Creating a compelling vision which has the power to inspire is the first step to economic growth and therefore towards development. We have to imagine the future state first before we can make it a reality. Imagine that instead of 600,000 tiny villages, the same 700 million people were living and working in cities. Imagine that we had 600 cities with around a million people each on average. Let’s call these “Designer Cities” or DeCi (pronounced “desi.”)
I live in “Nagpur DeCi,” someone may say in the year 2020. What is it like? The population is about 1 million. Most people live in very tall high-rises, with the average residential building having around 40 stories, housing approximately 1,000 people. The footprint of the 1,000 buildings accommodating one million people occupies only 250 acres. That leaves a lot of area for parks, recreational areas, pedestrian areas, bicycle pathways and some wonderful wide tree covered roads.
By living in high density high-rises, we free up space within the city for lush greenery and roads for movement of goods and people. There are no traffic problems because of two factors. First, we have a compact and efficient city. The maximum commute is only 10 kilometers and that too on wide un-congested streets. You can use your bicycle if you don’t wish to take the excellent light-rail free public transportation system. Of course, some people own cars but most don’t because cars cost about five times what they used to cost. They figured out that internalizing the costs of the negative externalities of private cars gives socially optimal results.
The second reason for our lack of traffic problems is that the city was designed in such a way that it cuts down on needless moving about. The master plan was a marvel of urban planning. Over the centuries, people have learnt a lot about how cities work and how to design them so that they are aesthetically pleasing, comfortable for living and working in, and economically efficient. Most of what you need for daily living, you can get by just walking around. Shopping complexes are scattered all across the city, as are offices, schools, parks, entertainment facilities, gyms, medical facilities, and various public facilities.
Though compact, our city is not crowded at all. We have tons of open public spaces such as parks and swimming pools. Being compact, all our public utilities are very efficiently provided. From garbage disposal to recycling of water and waste – everything has been carefully thought of. Nothing was ad hoc and haphazard as you had in your old cities. We have large artificial bodies of water where rain water is collected. These supply all water related services and water is efficiently recycled. The widespread availability of clean and free drinking water everywhere itself improved public health immensely.
Our city has the usual collection of offices and other service oriented workplaces within the city. But at the outskirts of the city, we have manufacturing facilities, farms, and other such facilities that don’t have to be within the city. For example, our airport is outside the city but within reach of our fast light-rail system. Our main railway station is however underground at the city center. You can ride your bicycle – did I mention the fine bike paths we have? – to the train station, park it there, and take a high-speed train to the next DeCi about 100 kms away.
Strategically located outside our city is our pride and joy: the power plant. Using the best available technology and the most appropriate fuel, it generates all the electricity we use. And we use a lot of it. But the capacity planning is so good that we never have power shortages. We have power to run our factories, offices and homes. Of course, all our facilities are designed such that we make the most use of the free solar radiation. We use the latest advances in solar photovoltaics to meet our power needs to the extent it is dictated by economics.
How did all this happen? This sounds as if your DeCi represents not a dream but a nightmare right out of Central Planning. Tell me it ain’t so.
[This is part two of a ten-part series. Part 1 is "Ancient Cities, Modern Slums." Part 3 is "Best Laid Schemes". You will find the entire series and previous posts on the subject in the category "Cities and Urbanization." ]