Development / 18.01.2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates? True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term. One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city. The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji,...

Development / 16.01.2009

We turn our attention closer to home and discuss if Ahmedabad is a successful city. If one looks at the pronouncements of international development agencies there is little to doubt. Ahmedabad is one of the most dynamic cities in India with 5 percent of the national population but 14 percent of its export, an average annual growth rate of 9 percent and industrial growth rate of 15 percent. Every few months there are presentations about the city and visiting delegations extol the multiplication of municipal revenues and the successful launch of municipal bonds. Rating agencies swoon and investors salivate over the prospects. And yet, within a few miles of the forums where such presentations are made one can also listen to civil rights groups showing photographs and statistics and narrating stories that can churn the stomach and make one sick with despair. One can read announcements from...

Development / 14.01.2009

Picking up on a story in the New York Times we had suggested a counterintuitive hypothesis about Singapore – that despite the fact that it is considered one of the most successful cities in the world it could have a lot of unhappy citizens whose dissatisfactions were going unregistered and failing to affect its approval ratings. A reader had asked why, if that were the case, the citizens were not protesting and making their voices heard? We had provided a speculative answer applicable to all cities but kept wondering if there was some real evidence we could bring to support our position. Such evidence is very hard to find and the frustration was mounting till we had a brainwave – when in doubt, turn to Bollywood. Bollywood captures perfectly the mood and spirit of the times and records the major changes that occur along the way. So,...

Development / 12.01.2009

So: Is Singapore a successful city or not? Depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it? If you think about it you will realize that the design (physical and otherwise) of all cities reflects the preferences of their elites and other elites decide what criteria are to be used to define success. When you alter the criteria, you can reach somewhat different conclusions. Therefore, in any situation we have to ask ourselves: Whose preferences are we looking at and whose criteria for evaluation are we considering? The preferences of ordinary citizens do not enter into the plans that shape the design and nature of cities and the feelings of ordinary citizens do not enter into the calculations regarding the evaluation of their success. You can read all the histories you want and you will reach the same conclusion. Read how Robert Moses (who said “if the ends don’t justify...

Development / 08.01.2009

What a question? Is there any doubt? Singapore is seen as the poster child of successful urban and economic development. But it is good to revisit such certainties, if only to reassure oneself that the case continues to hold. The reason for this particular revisit springs from an article in the New York Times published on January 3, 2009 (Singapore Prepares to Gobble Up its Last Village). Readers should look at the short article which describes how Singapore’s last village (Kampong Buangkok - 28 houses in an area the size of three football fields) is being acquired for high-rise development. Three statements reflecting three perspectives stand out in the article: The Government: “We will need to optimize land use, whether it is though reclamation, building upwards or using subterranean space.” The owner: “If there’s a change, I won’t have my friends any more,” she said, but added: “We must not...

Development / 24.12.2008

We never get away from blaming corruption for everything that is wrong in South Asia. Corruption is our biggest problem, it is repeated, and until we can deal with it we will be unable to develop. No one is a fan of corruption but where is the evidence for such a strong assertion? In two posts (here and here), we have argued for a nuanced perspective. In this post, we put forward some counterintuitive conclusions. The trigger for the post is the recent high profile incidents of political and financial corruption in the United States. In the state of Illinois, where the previous governor is already in prison, the incumbent is charged with trying to auction off political office in what is being termed as a standard practice – ‘pay for play’. And the financial corruption on Wall Street to the tune of $50 billion is said...

Development / 29.10.2008

By Anjum Altaf  This essay was written after the last Asian Games in December 2006. When it was first submitted for publication the editors returned it as too pessimistic. Pakistan was at the time in its ‘enlightened’ phase and clocking high rates of economic growth – the writing on the wall was there even then but people wished not to see it. Many complained that the essay had simplified complex issues by using a trivial indicator of development. It was finally published in Chowk on July 30, 2007 with a sign of interrogation at the end of the title. Now that the lights have gone out and the country is bankrupt, we can take out the interrogation sign and finally face up to the reality. Hiding our heads in the sand is not going to get us anywhere.  With a major election coming up, we are likely...

Development / 23.09.2008

A college student has asked us if corruption is good or bad. The proposition he has been asked to consider is the following: Corruption greases the wheels of development; it benefits the rich and poor alike. This proposition is very easy to disprove by thinking of concrete examples where corruption does not benefit the rich and poor alike. Let us take examples from the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and China. Many school buildings collapsed killing thousands of children. The Chinese government has admitted there was corruption in the construction of the buildings. Second-rate material was used but approved by supervisors in exchange for bribes. In this case rich contractors and bureaucrats benefited but poor public school students and their parents paid the ultimate  price. This example shows that whenever corruption creates hazardous conditions, it does not benefit rich and poor alike. The sale of contaminated infant milk in China...