Beneath the surface of a Tale of Two Cities

ByHindustan Times
Sep 18, 2023 03:58 PM IST

This article is authored by Dikshu Kukreja, managing principal, CP Kukreja Architects.

In an era where urbanisation is rapidly reshaping the landscape of our lives, it has become increasingly important to keep a close eye on the ongoing transformation of our habitats. "Tale of Two Cities", a breakthrough TV show brought together presidents, prime ministers and mayors from around the globe to engage in a profound dialogue. This endeavour, led by this author, transcends borders, languages, and cultures to explore the shared challenges and aspirations of cities worldwide.

Tale of Two Cities
Tale of Two Cities

One striking revelation from "Tale of Two Cities" is the similarity in socio-economic disparities between cities around the world. The challenges faced by citizens, regardless of their geographical location, bear a remarkable resemblance to each other. This recognition emphasises the urgent need for a global effort to address social inequality, transcending national boundaries to create a more equitable world.

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Urban mobility is a critical aspect of city planning, and the show highlights the importance of tailoring solutions to fit local contexts. The success of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in Bogota, its adaptation in Ahmedabad, and its failure in Delhi underline the necessity of indigenous urban planning that considers the unique needs and preferences of each city's residents.

While many global cities have successfully preserved their cultural heritage while embracing modernity, some Indian cities have taken an opposing approach, forsaking their cultural identity and disrupting their ecological balance. The initiative underscores the valuable lessons that can be learned from cities worldwide that have managed to balance development with cultural preservation and environmental sustainability.

Coastal cities, especially those in India like Mumbai, are at the frontline of climate change-induced challenges. The show sheds light on how Dutch cities engineer every aspect of their urban environments to survive in the face of rising sea levels. These lessons are invaluable for Indian cities, highlighting the importance of cross-pollination of ideas to fortify against climate-induced adversities.

Urban planning challenges are not unique to a single region but are shared globally. This realisation emphasises the need for adaptable planning models that consider local nuances and empower communities. Inclusive decision-making processes that involve the people who intimately understand the context of their cities are essential for sustainable and equitable urban development.

"Tale of Two Cities" a call to action. It invites governments, communities, and individuals to invest in sustainable practices, promote their relevance, and ensure equitable access to knowledge and information for everyone. The discoveries made during this initiative hold the potential to reshape urban development, not only in India but worldwide, fostering a future where cities thrive in harmony with their cultural heritage, environment, and the needs of their diverse populations.

In the inaugural episode which showcased Bogota and Ahmedabad, a compelling dialogue unfolded between President Ivan Duque of Colombia and this author. President Duque shared Bogota's remarkable journey from a city once plagued by despair and crime to a flourishing urban center. He emphasized substantial investments in infrastructure, such as the metro system, enhanced police presence, and significant cultural initiatives. The conversation also delved into the vibrant musical traditions of both Colombia and India, highlighting the cultural influences shaping these cities.

Tirana and Panaji are historically intertwined in ways that do not show on the surface. Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama illuminates us, “People in India must know this, the Albanian language, which forms a unique branch of the Indo-European languages is in fact a passage from Sanskrit”. While Goa’s motto is ‘Guest is God’, Albanians believe that ‘The House belongs to guests and Gods’. Albanians and Indians on the West coast historically have established cultural exchanges. This can be observed in the way the handicrafts of both Panaji and Tirana share similar motifs.

The third episode featured Australia’s Melbourne and Kolkata in India’s West Bengal. Commonwealth and Cricket are the easiest connections one can make between the two cities. However, Tale of Two Cities goes beyond the common commonalities to tell us that the first ship that discovered Melbourne was indeed named ‘HMAS Calcutta’ (Kolkata’s former name during British Raj). Both the cities still preserve tokens of their colonial past and celebrate culture and tokens of their heritage with great joy.

The history of Netherland’s Rotterdam and India’s Kochi are intertwined. Kochi indeed was once the seat of power of the Dutch East India Company in the middle ages. Rotterdam is looked upon as the successful city owing to the experimental urban planning interventions that have taken place here. Kochi, despite the cyclical change in power, ideologies and cultural paradigm shifts has retained its values from the days of old.

San Marino is one of world’s tiniest countries with a total area of no more than 60 sq kms. Similarly, Auroville embedded in the tropical landscape of coastal Tamil Nadu is an experimental utopian township which has an overall area of 20 square kilometres. It is the first of its kind in the entire world and was established to realise human unity in diversity. While San Marino is a remnant of the feudal city-state period, Auroville was envisaged as a city of tomorrow.

Mexico City and Mumbai are two of the world’s largest cities, each boasting of a population of about 20 million people. Mexico City and Mumbai have seen similar trajectories of growth in terms of urbanization. However, with the pressures of urbanisation also come the ecological disasters and climate crisis challenges.

Hannover is the state capital of Germany’s Lower Saxony and is considered one of the greenest in the country. Similarly, despite being one of the largest urban centres in India, Bhopal is also one of its greenest. Both cities are of similar proportions and scale. They are neither too big to dwarf the spirit of the citizens, nor too small to make it boring. Both Hannover and Bhopal are centres of culture and arts. While Hannover is known as the ‘City of Music’, Bhopal is the ‘City of Shayari’.

Washington, DC and New Delhi are capitals of their respective countries United States and India. The two cities share more than one can imagine, be it the democratic flavour, the cultural verve, and even the tenets of urban planning. Both places have a central civic space known as Central Vista in New Delhi and the National Mall in Washington, DC, both of which formed the nucleus of major governmental operations and infrastructure.

This initiative stands as a testament to the power of adaptable urban planning models and community empowerment, urging us to build a future where cities flourish in harmony with their unique identities and the needs of their diverse populations. In a rapidly changing world, "Tale of Two Cities" beckons us to unite for sustainable, inclusive urban landscapes.

This article is authored by Dikshu Kukreja, managing principal, CP Kukreja Architects.

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