Ever noticed how, in the last decade the view outside our windows has gone progressively downhill? Beautiful green trees and open skies have been replaced by concrete monstrosities and garish billboards – a constant reminder of the commercial hangover that India wakes up to day in and day out. With a burgeoning population and cities already bursting at the seams, trying to accommodate the thousands coming in every single day, I shall not dare to suggest that we stop building houses. Neither will I be pretentious enough to disregard the value of commercialization. India today stands where it stands because of our economic progress.
However, cities all over the world have managed to balance the need for real estate and commercial space with a need for visual and environmental aesthetics. There are two primary benefits to this. Firstly, if commercial upliftment is indeed a serious goal, then one cannot ignore the benefits of a tourism friendly city. And at most times that also means a beautiful one. If we are to be a global player, then pure commercialism is not enough and this does not, in any way, involve a reduction in much needed infrastructure building. Instead the responsibility of giving us better cities without compromising on the needful lies with effective planning.
Although in some respects (and this is a personal opinion that you are quite allowed to disregard) western societies do go overboard with their effort to be sanitised and orderly, it wouldn’t be very harmful to take a leaf out of their book this one time. In developed countries, it is not uncommon for city regulations to disallow billboards in residential or commercial areas either for the benefit of the residents or simply because they do not fit into the scheme of planning within the area. Neither is it uncommon to have building facades looking the same within areas for the sake of conformity and order.
A similar experiment was held in Chandigarh for years before somewhere down the line, policy makers decided that such requirements were unnecessary. Ask most Chandigarh residents about the sudden break in their once orderly city and irritation is generally the common response. Surely if it is our taxes that pay for city planning, then our views on how we want our cities to look should be a consideration.
However, the most beneficial aspect of environmental aesthetics would have to be the general wellbeing of the population. Studies have shown an uncluttered, clean, green and planned city makes for a happier and more efficient people. One does not of course need studies to tell us that. It isn’t exactly rocket science to know that there is a general sense of harmony and peace of mind attached to an environment unspoilt by fake smiles and unnatural poses telling us what to buy, crude unchallenged graffiti on our walls telling us who to vote for and misshaped buildings jarring our skyline.
However, environmental aesthetics cannot simply be placed in the hands of our municipalities. It requires a change in our attitude towards our city as well. Not only do we need to proactively effect a change in those who plan our cities for us but also see our cities in a different light. Most of us detach ourselves from a sense of ownership beyond our front door. The day we stop using our roads and walls as rubbish dumps and public urinals will be a day worth living for. Seriously, how difficult is it really to carry an empty plastic or wrapper to the nearest bin, or to plan and control our bodily functions to the next available toilet? Our cities and society as a whole give us so much. If a small change in our thinking can have such marked repercussions, then it becomes unnecessary to have grandiose plans to remodel urban areas and waste public money and time, deciding on street name changes. A little common sense would do just as well to give something back to our cities.