Thursday 13 January 2011

Urbanism Kolkata Style

I recently spent a week at a workshop in Kolkata organised by the British Library and the National Library of India, designed to lay the foundations for a project to digitise early Bengali Books (1778-1914).  In many respects it was a wonderful experience, and the project is incredibly worthwhile (though it will be difficult to implement).  But this was also my first visit to India, and my first visit to what might be called a 'mega-city', and the experience has forced me to revisit some aspects of how I have been conceptualising urban living, and in particular the nature of eighteenth and nineteenth century London.

A couple of years ago I visited Marrakesh and was struck by the essentially orderly character of what is a relatively poor and very crowded urban environment.  By contrast, what struck me in Kolkata was the extent to which urban growth seemed to have outstripped the city's ability to discipline behaviour.  At around seven million people at midday, and four million at midnight, Kolkata is both one of the worlds most recently created cities, and a city occupied by a rapidly burgeoning population drawn primarily from its own rural hinterland.  The city lived up to many stereotypes - crowded streets, fearsome pollution, and traffic that worked like fairground dodgems.   And while there were fewer beggars (either children or the disabled) than I had expected, and while I saw little evidence of malnutrition,  there were ragged shanties and street people around every corner.

But what surprised me was the nature of the rubbish.  It seemed to pile up along every roadside, untended and ignored.  And it seemed to be made up overwhelmingly of small bits of plastic, mixed with dust.  There was little evidence of large amounts of organic matter - no rotting fruit, or vegetables, fly specked bones or industrial by-products.  At one level it seemed the least varied or interesting rubbish I had ever seen - and it seemed to sit entirely unregarded, unmoved and unchanging.

My only explanation for this phenomenon is that, first, everything that could be recycled, re-used, turned to any account whatsoever, had been sifted from the pile and moved on.  And second, that there was no working system in place to remove the last, uneconomic residuum. 

As a historian of the urban environment this seems to me to re-enforce the profound inter-relationship between the economics of city life (its wealth), and the need for cultural controls on the behaviour of each individual urban dweller in order to make a city work.  In essence, what it confirmed for me is the extent to which living in a city requires the kind of detailed social and cultural system that could remove the rubbish; and that such cultural and bureaucratic systems can only be sustained in the face of measured growth - and that they can easily breakdown in the face of rapid migration.

When cities grow quickly as Kolkata certianly has; when behaviours and systems of bodily maintenance fitted for small holdings and low-density living, are practised in a high-density urban environment, the result in this instance seemed to approach the unliveable; or at least a form of urban dystopia.

In relation to the history of London, this observation seems to me to both emphasise the extent to which the city in the eighteenth century was able to maintain a culturally disciplined series of behaviours that both ensured that the rubbish was coralled to the correct place on the street; and that it was not allowed to stay there - poor neighbourhoods seldom tipped irredeemably into chaos.  It also suggests that the evolution of the nineteenth-century rookery formed an outpost of disfunctional urbanism that can be mapped against rural in-migration.  But, most importantly, this experience has re-enforced a belief that 'urban living' can be conceptualised as a distinct cultural phenomenon that takes similar forms across the globe - that being a city dweller is first and foremost about sharing a cultural system built on specifically urban forms of behaviour.



Unknown said...

Wiztech Automation is a Chennai based one-stop Training Centre/Institute for the Students Looking for Practically Oriented Training in Industrial Automation PLC, SCADA, DCS, HMI, VFD,VLSI, Embedded, and others – IT Software, Web Designing and SEO.

PLC Training in Chennai
Embedded Training in Chennai
VLSI Training in Chennai
DCS Training in Chennai
IT Training Institutes in Chennai
Web Designing Training in Chennai

mcq said...

نعمل علي نقل العفش من الرياض الي اي مكان اخر مثل جدة او مكة او الدمام بالاضافة الي خدمات نقل العفش التي نقدمها اليكم
شركة نقل اثاث بالرياض
شركة نقل عفش بالرياض
شركة نقل اثاث بمكة
شركة نقل عفش بمكة
شركة نقل اثاث من الرياض الي قطر
شركة نقل اثاث من الرياض الى قطر
شركة نقل اثاث بمكة
شحن لمصر من الباب للباب
شحن من الرياض الي مصر

Susan said...

Appreciate you sharing, great post. Fantastic. Pictaram is an online instagram tool where you can analyze your accounts instantly with its own developed algorithm. With this tool you can instantly see your own profile strength and interaction rates. This tool is completely free.

Jatin Sethi said...

Rehabilitation means to coordinate the individual go into society to turn into a gainful part. The procedure may include maintaining a strategic distance from the drug, learning new pressure the executives abilities, other social medicines yet frequently includes the utilization of explicit meds. Another conspicuous part of drug rehabilitation programs is the utilization of a physical area with a controlled domain where the patient is shown fundamental abilities while experiencing treatment. Treatment focuses can be private or government worked.
recovery quotes
addiction quotes

Jatin Sethi said...

The YesPornPlease/Blog setup is smooth and smooth looking, with a new white inheritance and masses of vivacious tones at some stage in to make things energizing. The photos are significant standard as properly which could be apparently captivating, especially in posts like "Lube: How Much and Where" that incorporates a photograph of a revealed youngster getting scoured down with kid oil. I understand that doesn't sound interesting, anyway trust me, simply the site of her optimal little clit sparkling with kid oil is satisfactory to cause me to need to whip my chicken out and blow my store all through her.

Mark Henry said...

How To Choose The Correct Manicure And Pedicure Kit online
There are many pedicure and manicure kit online that you can purchase. Choosing the perfect kit for yourself can be challenging.
The First thing you should keep in mind is the size of the bag. If you will use it in your house and keep it there, then you do not have to worry about the size, but if you are planning to travel, then you should buy a smaller size kit, so it is easy to transport.
Second, choosing the correct pedicure and manicure kit tools according to your personalized problems. You should identify your problem areas and buy tools accordingly.
Third, decide the quality of the tools you want. Proper quality tools can be a little expensive, but they will last longer and give you better results.

Getting Payment Gateways in Europe said...

Accept payments anytime, anywhere with a WebPays credit card merchant account. Explore the best of credit card processing from the best of top credit card processors . Explore WebPays, or create an account instantly and start accepting digital payments like never before.