I’ve lived in a few different cities. Of the lot, I’ve lived in Bangalore the longest – over half my life. It is where I live now, and there’s a lot I love about the city – the people, the weather, the labour market, the eating options, shopping and entertainment, etc.
There’s a couple of things I don’t like at all – the lack of water, the spotty electricity, the pollution and the traffic. Of the lot, the last is the worst.
Backtracking to the 80s and 90s, Bangalore was a quiet little pensioner’s paradise and a military cantonment. In the mid-90s, things changed with the IT boom. Since then, the city has been growing and growing in terms of people and jobs, while the infrastructure is always a decade behind. Where the roads seemed wide when I was growing up, they’re now awfully inadequate and in bad repair.
Two things add to the problem
- Bangalore has the worst public transport system of any of the cities I’ve lived in. The metro should change that, but it’s currently many years out before it spreads enough to take on a large load. As a result, there’s far more people using their own transport here than other places, which adds to congestion and pollution.
- Bangalore has the least accountability when it comes to planning new housing zones. Given the high proportion of service industry jobs here, people have money. That money draws builders and spikes the housing market. The government seems to zone and offer licenses without any care given to whether that area/sector has water or roads. Every new development I’ve seen comes with significant problems, and adding them means they further build the congestion problem in the city.
There seems to be no plan to build self-contained satellite cities or to improve the existing roads or to stop zoning new areas. So, every year, the city slides further and further down.
Looking at how things have worsened in the last decade, I dread looking forward into the next 10 or 20 years.
I’ve moved to a far-flung suburb. Less pollution, more greenery, but a far worse commute. Right now, it looks like a decent trade-off, all said. But right behind my house, another 2-3K apartments will be operational in a year, and they’ll flood our one-lane road even further. Leaving home after 8 is a very dicey scenario today. I guess, in a year, 7:30 will be the new 8, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
To do so though, requires the sort of ruthlessness other cities have employed. Take Mumbai and its flyovers or Delhi looking to get cars off the road. It requires moral rectitude when it comes to zoning. It requires some lateral thinking around traffic – time based restrictions for commercial traffic, congestion taxes or bike lanes. It takes better usage of water – stemming another lucrative source of money in the underground market via the tanker mafia. Taking better care of green spaces or lakes.
I don’t know what will get any of this moving – the political parties here all seem equally blase about taking care of their golden goose. We have localized movements in different neighborhoods, but the city has never been brought to a standstill by its inhabitants. Its high time we kick it up a notch.