Global #capital and the impending #housing crisis in India’s #smartcities

With the Indian government easing FDI norms in real estate and construction, the country’s large and ambitious real estate sector is hoping that an influx of global capital will up business. For a country that is looking to urbanize rapidly and is opting for a ‘smart cities’ route to do so, global capital is particularly vital at this time.

Mumbai skyline: Global capital is the driving force for cities and city imaginations too

Mumbai skyline: Global capital is the driving force for cities and shapes the way we imagine cities too

Visualization of smart city Dholera in Gujarat, which is on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor

Visualization of smart city Dholera in Gujarat, which is on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor

In the imagination of real estate developers (private and public), capital inflow translates into greenfield developments, sprawling out of existing urban centers as well as in the form of utopian visions like smart cities proposed by PM Modi and propagated by the likes of Amitabh Kant. The 100 smart cities mission of the government, being taken up by the Ministry of Urban Development, proposes the retrofitting of existing cities (satellite towns and mid-sized cities). Clearly, developers and politicians have their sights not just on bringing rural land into the fold of urban, but also are looking at redevelopment of inner city land to fit the new idea of the ‘world-class’, networked, efficient and competitive city. In other words, a smart city, that will be attract global capital and be built by it as well.

This same ideal of the smart city also hopes to achieve better standards of living for its citizens. Better informed and networked citizens are envisaged to be more skilled and productive, more robust infrastructure is expected to deliver services and amenities “comparable with any developed European city” (as quoted in the concept note on smart cities on the MoUD’s website).

This is the vision. In reality and on the ground, how will global capital transform our cities? As an urban planner with a specific interest in housing issues, I think this is a critical question.

The experience of cities like London, which faces a debilitating housing crisis, is telling. Aditya Chakrabortty’s piece in the Guardian eloquently describes the bizarreness of the London situation: Here is a city where global investments in real estate have meant that poor and even middle class Londoners cannot buy a home in the city, end up paying substantial rental payouts to absentee landlords who live in Singapore and St. Petersburgh!

In India, both Delhi and Mumbai have historically used slum clearances as a tool for freeing land in the inner city; land that is often used to attract capital, some of it global. With the influx of global capital, one can argue, evictions and mismanaged resettlement schemes will become more common, unless a real effort is made to find a socially sustainable way to accommodate the urban poor in the city. The discussion on ‘right to the city’, while trendy among academicians and rights-based activists, has unfortunately  found little resonance with private developers nor a buy-in from the State.

Evicting the poor to acquire land for development is not uncommon in Indian cities. Gurgaon takes it to a whole new level; first allowing the poor to rent undeveloped land, then torching down the hutments to reclaim it and forcing them to move out after their lives have burnt to ashes. Photo: March 2012, Gurgaon

Evicting the poor to acquire land for development is not uncommon in Indian cities. Gurgaon takes it to a whole new level; first allowing the poor to illegally rent undeveloped land, then torching down their hutments to reclaim the land! Photo: March 2012, Gurgaon

Gentrification, that is the ousting of older (and usually poorer) residents of a neighbourhood with newer (and better off) ones, is likely to be the norm in the era of urbanization driven by global capital. As late Scottish geographer Neil Smith, who taught at the University of New York wrote in the Antipode, “the impulse behind gentrification is now generalized; its incidence is global, and it is densely connected into the circuits of global capital and cultural circulation” (Article titled ‘Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy’ Volume 34, Issue 3, July 2002)

The rapid conversion of inner city areas in Indian cities to posher, more expensive real estate is happening right before our eyes. What’s more, relatively new cities like Gurgaon have been planned and built entirely for the educated elite, leaving no planned spaces for the urban poor and indeed, with the rise of global capital, for the middle class. So, similar to London, many of Gurgaon’s middle income families rent from NRIs who live abroad and will continue to do so for a long time. This is because the houses they want to live in that are in the city centre is unaffordable and the housing they can invest in will be inhabitable (in the sense of being linked to functional needs like services, roads, schools, offices and shops) for a long time to come!

As for the poor, housing is only available in the form of rentals in under-serviced areas of the city like urban villages, illegal colonies and slums. The link between poverty and housing  is water tight; secure housing is a necessary ingredient in addressing poverty. And if cities (which are oft-quoted as the engines of economic growth) no longer have addressing poverty as one of their prime objectives, what exactly is the purpose of urban development? Making the rich richer, an end in itself….?

It takes no rocket science to figure out that the Indian smart cities in the offing will need to do some smart thinking on the issue of creating housing (and infrastructure) for a wider variety of its inhabitants. The pursuit of global capital would need to be tempered with some even-headed thinking on utilizing this capital for long-term benefits, chief among which must be reducing poverty and improving living conditions for all. There are lessons on land markets, spatial integration and participative planning out there that must be taken into account while planning these smart cities.

Could we – should we – stop migrants coming to Britain?

ramblinginthecity:

Immigrants take and create jobs. A basic tenet of economics that is ignored far too often!

Originally posted on AC:

37ce4b64-8aac-44ca-9fd7-bfad444f9ea4-460x276Britain is convulsed with anxiety about immigration, with claims of too many EU citizens coming here, the benefits system being abused and wages being forced down. An expert on immigration looks at the evidence.

(By Jonathan Portes/Observer)

1) Didn’t the European Union just start off as a Common Market? When did free movement of workers start?

Long before the UK joined in 1973, the Treaty of Rome (1958) established what was then the European Economic Community, with four basic principles, called the “four freedoms”.

These were: free movement of labour, capital, goods and services. The objective was to establish a liberal market economy, where people could trade with each other across borders; free movement of labour was seen as part of that.

And the expected benefits were very much those that economists in general think you get from removing such barriers, allowing goods, services, capital and people to move freely…

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Property and the political elite

ramblinginthecity:

A lot of this resonates with the connection of Indian politics with land and housing!

Originally posted on Jules Birch:

It’s now received wisdom, and a key part of UKIP’s appeal, that we are ruled by politicians who are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. How much of this is down to house prices?

Perceived divisions between politicians and voters are nothing new of course. Nor are accusations of champagne (or Islington/Hampstead) socialism and a huge gap between Labour leaders and their core vote. However, if these are US-style ‘culture wars’ over the politics of identity and national flags, they are being fought in the language of house prices, as shown only too clearly in this week’s Mail on Sunday story about the ‘Thornberry set’ and the North London ‘liberal elite’.

The issue was highlighted by last week’s tweet by Labour MP Emily Thornberry about a flag-festooned house in Rochester & Strood and then brought home by media coverage of its Sun-sponsored owner knocking on the…

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Addicted to writing and missing it!

It’s been over two months since I started working full time. My job is great. Intellectually stimulating and the right mix of freedom and discipline. What I miss most about working full time, though, is my blogging routine.

My blog has, over time, become a really important part of me. As I go about my day, I park certain thoughts as they flow. Invariably, these disparate ‘parked’ musings coalesce around a hook to create a post. Sometimes I don’t really know how it happens. It’s magical and it’s therapeutic.

Now, with work deadlines and a commute of over two hours everyday, I find the thoughts aren’t being parked anymore and writing a post is becoming an effort again. I’ll have to find a way to get the blogging back into my life. And I’m sure I will!

Panaji wakes up

ramblinginthecity:

Panaji, close to my heart. Love this post that describes the city waking up….

Originally posted on sitanaiksblog:

This morning I decided to give the beach a skip and walk along Campal into Panaji. And what a pleasure it was, since the pavements have been done up since my last visit.

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And this stretch goes past the lovely bungalows of Campal and the sports complex ( which had a fair no of walkers and joggers). Here I saw a board announcing a ‘Senior citizens park’ – so I wandered in that way, past the very pretty Fabindia outlet to a large parking lot of the Sports complex and a small stretch along the riverside with seats – a quiet and pretty spot. Along this stretch is also the local Bal Bhavan, in which I could see a lovely children’s park.

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Panaji is the IFFI venue and the 13th edition is to be inaugurated tomorrow. All preparations are on and further along Campal was the stretch with Kala Academy…

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Why the world’s largest democracy has the most modern-day slaves

ramblinginthecity:

Makes me sad, but some would say this is the ‘price of development’. I do not buy that logic!

Originally posted on Quartz:

India has the highest number of enslaved people in the world.

More than 14 million out of India’s population of over 1.2 billion people are living in modern slavery, according to the second edition of the Global Slavery Index. Produced by an Australian human rights body, Walk Free Foundation, the survey defines modern slaves as those without individual liberty, by being subjugated to forced labor, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

An estimated 35.8 million people worldwide, or 0.5% of the world’s population, live as modern-day slaves.

In terms of the highest number of slaves as a percentage of a nation’s population, India is ranked fifth, with 1.14% of the country’s population trapped as slaves. The worst affected are people belonging to lower castes or tribes, religious minorities and migrant workers.

Of 167 countries surveyed, the worst 10 countries are home to 71% of the world’s slaves.

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Government response

The Global Slavery Index gives…

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Keep the faith! In support of 17000ft’s incredible efforts in #education

My life is truly enriched by a few passionate friends. I’m not only driven by their energy and dedication as seen through Facebook updates and media coverage. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in their journey, be the listening ear to their struggles and sometimes, like now, a helping hand as well. Take the case of 17000ft Foundation, started by Sujata Sahu and Sandeep Sahu.

Sujata and Sandeep were my next door neighbours. In the the two years or so that we shared a floor, I was thrilled to be occasionally admitted into the fun and frolic in their menagerie of a house (5 kids, 2 dogs, and some more in the nooks and corners). Somewhere between the chatting and eating and drinking (oh yes!), we discovered a shared passion for the social sector and I saw in my friends a will to change the status quo that most of us simply accept.

Both of them were passionate trekkers and outdoor enthusiasts and I remember envying Sujata her solo trek in Ladakh. Then the flash floods happened there and talk changed into action. Sujata, then a teacher at Shriram School, ably partnered by Sahu, plunged into Mission Julley. I’ve written before (read here) about how they came in with a refreshingly practical perspective to ‘aid’, throwing existing systems out of the window and adopting a hands-on approach that directly and effectively reached remote communities. By the end of this endeavor, the duo was hooked. Despite all odds, they decided to look at transforming the experience of schoolchildren in the remote areas of Ladakh. 17000ft was born!

From mapping schools in the State to bringing in infrastructure, from setting up libraries to training teachers, 17000ft Foundation has worked hard to bring meaningful and practical value additions to how Ladakhi children learn. They also run a successful Voluntourist Program that helps bring a little revenue to the Foundation, but more importantly, leverages on the enthusiasm and knowledge of trekkers and vacationers to contribute to the development of this remote mountainous region.

Sujata and Sahu, at a remote village in Lingshed, a quiet moment after a 7 day project to trek to a school where they setup a library and provided furniture

Sujata and Sandeep Sahu at a remote school in Lingshed, Ladakh

Breathtaking, but so so far. This is a school with only 14 children!

Breathtaking, but so so far. This is a school with only 14 children!

This school has 19 kids

This school has 19 kids

The last mile connectivity - 1 day drive, 2 days on horseback and the final mile by the students as they carry their desks and charis into the school

No mean task!  Furniture took a day’s drive and 2 days on horseback from Leh to reach this school. In the pic, students carry their desks and chairs into the school

Pleased as punch! Teachers pose with their new library. They were as eager to read as the kids were!

Pleased as punch! Teachers pose with their new library. They were as eager to read as the kids were!

Kids posing at a school in Chushul on the China border

Kids posing at a school in Chushul on the China border

High connect is essential to succeeed. 1700ft works with schools that are small in size but spread over a large difficult region

High connect is essential to succeed. 1700ft works with schools that are small in size but spread over a large difficult region

17000ft, which already reaches out to 25,000 schoolchildren and covers Leh district is now expanding to Kargil district as well. Behind the success of 17000ft, I know, has been the anxiety and toil of its founders, who have braved personal uncertainties and risks to make this possible. Like any other not-for-profit, funding challenges and the need for recognition are two sides of the same coin and I see Sujata and Sandeep struggling to keep that coin in circulation even as they work on logistics and operations on a day-to-day basis. Sujata pinged me on Facebook Messenger yesterday with an astute obervation. “More than anything else, people need to talk about and write about the not for profits they know,” she said. “It’s not just about visibility and funding, endorsements helps me keep the faith, something I’m in the danger of losing every now and then.” I, for one, am not about to let Sujata lose her faith!

Help 17000ft keep the faith!

While I do my bit by blogging about their incredible work, Nalina Suresh, a friend and ardent supporter of 17000ft has been running marathons to raise funds for the Foundation’s work. On the 23rd of this month, she is running the Delhi Airtel Half Marathon for this cause as well. Click here to donate and help build libraries for schools in Kargil!

To remain connected, do like their FB page and follow them on Twitter

25 years since the Fall of the #BerlinWall

Its the 9th of November. Twenty five years ago, on this day, impassioned Berliners were tearing down the Berlin Wall, a unique monument that is testimony to the fears and political struggles of the 20th century. A monument built to avoid war at all costs at a point when major Western powers had been bled dry by consequent World Wars (Read if you are curious about why it was built).

With the fall of the wall that “made the Cold War concrete”, it seemed that socialism had been defeated too. To the world at large, the fall of the Wall has been presented as a celebratory event, one that brought together Germans. A victory for democracy that some perhaps erroneously painted as a thumbs up for capitalism as well. For others though, it was an event that happened far too late as they mourned those who had fallen in the struggle.

We tried to imagine what all of this felt like for Berliners earlier this year when we spent a week of a near perfect summer tramping around the fascinating city.  Our visit to the Berlin Wall, in particular, was poignant and despite our silly tourist grins, we were contemplative for the rest of the day.

Reliving in my head that wonderful day and the crazy discussions we had. Try condensing the history of the WWII into a story for a 6 year old!

And this is my favourite shot of my two darlings posing in their Greek tees, my Poseidon and Athena, always inspiring me to do more and better, my constant admirers and critics. Love you kiddos!

MADNESS....Bang on! That's exactly what the wall represents, the craziness of the human race

What indeed is humanity? Thoughts on ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

I read McCarthy’s 2006 book The Road with a feeling of horrified fascination. That is expected from any post apocalyptic story of human survival, in this case a tale of a father and son duo walking towards the coast through a brutally cold and violent America that has been completely burnt down.

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To illustrate a bit, the duo need to protect themselves from highway gangs who steal and kill and even eat other humans. The need to keep moving so no one would find them. A few scenes in the book took me right back to Leon Uris’ books about The Holocaust! Frightened humans who had been stripped of dignity and reduced to chattel. Macho men and women surviving by exploiting and dominating the weak. Another constant activity and challenge was the hunt for food from abandoned homes, shops and orchards. Calories to survive, to keep walking. One particular incidence illustrates the apparent conflicts in these two objectives of safety and nutrition: when the duo luck out and find a fully stocked bunker, only to abandon it a few days later so as to continue moving in order to stay safe!

But beyond the nitty gritty of surviving the violence and fighting hunger, this story is about the overarching question: What is humanity? What makes a human being human? How does a good human differ from a bad one? And when all else is lost, what does a human need to be able to survive?

Turns out it’s all about love and being needed. It’s all about keeping the “fire within” alive even when you face death. The father, who understands deeply that his love and sense of duty towards his child is the sole reason for his own survival. The child, who the author imbues with an unusual sensitivity and sense of justice. Who will not leave an old man dying on the road and make his father go back and give away some of their precious resources to a stranger. A bit of a ‘child is the father of man’ situation.

In the end (I won’t go into specifics) the enduring values of humanity appear to be bonding, love, nurturing and respect. The rest abnormal and unpleasant. Unsavory.

How do we reconcile that lesson with the brutal realities of the world around us today? For those of us who believe that the goodness in the world truly endures, McCarthy’s book is lyrical and beautiful but also unsurprising and comfort-giving. For the little cynical being inside me, it’s also a little unreal.

Read it if you can face the truth within you.

3 churches and a basilica: Exploring Bandra’s Christian heritage

ramblinginthecity:

With great attention to detail, Sudha brings alive a delightful slice of Bombay!

Originally posted on My Favourite Things:

It’s a little before 7 on a muggy Saturday morning in March earlier this year.

At Bandra’s Basilica of Our Lady of The Mount, otherwise known as Mount Mary, the morning service is in progress. The stalls outside the Basilica are already open for business. At that time of the morning, there are hardly any people out on the roads; an occasional rickshaw, car or jogger pass by stopping for a quick prayer before going on their way.

Mount Mary, Churches of Bandra, Mumbai

A jogger stops to say a quick prayer outside Mount Mary

I had wanted to attend the morning service at Mount Mary, but the bus that got me to Bandra from Navi Mumbai got delayed. Not wanting to enter the church midway through a service, I decide to wait at the Oratory of Our Lady of Fatima, which is across the road from Mount Mary.

With me is a friend and…

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