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Fewer days for the slumdog

Book>> Welcome to the Urban Revolution, How Cities are Changing the World by Jeb Brugmann Harper Collins Price Rs 450

 
By Srikant Singh
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Book>> Welcome to the Urban Revolution, How Cities are Changing the World by Jeb Brugmann Harper Collins Price Rs 450

Most film viewers in India rejoiced at the international success of Slumdog Millionaire. Many saw it with a critical eye, but had no grudge with the selection committee of American Academy of Motion Pictures. A section of the country, though, was dismayed the film has put a spotlight on India's urban underbelly.

If they care for books, those wanting to wish away slums should read Jeb Brugmann's book, Welcome to the Urban Revolution, How Cities are Changing the World. Brugmann urges readers to consider the city as it once was, and to restore them as hubs of innovation. In Brugmann's view, urban planning has shifted from an organic process based on industry and community. It is now about driving profit, even if that means forcing people into unstable living conditions.

Down to Earth  
Urban planning is now about profit, even if it means building communities in unstable and unsustainable living conditions
 

Most scholars examining urban issues tend to look to Europe and America for best practices. There are a few who doff their hats to Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai. But Brugmann devotes much of his attention to the underbellies of the rapidly-growing cities of Asia and Latin America. The most significant case study in the book is Mumbai's Dharavi district.

For many, it is a unsanitary blot on Mumbai's efforts to "brand" itself as a world-class city. To its one million residents, Dharavi is an economic powerhouse with a gdp in excess of US $1.5 billion. But those who speak the language of the "master planned city" do not understand this entrepreneurial energy. So Dharavi could be razed and "sanitized" as an avenue of multi-storey towers. No more Slumdog Millionaires please. Brugmann's focus is on planning and design--not just in the physical sense, but also in a philosophical one. Considerations about blending residential, commercial and industrial space are as essential as considerations about nurturing a sense of community.

Brugmann's prescriptions are fine. But if trends mean anything, we are likely to see a lot more immigration from rural areas and more big cities. There will be an awful lot of dispossessed people and a lot of struggle. No place for Slumdog Millionaires.

Srikant Singh is a civil servant. The views in this article are his own

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