I’ve been thinking a lot about scale – how minute we as individuals are in comparison to this large world we live in. In Vancouver, I would sometimes wander around Yaletown and see lights on in the tall, gleaming, green glass towers and think “We are like little ants.” We think our problems are big and hairy and sometimes unfixable, but we don’t see them in scale to all the problems of the world. I see these lights on in an apartment and imagine what that would look like from a helicopter or airplane. It would just be a speck in the view from your window seat.
I recently went to a discussion put on by the Royal Institute for British Architects entitled Out of India: Great City, Terrible Place. The panel consisted of some fairly impressive names and titles, with a range of view points from an economist to an urban planner. The inspiration was the work of Charles Correa, who has been an architect in India for over 50 years.
The challenges of building in India are not the same as what we experience in Western countries. There they sometimes have no power or running water. There are many difficulties getting skilled labour. The climate varies substantially depending on what part of the country you are located. And the political challenges are something we can’t really fathom. One of the presenters projected that by the year 2030, 70% of India’s population will be under the age of 25. Their current economy is growing at 5x GDP. Currently, the UK’s growth is just under 0 and North America hovers around 2x. In order to reach that sort of growth, the country requires $1.2 trillion in investment. I can see all you opportunists rubbing your palms together. And whose to blame you? There is by far more opportunity in countries like India and China than we will see for a very long time in the Western world. India is experiencing they type of growth that places like London and New York experienced a long time ago.
Yuresh Sinha, an architect practising in India, discussed how 32% of the country is urbanized currently – meaning, they live in cities. He projected that in 40 years 500 million people will move to India’s cities from the country. That means they’ll have to create a new Mumbai every two years. The implications of this are staggering: who farms, where does everyone live, how do they grow fast enough, how do they avoid disease? People are moving to the cities to work in service jobs, not labour jobs or agriculture. India is creating a work force of particularly technology workers that rival those in first world countries. Their education system produces strong medical practitioners and other professionals based on the sheer number of people who they have to choose from.
One of the panellists stated that cities are the new frontier – the wild, wild, West (or East rather). There is no land to fight over any more. Now everyone wants to be in the city where there are jobs and possibilities of living a prosperous life. The opposite side of the token is that you have people currently who share a bed because they can’t afford anything else, which means they trade off their bed to someone else as they leave for work.
So how do they manage? And I should say we and not they, because this is a global world. The impact of growth in India and China will be felt worldwide. The underlying thought was always sustainability. How do we approach this in a way that doesn’t destroy our planet?
I find there is a lot more discussion about globalism in the UK. I think the location lends itself to being more in tune with the rest of the world. In Canada, we are isolated geographically from everywhere but the United States. Here, you are doing business daily with places like Dubai. Many of the architects I’ve met are doing projects in Africa or Asia. So how do we manage the growth of these new super powers? And what happens to the way we live as these economies change?
Government has a role to play in reigning in bad practices that might be good for the pocket book, but bad for civilization. They were talking about how the money raised through taxes to finance infrastructure would often only see 1/3 used for its intended purpose. That’s a problem. You need a strong government who is actively participating on behalf of the people. Oh, my utopian society looks picturesque.
I don’t have the answer, but I do secretly hope that some genius, whiz kid out of India invents some sort of technology that saves us all. I only say that half tongue in cheek. There are brilliant minds doing brilliant things every day. And there are solutions and ideas. I think a lot of it comes back to community. We all want to feel connected, and when we are connected, more random transference of knowledge can create that light bulb moment where you see a solution to a problem in a light we never saw before.
Here is some of Charles Correa’s work (he wasn’t one of the panellists – just the inspiration):
(images via here)