Monday, November 23, 2009


MobiliCity took place last Saturday. The first session of the day, for me, had enough positives to make the entire effort worthwhile. Here were policy makers, policy enforcers, thinkers and citizens all discussing a Transport Policy for the state, a document that is a first of its kind in the entire country. Here were people from the world's crustiest bureaucracy willing to let faceless members of an online forum critique its decisions and proposals. On the stage was Prof Ashwin Mahesh, who has been allowed to influence transport decisions of the city without really belonging to the establishment . If you don't know about it, the Big 10 service is his brainchild. Sharing the platform with him was a young articulate legislator, Krishna Byregowda, who was ballsy and straight enough to point the finger back at his constituency and say "If you are going to drown me with your petty issues, how will I get the time to get to what I really should be doing, i.e drafting legislation?". I couldn't help exclaiming, in Dean Moriarty's words, "HE gets IT!". I also found it refreshing that he had no qualms about the taunts that were thrown at him. Then there was Vishwanath, a rainwater harvesting expert, who brought his experience and understanding of sustainability to the discussion.

Later in the day, there was one particular session by CSTEP that was extremely intriguing. A few random folks from the audience were given wooden blocks and were asked to build a city out of them. The participants took turns to erect structures such as schools, metro stations, biking paths, hospitals etc.. The resulting miniature city was strikingly similar to what Bangalore has turned out to be. No clear demarcation of residential and business areas. The metro came as an afterthought. Almost all utilities were unplanned. The city had no tolerance for cyclists. I could go on. These participants were admittedly conscientious folks, as proven by their willingness to spend an entire Saturday at an unconference of this nature. And they were dealing with wooden blocks! Yet they botched it up. There was a simple but forceful lesson there. Organic growth, without coordination between the stakeholders, leads to hell holes. However, the more subtle learning was that a citizenry that doesn't demand well thought out plans from its city builders will end up living in cities like the Bangalore of today.

I've heard a lot of people getting cynical about the outcomes of an event like this. I will be the first to agree that nothing direct resulted that would make you see a tangible influence on the city's transport in the near future. But to embrace that pessimism would be to miss the point. Here were a bunch of folks asking the right questions to the right people. Here was a crowd that was telling the leaders that decide on its behalf that they are being watched, that they are accountable. I think that's a start.
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