Subbu's Solution

Urban Sprawl; Growth with no “Soul”

Once upon a time, I cycled here in the morning on a muddy road with small rocks as borders, lush greenery with sun kissed tops all around and rocky hills as a backdrop. Cycling was refreshing, with a mild breeze hitting my face, and making waves of my long hair (Yes, I HAD long hair at one point of time in my life). The effort made my heart pump faster and create sweat that was visible on my broad forehead. The weather was perfect for a walk, jog or cycle. In that vastness, my mind that was silent could hear the sound of music, the rustle of dry yellow leaves, the cries and calls of myriad birds. I could hear the rhythmic tune of the cycle tyre and the precisely timed steps by the army juniors. The juniors dressed in khaki shorts, a T-shirt, and brown canvas shoes used this place to exercise. The aroma of a sweet oil wafted in the air from the army mess.

Twenty five years later I vividly recalled the scene and the smell. It brought me peace and calm.

A blaring horn jolted me out of this dreamy slumber as I was returning from Madhapur in Hyderabad. This place Tolichowki which I described above is between Madhapur - the extended arm of Hyderabad and the old city centre. It has no empty grounds to cycle or jog. Migration and an explosive growth of job opportunities in a specific industry resulted in this sprawl beyond the traditional city. I felt sad to look at this place as it was devoid of the greenery, the rocky hills or the sweet aroma. The place smelt of diesel, has structures all over the place in a dull yellow color and office buildings with dark glasses. The buildings have no rhythm, unique culture or a vibrant soul defining it.

For a traditional Irani tea restaurant in erstwhile Hyderabad which was open, airy and with newspapers on every table, there is a modern coffee shop in this place covered by dark glasses and inmates busy with their laptops (deliberately using the word “inmates” here, as I feel they are imprisoned in their corporate cage). There are expensive restaurants with international cuisine and stores that house the most expensive international brands. Yet the extended sprawl was not appealing as it did not have the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service that the traditional places had. It has a younger population from diverse cultural background and with no time to enjoy the famed "Itminan se jiyo" culture of Hyderabad. Traffic pattern is very similar to other large cities and patience levels are low as evidenced by the honking. The latest jewel in its crown is the IKEA store spread across 4 acres. As my car entered the main city, I remembered the ever smiling Usman Bhai from whom I used to rent the cycle. I went to see his dark colored dingy shop and was surprised to see him there active with his cycle pumps and hammer. He must be close to 90's now. His wrinkled face still recognized me after all these years. He hugged and broke out into a nice toothless smile. We shared tea and conversed. The place where I lived 25 years ago was modern with some well-designed bungalows. On one end of the city was Secunderabad and on the other was the place called "old city" that housed Salarjung Museum and Charminar. Usman Bhai sadly whispered "Ab yeh zaga purana shahar ho gaya".

Cities grow old just as houses do. However as houses can be refurnished, so can the city be.

A home with a particular design pattern or a culture has a charm and impacts on how the inhabitants behave and live in the house. Similarly a city with a particular culture or design should never lose its core essence. In the pretext of growth, the city needs to be maintained as well. Rapid urbanization and unplanned growth without heed to principles of urban planning create an urban sprawl with negative economic, social, and environmental consequences and destroys the soul of the city.

Unfortunately the brunt of this unplanned expansion will be borne by the poor.


Subbu's Solution is authored by I. V. Subramaniam. I. V. Subramaniam is a director of Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited. The responses expressed here are strictly for information and explanation purpose only. The responses are meant for general reading purpose and not to be considered as an investment advice / recommendation. The responses are not intended to be an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial product or instrument or units of the Mutual Fund. Readers are advised to seek independent professional advice and arrive at an informed investment decision before making any investments. The Sponsor, The Investment Manager, The Trustee, their respective directors, employees, affiliates or representatives shall not be liable for any direct, indirect, special, incidental, consequential, punitive or exemplary damages, including lost profits arising in any way from the information contained in the responses.

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