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Author: Rahul Bhatia (page 1 of 2)

“The way government thinks about land is completely capitalistic”

Pankaj Kapoor, the managing director of Liases Foras, a real estate analytics firm in Mumbai, met with me at his office in a new building at Andheri East. Columns of large box files about Mumbai’s land prices teetered in the conference room. Although it was evening on a Saturday, the place was occupied with a row of staff who stared at their screens. Kapoor sipped on a cup of light tea and talked about real estate in Mumbai, NAINA, and what exactly set off land prices in the city (hint: it wasn’t demand).

When did you first start seeing the wealth effects of land?

You know, all this started in 2005. The seeds of the exuberance were put in when realty was open for foreign direct investment. That was the first time the government came forward and started land bidding. Mill land that belonged to the National Textile Corporation was sold, and the price of that land was being discovered. The NTC mill land deals, the MMRDA deals, and similar deals across India set the prices. I remember a time when a couple of land deals in Lower Parel happened. My own estimations for Lower Parel at that time was Rs 6000 a square foot. Land was sold, if you look, for over Rs 10,000.

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What smart cities should do

Update below.

In the plans and communications of government, smart cities are outposts of miraculous technology that preempt unnecessary pauses in everyday life. “Smart cities are about clustering smart people, smart institutions, and creating an economic model that can evolve with time,” a global strategist at Deutsche Bank told Bloomberg Philanthropies in a promotional video for India’s smart cities campaign.

On, where citizens were asked to send in suggestions for the ideal smart city, people saw these new urban habitats as a chance to fix what regular cities could not. Far from demanding technological solutions, their concerns were rooted in ordinary problems: better walkways, better garbage disposal, more transparency around local governance. Have a look at the comments for Jabalpur.

One wrote, “In a smart city all roads should be broad enough so that at least two cars can cross simultaneously. Unluckily in Jabalpur many road are not even broad enough for a small car to pass through it. Please for the ease and beauty required in a smart city broaden these roads.”

Another wanted the ideal smart city to have a university free of political influence.

A third wanted traffic to be managed “properly without political influence. No Juloos, Baraat, political gathering on roads, whether it’s local [politician], [chief minister] or [prime minister], and no bazaar on road please.”

Read the whole thing.


Update: The Jabalpur page is missing, so the screenshot below should help.


What happens when there’s no water

Mother Jones finds a California town without running water.

“They take “showers” with water from a bucket, use paper plates to avoid washing dishes, eat sandwiches instead of spaghetti so there’s no need to boil water, and collect water used for cooking and showers to pour in the toilet or on the trees outside.”

The clincher:

“Juana Garcia, a 49-year-old mother of five, lost water two years ago—in some ways, her living conditions remind her of those she left behind in Mexico when she moved to East Porterville in 1988.”

Feels familiar.

Millionaire water thieves

At Karanjade, a cluster of new apartment buildings bordering Panvel, well-off residents steal drinking water from a large mains nearby. A popular method involves puncturing the main pipe with a heavy stone and running away. The pressured water shoots out in a fountain several metres high for days, providing a virtually unlimited supply for the apartment-dwellers as well as the labourers who construct the buildings. “Bisleri hai,” a man from Karanjade village described the taste. The residents are expected to become more law-abiding when the construction of a nearby tank for the buildings is complete. For the others, this is the only dependable source of water.

H2 whoa

Why the idea of ocean cities is back:

“Today all the technologies that we need — local wastewater treatment, floating platforms, rainwater harvesting — they all exist.”

The Messenger, Karanjade, Maharashtra

“Excuse me, do you know a woman named Lakshmi? She has three children. Her husband is not here,” asked the man who had travelled far from home. Golden light streamed through the wet clothes hung in the alley. He stood outside a concrete hut’s doorway, speaking to a woman inside. Two toddlers gazed at him from the room. The ground was wet. Flour dust hazed the air. The young woman lying on a khatiya jumped out of bed, and took two steps to reach the doorway. She wore a nightgown. “Why? What happened?” she asked.

Krishna then began the story he told every stranger who asked, and every person who didn’t.

“I’m from Karnatak,” he said in a rough language the woman focused on to understand. “My train journey began at four in the evening yesterday, and I reached Thane in the morning. I went to Khandeshwar to find her. But she is not there. Then I came here” – Karanjade, a village wedged between new buildings – “to find her.”

He had traveled over six hundred kilometres, asking the same question. He asked whichever person seemed permanent – the village totems who saw and heard everything – until a vegetable vendor remembered not only the woman, but where she now was. He took directions and walked to find her. Young mothers gathered around to listen. He brought something unique here; a misfortune that did not affect them all. He told them that he had news for her, but did not say what it was.

The man held a folded bill with prices scrawled outside. Within was the woman’s name, and her new village. The young mothers studied the handwriting. “Karanjade. This is the village, but there’s no Lakshmi nearby. What happened?” He wept, and they brought him a plastic chair and a glass of water.

Finally he told them. The first woman said, “You will find many of them here.” She further added, “women without husbands”.

Nobody thought she could be found without an address, or a number of some kind. They simply said it was difficult, and that he should try other lanes.

Three rakhis dangled on his wrist. Grey hair, front teeth missing, the rest slightly crooked. Large eyes. His shirt was white, with thin stripes and full sleeves, and a brown back that revealed where he had slept. His chest shone where the buttons were open. His slippers were a size small. When he talked to people, he sat on his haunches, his hands empty but for the vegetable bill. Not a thing else on him.

Away from them, walking along Karanjade’s narrow backstreets, his hushed crying caught in his throat. He stopped before each open door, looking for clues. The light bounced off shiny tile roofs and buildings with recent coats of paint, pitching houses with open doors into darkness. He studied the clotheslines, and if a man’s pants hung there, he went on.

Everyone’s answer was the same. Where was Lakshmi, then? Perhaps in the next alley, or the ones after. He looked at the ground for minutes at a time, unwilling to go further. The faces held no answers. Eventually he said he had to travel back to Karnataka by the last train out. “I have to go.” If she called her mother – his sister – they would tell her about her husband.

She would find out eventually.

06 Female

The 06 Female was a different kind of wolf. The Angelina Jolie of wolves. Snap Judgement has a terrific story about her legend.

The radio episode’s main narrator is Doug Smith, a biologist with the National Park Service. About two decades ago, he was asked introduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park. “I very much subscribe to the idea … that country without wolves isn’t really good country,” he says. “It’s incomplete. It doesn’t have its full spirit.”

“If you have to resettle people, it’s because you did not plan ahead”

On a tip from a Mumbai planner – “Get in touch with Pedro Ortiz. He doesn’t think NAINA makes sense, and he wrote a mail saying so” – I reached out to Ortiz last week. He was in Madrid, and agreed to discuss the city planned for a 600-kilometre area east of Navi Mumbai. Ortiz, a planner, was the director of the Madrid Metropolitan Regional Plan, and also served as the city’s deputy mayor. Earlier this year, Ortiz had been invited by Mumbai First to scrutinise the controversial Mumbai development plan, and offer his thoughts on NAINA. He was concerned, he said. NAINA had the right idea, but its implementation would slow down the process of building a city that could potentially support Mumbai’s growth.


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The urn and the tomato

A boy wearing a plastic bag for protection stands on a pile of garbage several floors high. He holds up an urn that is pink, white, and covered in something brown. What is it, someone asks. A cup, he says, holding it high above with one hand. What kind of cup is it, the questioner asks. It’s a tea cup, he says. He catches a glimpse of a plant rising from the trash and runs to it, letting go the very fancy tea cup/urn. “Tamatar!” He plucks two green tomatoes, and gives one to a friend. He chomps on the other one.

This is from a fascinating documentary about life at the Deonar dumping ground, a landfill with hills of trash so tall that any increase in their height requires permission from the Airport Authority of India. It’s a little exploration of a place that’s been described extensively, but what really works here, I think, are the silences. Nothing is said. Just pictures of people at work. Good, powerful stuff by the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Part one:

Part two:

When public spaces go private

In Mumbai, more and more, we do in grey areas the walking, running, and playing that we once did in green. But where did those open public spaces go? I’ve been following this subject on and off for a few years, more attentively when this or that sports club is in the news for cutting off access to a playground that was once reserved for the public.

Where’s this coming from? Turns out, London has a problem of privately-owned public spaces too. I like this passage from the story:

The geographer David Harvey once wrote that “the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is … one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights”.

It’s time to take a stand, the author says.

Read the whole thing.