The Development Plan (DP) of Mumbai is a statutory document that lays out important parameters of growth in the city, such as land use and Development Control Regulations (DCR). This plan is comprehensively reviewed once in 20 years; currently, the DP 2014-34 is under review, scheduled to come into effect over the next year. In this day and age of technology access, this plan is very different from all other plans.
As election fever grips the nation with Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh in poll mode; as the mind grapples with the several grey areas in the charges of sexual assault leveled at erstwhile respected and now much maligned citizens; as I worry about a nation pushing its multitudes of poor further to the sidelines in its current state of enamor for a particular strain of neo-liberal thinking…
In the midst of all this, I read with delight the news about India’s Mars spacecraft successfully exiting Earth’s orbit on its way to the Red Planet. I realized I had been worrying in my subconscious mind about the craft going off track and the profound sense of relief and pride that washed over me was both amusing and heartening.
I have to remind myself everyday that India is a good story. Not just because it is my country and I have more than my share of patriotism inside me, but because I see immense positives everyday. We are not a nation that has given up, we are on the street trying our best everyday. I refuse to believe in that self-created image of Indians as a people happy with status quo. No, we are restless for change and that is hugely hopeful. Let’s not give into the media-created hype of negativity, but look around us at all the success stories and brave attempts being made every day by ordinary people who want to live a good life, do a good job and leave a sound legacy behind for an undoubtedly capable generation to take on.
I spent my lunch time today learning about a new crowdsourcing initiative from Tom Hulme – Design Director at IDEO in London. Crowdsourcing is using the power of the crowd and moving away from the idea of the lonely genius that knows everything. It can be used to obtain services, ideas, funds or content by soliciting contributions (generally on a voluntary basis and online) from a large group of people.
“This report is mainly concerned with the shelter conditions of the majority of the urban poor. It is about how the poor struggle to survive within urban areas, mainly through informal shelter and informal income-generation strategies, and about the inadequacy of both public and market responses to the plight of the urban poor. But the report is also about hope, about building on the foundations of the urban poor’s survival strategies and about what needs to be done by both the public and…
There is a group of guidelines being proposed for legacy cities in North America. Referring to cities that have experienced population/jobs loss over decades, developed around big industrial centers which no longer exist, economic weight shifted to new areas.
Mall used as refuge for 3000 persons and Torre de David office center turned into vertical favela
Cities in Venezuela differ a lot from legacy cities up North, but we certainly share their downward spiral and the challenges to reverse the forces contributing to it.
What I come back home ‘to’ and ‘for’… clicked on Diwali when they were in a real funny mood…more clicks later!
William Urrichio is telling us about algorithms and how they areal pervasive. Everything from stock market predictions to predictive policing and even medical diagnosis has become dependent on algorithms. Further, algorithms help recommend choice and are beginning to define cultural context. Big data and computers have become critical to the way we live out lives.
It seems there are algorithms that are useful but also many that are just simply there. Noise. Privacy violation is very much a fear. Also self generating self optimising algorithms mean a loss of control. Urrichio says “they are running away on their own”. This is scary too.
Taking the reference point of Modernism, where precision and stability rule, Urrichio suggests we are now in an algorithmic era in which everything us constantly in flux. To me, that explains a lot of what’s going on around us. We have way too many reference points, too much information and all of it is changing constantly. So how do we then make sense of our lives? How do we take decisions? We need to hold a somewhat stable world view, vision if we need to make choices that we deem are right for us. As an urban planner, I see algorithm based information as immensely powerful in predicting many things that can help us plan and manage cities. But we would have to still know our objectives. What do we want our cities to be? How do we want to live now? How do we want to shape our living environment in the future?
Urrichio is challenging our ability to change how we think. Are we going to be able to keep up with this change? Accept that there is a shifting sort of truth out there, contested perhaps but informative nevertheless he emphasises transparency and awareness as crucial in making sense of this, in being able to move forward!
The contemporary world is changing rapidly and we need to be able to adapt. Algorithms canned friends or foes depending on how well we can understand and use them, how flexible we can be. It’s fascinating for me to imagine a new way to work. A world in which we need to invest time to understand where data is coming from, what it’s nuances are. And then think about how to leverage this algorithm based data to improve life on Earth.
Urrichio ends with an emphasis on humanistic thinking and the need to combine knowledge, a theme I see academics return to again and again. I hope we see that change soon.
I am clapping for a Talib? Seriously? This guy, this Mulla Zaeef, he is a sharp shooter, a glib talker, a PR pro. But when an entity has been so maligned, when the image is at rock bottom, it is hard to even begin to think of change. The atrocities and barbarism of the Taliban is something we have accepted as the total truth. There are no shades of grey in our perception.
On the other hand, the duplicity and aggression of the United States is also emerging, unfolding as an indisputable truth. This is harder to deal with, for we are more networked with American culture and people. We are bound by the linkages that are all important in today’s globalized world.
Yet today, I hear from Mulla Zaeef an acceptance that change is essential for Afghanistan. He seems to imply that the Taliban have no choice but to streamline into the vision of a more progressive Afghanistan, in which equal opportunity and human rights are essential components. It seems strange indeed to reconcile his words to those images of be headings, shootings and gross violations of human dignity.
Robert Grenier presents the CIA perspective. And he is absolutely sincere in stating that it is imperative for Afghanistan to have a stable government that they want. America ostensibly sees this as the main point. As per him, the Taliban is not really going to buy into this and the country will degenerate into civil war again. Essentially, Robert thinks that the Taliban will continue to let Afghanistan be used for terrorist operations.
Moderating this face off and calling America’s bluff is Tehelka’s star Shoma Chaudhury, cutting into both speakers like a freshly sharpened knife. Her incisions offer us viewers fresh perspective, but also surprising ones. And just as we vilify the US and begin to soften towards the Taliban, she turns the tables again, allowing Robert to remind us of the chaos of civil war that Afghanistan could well descend into if they are unable to negotiate the formation of a stable government.
In the midst of all this, a vindication of the Indian angst against Pakistan for sheltering terrorists just like the Taliban did. Adding that little twist that brings the issue closer to home right into our living rooms. A stunning session here at Think2013!
Nandan Nilekani comes to the crux of the issue- inclusion. Growth through inclusion is the term that he uses and Shoma loves. Isn’t that what this is all about? He goes on to detail this idea. Basic entitlements as made possible by the rights structure, physical infrastructure, access to services and schools, reduced friction for micro enterprise. He rejects the idea of big business but to create an architecture to create opportunities.
In my work in the urban development sector, especially in the areas of urban poverty and housing, I see the discourse sharply divided between the rights camp and the private capital camp. There are those who demand that the government invest, that inclusivity be built on an increase of basic entitlements. Obviously there are huge issues with this. On the other hand, others think private investment is the answer to all problems. But we have no workable ways to make that happen without abusing the system.
The other duality that we keep coming up with is this business about urban and rural. It isn’t either or as it us made out to be. Yogendra Yadav and Nilekani spar over this today at Thinkfest and I have seen this debate unfurl endlessly. We need changes at both ends, and everywhere in between!
As Jay Panda put it, it is a crisis of governance and of a breakdown of politics. Once again, it comes down to inspiring young people. Another way to engage the middle class is to focus on community based development, ensuring decentralisation happens. That’s the only way people can connect to the idea of India!
The above mentioned session took place on Friday 8 Nov at Tehelka Thinkfest at Goa
When you have grown up with the grown-ups around you moaning about how the habit of reading is dying, it’s more than heartening to hear John Makinson, chairman of Penguin Random House assure us that people are still reading across the world. Yes, the shift from the physical book to digital is slowly happening and that may, as John pointed out, mean that publishers have to change their tactics. But it’s a slow shift and the physical book is still here for a while. The world as we know it is not really going to change overnight! Phew!
But there were two bits of information from John’s comments at Think2013 that really put the smile on my face. One was the acknowledged comeback of the indie bookstore in many parts of the world. Their reinvention as culture hubs where loyal buyers can browse, take recommendations for what they can read next, interact with other book lovers, feel good. This feeds into a long time dream of mine to own a space like this. A zone of comfort where people can read, talk, debate, especially young people though I know that might be complicated!
The other tidbit was about Penguin readership in India. Apparently, Indians like reading books that unravel complicated situations. They like serious non fiction and that’s the category that drives sales in this country. I would not have imagined that, judging from the books I see people read, on the Delhi Metro for instance! Very heartening indeed.
All in all, the session inspires me to read more, and then some. To explore the world of digital information even as I visit my favourite bookstore occasionally to chat about the latest releases and pick up a real book that I can feel and smell and curl up with!