to the tune of Rs. 10 crores.
Border Security Force (B.S.F.) cadres have been placed on red alert at the latest trouble spot (L.T.S.) on the Indo-Pak border following anti-national activities being engaged in by a band of hardcores. Highly placed sources at South Block (H.P.S.S.B.) point the finger of suspicion (F.O.S.) at a sinister foreign hand (S.F.H.) for sowing discord. Since the leaders of this band of ultras have been cooling their heels in the lockup of late, the most recent anti-social activities are probably intended to pressurize the government into preponing the date of their release. Kudos to our B.S.F. boys for having rendered yeoman service in putting a lid on this situation.
In related news, an unseemly fracas broke out in Parliament today while Members were “debating” the latest border situation. The issue at stake was a recent master plan that has been mooted by doyens of the Indian security establishment and that is intended to quash all manner of anti-social elements operating in backward areas. Inveterate watchers of the political scene shook their collective head in dismay. Will our leaders ever learn to lead? Will the ends of justice be served? Only time will tell.
The collapse of the Bowling Company in Lower Parel after the storm which lashed the city in the past several days perhaps pales in comparison to the larger human tragedies that took place in other parts of the metropolis this week. However, the potential for a tragedy like the landslide which occurred at Azad Nagar in Ghatkopar should not be overlooked. Luckily the entertainment outlet remained closed on Thursday, but had the bowling alleys and the cafe inside been filled to their normal capacity, hundreds of people could have perished, when the rusted stilts and columns which grounded the century-old structure gave way.