Non-political manifesto for compassionate cities

Sunday, 9 February 2014 - 8:04pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA

With the pace of economic development increasing in our country, urbanisation is inevitable. Urbanization by itself does not say much about the extent to which people care and have love for each other.  Certainly, the kind of institutions and technologies we use will influence whether future smart cities will give greater space for leadership to dumb, manipulative, selfish people or to altruistic, creative, compassionate and collaborative people.  The character of a city is not determined by the number of flyovers or swanky malls or other sources of entertainment it has, but by the culture and values with which the people use the space under the bridges. The way a city cares for its people above the bridge and below it determines the quotient of compassion. The concern with which we follow the law of land in providing amenities to workers who make these bridges and other buildings also matters.  The kind of facilities we provide to the physically challenged and other disadvantaged citizens determines to a certain extent, the characters of a city.  The way we rehabilitate the poor who inhabited spaces over which some of the modern icons of affluence and splendour exist, makes a difference to our Asmita.

Let me share some concerns for making the city compassionate.  Every city may have a some hundred-thousand municipal corporation schools. But  are these schools reputed enough for the employees of Municipal Corporation to admit their children in them.  Unless we can transform the culture and quality of education in these schools, the children who study in these schools will never aspire for leadership in the society.  We will have two categories of citizens produced by the public policy.  The private sector will produce citizens through private schools who will run the state and other institutions and the state will produce citizens who will serve the first category at different levels.  This divide runs so deep in our social structure that peace, love and communitarian spirit becomes difficult to sustain increasingly. Already, a large number of housing societies of the middle and elite categories have their own security system. They don’t trust the state to save them from untoward possibilities. The police could decide whether to take better care of those who have no facility of private security or provide more policemen, and other infrastructure in localities where the private security is much more present.  If state and market forces converge, who will take care of the neglected social segments and their needs?

A compassionate city cares for the wildlife and stray animals.  It provides very agile systems for serving elderly people and the women.  It takes care of the disadvantaged children on priority and with pleasure.  The management of urban common properties lies at the heart of the process creating compassionate communities.  Recently, when I met children at the Arzoo Educational Centre, even the very young kids recalled their visit to the Kankaria Lake as one of the most pleasant experiences.  Naturally, more access to such places free of cost for the underpriviledged children and other people creates a sense of ownership and belongingness in them.  Under every overhead bridge, community learning centres should be developed for encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and co-creation. Everybody, ranging from road side vendors, auto drivers, mechanics or children on the street, should be able to use these social innovation labs for solving problems.  Every week, a challenge should be issued for finding creative solutions for civic problems and solutions should be mass sourced and celebrated. A culture of creativity and compassion can be infused at all levels. 

On major crossroads, an ‘idea of the day’ and ‘idea of the week’ can be announced in which civic authorities will invest for further experimentation.  Every professional in the city should voluntarily pay a compassion tax of Rs50 a month to a citizens’ group.  The fund so collected can become a part of the city social innovation fund.  No idea should remain pending for evaluation for more than a week. Every telephone company which uses state infrastructure for setting up their towers and selling their services should provide free SMSs and call numbers for people to submit their ideas.

They should also provide logistic support in collaboration with different colleges for processing these ideas.  The city will transform eventually into a co-creating community.  Every college will create innovation clubs which will search, spread and celebrate innovations and sense unmet needs. Such a manifesto may be rejected by the political parties and that will prove its merit!


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