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Cities - for humans or machines?

I wrote this post about an year ago, and it has remained a 'draft' since. Got round to completing it today - however, it can also be read as a continuation of posts I made a few days ago.
I once travelled about 35 odd kilometres within Mumbai at a time. Started from Powai for Nerul via Ghatkopar-Mankhurd-Vashi and back to Powai via Kharghar-Aeroli-Mulund and then went to Vile Parle and came back.

Click to see on Google Maps

It was a good bike ride - the roads have improved - yet back breaking. During the bike ride, travelling through Mumbai, I somehow remembered my visit to Switzerland and started comparing cities in India to cities in Switzerland. Below is what I could theorize ....

As per the wikipedia, "cities formed as central places of trade for the benefit of the members living [in them]". The keywords here are - 'trade' and 'benefit'. I think cities even today can be classified into those which are built with the intent of enhancing 'trade' and those meant to make lives comfortable for its citizens. The difference is, 'trade' now manifests in form of industrial zones and corporate complexes and 'benefits' now mean public transport, subways, malls, parks, playgrounds, schools, hopitals and utilities (water, sanitation, electricity, broadband etc.).

Most cities in the world would actually contain a bit of both the above features - but the emphasis on one of them would determine a city's nature. For example, most cities in Europe would be built for comfort while those in India or US are mostly for economic reasons. There are exceptions of course - London is quite a 'trade city' while say Bangalore used to be a city for the senior citizens.

I am going to make 2 points - that India needs many more cities and that the new cities need to be 'comfort' cities than trade cities. Since the former is a well argued point in blogosphere, I'd leave that for another post, and concentrate this post on the latter point.

Firstly, with growing population and growing aspirations - as more people desire comfort and all sections of the society remain upwardly mobile (economically) - it makes sense to build cities for citizen's comfort because there is going to be plenty of demand for them. So many builders who are building mini and mega townships in Pune, Nasik, NOIDA, Gurgaon, Hyderabad and so on realize this opportunity and are cashing on it. [Whether building townships is indeed the ideal solution is a altogether different debate, which I will do in another post.]

But more importantly, it is an economic need to build cities for comfort. But hold on! Didn't I just separate cities built for economics from cities built for comfort? I did, I indeed did - but we live in the 21st century, the information economy runs the world - an economy where the chief factor of production is human capital. Yes - you no more need labor, land, and capital, as much as you need Humans to start and run a business.

And to have Human Capital available easily - you must have it in plenty so as not to create a constraint. And to have plenty of usable (read: skilled, qualified) Human Capital, one must create conditions for human comfort so that humans can be more productive - and produce more goods per capita.

The time for building 'economic' (read: industrial) cities is passée - we did that in the 1950-1970s when we built industrial townships of Bhopal, Bhilai, Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Durgapur etc. We should have built more of these in those times - but now we need not catch up. (Unless we want to become the dumping ground of polluting industries which the West is removing from its economies.)

The age has moved from industrial to information - and thankfully enough, we in India have seeded a strong (export oriented) service sector which runs completely on Human Capital. We do not need to create as many industrial townships or cities to grow our economy - we can build cities for human comfort - with abundance of connectivity, healthcare, education and utilities - and still have businesses thrive!

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