I have just returned from a small vacation to my hometown, Mangalore where the buzzword on the streets seemed to be about Mangalore’s development from sleepy little town with little to its name except sharing a number of alphabets with its better known half – Bangalore, to a bustling city which could hold out on its own.
If you had visited the Kadri park on Nantoor hills a few years ago you would be looking down to a vista of lush green coconut trees and fields all the way until they met the ocean at the horizon. Now this dramatic portrait is giving way to a more stark reality – that of numerous ‘Ocean View’ skyscrapers jostling for space with the ever receding flora. As I strolled through different sections of the city, the ‘development’ was strikingly evident. Roads expanded, high-rises popping up in every nook and corner, paddy fields almost an extinct species, and now recently, the advent of the ubiquitous mall. For the big developer, this was all signs of progress. But at the same time, in hushed tones were signs that this ‘development’ was accompanied by its dirty underbelly; there were ever frequent water cuts, the bore wells being dug for the buildings had lowered the water table.. power outages were becoming a way of life, construction was rampant with little or no care of urban planning and design and some buildings themselves had shoddy construction and poor execution. People were now travelling longer distances and spending more time getting to and back to work, either due to poor or non-existent infrastructure or due to the high cost of living within the city.
At the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder – was this a case of development, or more of a case of sprawl. Was there any sense behind the rampant tearaway growth, ensuring that all its citizens could grow and develop in a city which offered good road and sanitation facilities, adequate power and water for all, and preserve and maintain its heritage and lush greenery which had defined it for many centuries? Was there any method to this madness to build up every available space, rather than to carefully plan a city so that old and new could peacefully coexist? I live abroad, where urban sprawl has become the disgusting reality of everyday life. Long commutes, smog and unfriendly cities have become passe. Some cities have rightly realised this and are spending billions of dollars trying to restore some semblance of sanity. Mangalore is yet not there, but could soon become one unless we change our outlook towards it. The citizens need to realise that the time is now to effect a change, else the next generation are bound to be raised in a faceless city, a city without an identity, a city which is a lost cause.
Author: Joseph Noronha- USA