Which city to live ?
By M P V Shenoi
People are nature’s children, yet we create cities, highly unnatural assembles of brick, concrete and steel – I had read this statement some time back but I do not recollect which urbanologist said this. A great majority of the people who live in the city are fettered with pressure of work. They have very little time to think of the way they can live. Yet sometimes, when one is caught in some tense situations, like a massive traffic jam or getting up at two in the morning to collect water from the municipal system one thinks, is this town the best place to live ?
Recently, two national weeklies, “India Today” and “Outlook – Money” carried articles giving the findings of the studies they carried out to arrive at the rankings of the places to live in. The articles in India Today was on “Which are the Best and the Worst states of India” on the basis of quality of life and work. The article in the other weekly was on “Which are the Best cities to live in.” For the readers of the Accommodation Times the studies are of immense value in making decisions about the places to live in, work or to invest. Earlier too there have been studies, but they were mostly confined to some specific purposes. Also they were based on hunches, expert views or interviews.
For the past few years foreign firms in real estate leasing like CB Richard Ellis Ltd, Jones Laing Lasalle have been regularly doing surveys to know about investment climate and trends in major metropolitan cities, mainly for their clients, since their post liberalization arrival. Confederation of Indian Industries got a survey done recently but that was to find out most favourable climate from the investment point of view of industries. Rajeev Gandhi Institute of contemporary studies too, I am told, carried out a study but that was to find the market condition, size and potentials. In both the studies, Delhi beats other metros hands down. But study conducted by OUTLOOK is different. It is to find out which city is better to live. By whom, may we ask ? By all means. Market researchers have a particular jargon to define this. They say most research done by them is for Sec A & B of the population. They are the people who had good education, enjoy steady income, their children go to English medium school, they love comforts, like to spend and dislike hassles. The rich have a place in every town. The poor have to eke out a living anywhere, any slum, any city where they can find a place to rest their head.
The parameters for the study and the ranking were cushy jobs and income opportunities, finance network, prices of commodities of daily need, consumption levels, good housing, and safety from crime, transport, entertainment, pollution and weather. Quite a bagful. The study considered 55 cities. The article goes on to describe how the data was collected and what weightage was given to each one of them. These are of interest to market researchers not for us, the sec A & B crowd.
Both S M Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu may explode in rage as neither Bangalore nor Hyderabad could get to the top. The pride of the place goes to Chandigarh. The credit, of course, goes to Le Corbusier and his Colleague Jenre, its designers who laid it out with a great vision of the future and the spirit of Punjabi who has a Zest for living and wants to live well. For living well a Punjabi can go to any extent and if required disciplines himself. That’s why they form the bulk of army.
A westerner whichever assignment he is given makes through job of it. He places a great importance on planning. He collects substantial amount of data. The designers of Chandigarh studied climate, topography, natural wealth of the region, habits and idiosyncrasies of the people who are likely to inhabit the city and accommodated all of them. First and foremost I must mention Corbusier took a pledge from the government that there will be no personal statues in the city. Not stopping at it he also got it engraved in stone and got it embedded in the city hall. He know what a great idolaters we are ! One has to go around our Vidhana Soudha to observe how statues are springing up on the lawns. I have seen also statues of Anna, Gandhi, etc., in dilapidated conditions in many of the southern towns, definitely eyesores in busy places. He has laid out the city in grid pattern with very wide arterial roads and got them paved fully at the start. He made sectors of habitation look inwards i.e. no house or building has a front on the arterial roads. He know how we encroach roads at the front. Bazaars were tucked into the heart of the sectors so that the chaos remains deep with in; Created green strips all along the city and forbade vehicles in them; Placed parks along natural valleys and fenced to prevent slums springing along them; dammed a seasonal rivulet to create a lake for recreational purpose. He also undertook a pledge from the Government that there will be no polluting industries in or near the town. He encouraged private initiatives in beautification efforts. Otherwise how could Mr. Nekchand, a mere class IV employee of PWD create a world famous Rock Garden to the Lake ? I was fortunate to be Garrison Engineer of Chandigarh Cantonment, which was still in initial states of development, and by Nehru’s order we had to ensure that everything planned there was to conform the Chandigarh planning regulations. This provided me with many opportunities of interacting with the town’s planning team. One could learn from the vision these masters have. Le Corbusier was known for his preference to vertical growth of the city. But as for as Chandigarh is concerned he has spread it far and wide and has given it low vertical growth, most appropriate for hot and dry climate.
The top ten cities for good living according to survey are Chandigarh, Chennai, Kolkatta, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Bhopal, Goa Pondicherry and Ahmedabad. The six metros in the study are Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Let us confine to Metros and see how Bangalore fares in this group.
Among the Metros the first place goes to Chennai in the overall ranking for all the parameters. Bangalore 5th out of 6. Not something to boast of for people who dream of it as Singapore of India. This should not dishearten us but spur us to greater thinking and action. However, how Bangalore ranks with respect to each parameter should be interest to us.
For jobs and income Bangalore is at the top followed closely by Chennai and Hyderabad. For banking and finance network, Kolkatta comes first followed by Mumbai and Bangalore. The quality lag between successive rankings is big. While Kolkatta bogs 86.4, Mumbai is 69.7 and Bangalore is 30.8 Any one who has been to a Bank in Bangalore cannot but agree with the ranking. The leisurely dejaview attitude of banking staff is a class by itself. It takes anything between 15 minutes to half an hour to take out cash, twice that time to deposit. It takes 6 weeks to get an ATM card after handing over the application. This is my experience with a busy branch of a nationalized South based bank. Again in the prices, which matter to Sec A & B, which takes into account fruit and vegetable prices, education, medical fees, wages for services like maids and servants Bangalore ranks fifth. The ranks of the rest of the Metros are Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi. I am sure the researches might not have taken into account the quality of services providers. If we take into consideration quality of service I might place Mumbai at the top. I have lived in almost all Metros except Secunderabad. In consumption, Hyderabad tops the ranking; Bangalore is at the bottom. It should come as no surprise knowing the lifestyle of Reddy’s. But one wonders how Chennai could be two ranks above Bangalore. May be sober and prudent Madrasis have taken to conspicuous consumption in the footsteps of their leaders, Amma Jayalalitha after her birthday bashes (or was it adopted son’s marriage?). In housing too Bangalore is last but one, Kolkatta being at the bottom of the heap. This is no surprise, as the laws are antiquated, the cost of construction being one of the highest (cement costs nearly 1.3 times what it costs in Mumbai), the registration charges were the highest till a month ago, and landlords have the habit of provided minimum facility and expecting maximum rent. No built in furniture, ceiling fan, etc. In Delhi all these come along with the built space.
Here I must remind, once again, that the survey covers only Upper middle class. How does the housing statistics for the city as a whole look ? Bangalore is deficient by 71,000 dwelling units. Less than 25% of the population has access to household connection of both water and sewerage. About half the water connections get water once in two or three days. Bangalore has 289 registered slums. According to Karnataka Kolegeri Nivasagala Samyuktha Sanghatane, 66 % of the dwellers do not have access to a toilet. Toilet complexes built under Nirmal Bangalore are unaffordable. The pipeline made by civic authorities in the slums is substandard and they are clogged, leaking and overflowing. But, we the Sec A % B can turn a Nelson eye to these urban festers and walk past them covering our noses. In education too, Bangalore is 5th. Hyderabad and Chennai take the first and second place. May be there is an overabundence of educational set ups in Bangalore, but the quality is abysmally low. Reader may recall, a decade ago, there used to be advertisements for vacancies, especially in engineering, with the rider, that Bangalore University graduates need not apply. In Health facilities, Bangalore is 3rd and Chennai stands first. Surprisingly, Bangalore is ranked first in safety and Delhi the worst. Police Commissioners may note and department may rejoice. In transport Bangalore ranks the last and Hyderabad occupies the first place. Thanks to tunnel vision of our city planners and their ostrich like attitude towards MRT we may still stay in the same place for quite some time. In pollution Bangalore is 4th and Chennai is the least polluted. In weather, of course, Bangalore is first. One sincerely would like to believe that the city planners do not take the credit for it. If any thing the credit must go to Almighty and Kempegowda for founding the city. Another surprising result is Bangalore’s ranking in entertainment. It is at the last place (sixth). Bangalore sometime ago, boasted of highest number of cinema halls in the country. With so many gayana sabhas, western music concerts, pubs, racecourse with yearlong betting facility it’s ranking should have been higher.
The article also carries interviews with one or two prominent citizens of each city. As far as Bangalore is concerned as could be guessed, they have gone over to Mr. Nandan Nilekani, the Infosys chief and taken his opinion. In his opinion it is the most livable city in India, has excellent climate, quality of life and a sense of community and high degree of inclusiveness. He also says it can do with better public transportation and town planning. What else can Head of Bangalore Agenda Task Force can say ? He has said what is expected of him to say. But when I attended the World Environment Day, World Habitat Day and World Clean Air Day organised by Institution of Engineers I get a different feeling. In these celebrations we hear of the drinking water scarcity, the widening gap between haves and have-nots and the high level of carbon mono oxide, Carbon di-oxide, Sulphur and suspended particles.
Actually the place to live in depends upon what key factor one is looking for which changes from time to time, age and from need to need. Even in the case of employment it depends upon the speciality, whether it is IT, Finance, Stock market, Real Estate, Construction, etc. Once one has the decent employment one starts looking for other factors. The strength of the outlook survey is that it provides ranking for 55 cities on key factors. Thus it provides a database on which a person can narrow down his choice and then make further enquiry. As the article has said most of us fantasize about the distant hills, balmy air, raising kids in the lap of nature, away from the hustle bustle. It may not always be possible, even after retirement. With the absence of reliable social security and old age care, one may have to live with or near children unless they are all in USA or in some distant land.
Which direction Bangalore has to take if the living and working conditions have improved ? It is very difficult question. There are no packaged answers. But there is a great unanimity among urban planners that the migration should be drastically reduced. Migration accounts for half the growth of the city. It is only possible if employment opportunities of similar standards are created elsewhere in the sate. The old concept of satellite town development near the city has failed miserably. New Bombay, Yalhanka and Kengeri can be quoted as examples. Ultimately they are absorbed into urban conglomeration and add to longer vehicular movement. Towns and cities far from Bangalore should be developed. Cities which already have some infrastructure in place need to be taken up as new cities are a costly gamble. Karnataka fortunately is blessed with many cities one can think of. Of them, Mysore and Dharwad are blessed with mild climate. Accessibility to Bangalore and to other global destinations, if ensured Mysore could rival Bangalore in becoming an attractive growth centre. Doubling of railway line between the two cities, its electrification and upgrading the present Bangalore – Mysore highway to 6 lane dual carriage way, improving the water supply of Mysore city are some of the investment friendly schemes. We are told that Mr. Aziz Premji, Chairman WIPRO is so enamoured by Mysore that he would not mind developing its airstrip. Both the centre and state could think of private participation in all these projects including Railways. Completion of the Railway line between Mangalore and Hassan, inclusion of it in the newly created railway zone, privatising of power generation and distribution in the city, improving the municipal infrastructure, improving the aerodrome are some of the measures one can think of. Dharwad has a history of neglect dating back to the old Bombay province. State reorganization has not brought any noticeable development. The blame rests with the politicians of the area.
This apart what else to improve Bangalore ? I would go with three simple suggestions put forward by Bittu Sahgal, well known environmentalist. He suggests government to be facilitator for more housing, beefing up of water services, health services, education and transport. Develop the rural interconnectivity with good roads, restore the health of lakes, detoxify the lakes, and encourage non polluting cottage industries.
For those who are looking for far from the maddening crowd retirement around Bangalore, one would recommend Hosur, specially the township Titan is creating there. Hosur was known as Little England for its climate, is now well connected by road from Bangalore, and has good educational facility, healthcare centres have developed in Electronic City.
Titan township is designed by well known architects and town planners, well laid out, has plenty of landscaping and greenery, round the clock electric and water supply and a decent crow. And lastly no pollution.