In a previous article which appeared in Citizen Matters a month ago, I talked about the fact as to how Bangalore was becoming another Mumbai (a concrete jungle, without any open spaces and hardly any greenery ).
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And although I have moved to another city in another continent (Delft, Netherlands) to pursue a PhD in trying to understand the ‘institutional & governance side of urban transportation’ (in which I will be studying four cities including Bangalore), I cannot help but read about the latest developments in Bangalore through news reports which seem to suggest that the administration (municipal and state) are going into overdrive to change the landscape of Bangalore… charging citizens to enter Cubbon Park, the Metro and temporarily taking over parts of the High Court and Vidhan Souda, and so on.
I don’t know if I will be able to do it, but through my research I do hope to understand the ‘institutional mess’ which characterizes the nature of infrastructure projects which cities like Bangalore witness.
And to acquaint myself with a theoretical understanding of institutions and to potentially connect that with the infrastructure projects in India, I am currently in Delft, Netherlands , a city which in many ways is very different from Indian cities, and yet in many other ways is not so different.
The incredible thing with the Netherlands is that the almost the entire country is below sea-level. It lies to the east of the North Sea, and the country is connected through a series of canals and dykes (levees) which keep the water from inundating the land. The citizens of Netherlands pay a tax for literally staying afloat.
Delft is a small town (compared to Indian standards) with a population of less than 1 lakh. It is famous for its Delftwarepottery. What also makes Delft famous is the detail which has gone into its infrastructure planning. A mixed land use policy which allows for industries, housing projects, open spaces and commercial establishments to co-exist right next to each other is one such example. In terms of public transportation, buses which connect different parts of the town to the railway station, separate cycling paths and well demarcated footpaths are some of the significant features of this well planned city.
The Dutch really do like to enjoy their quality of life due to which shops open around 10 AM and close at 5 PM. The weekly market is on Saturday and shops are again closed on Sunday. It means that my avenues for shopping are limited to Saturday since I get off work at around 5:30 pm and more importantly I’m forbidden to work from the university on weekends ( I need a weekend pass approved by my supervisor if I need to work on weekends).
Coming back to the topic of transportation, cycling is a major way by which people get around – be it to their work place, for shopping, to the train station etc. In fact even trains are equipped with special coaches where passengers can lug their bikes along with them. My colleague who is a native of Delft says that there are at least two cycles for every human being in Delft – one an inexpensive one for short distances and an expensive one for biking expeditions which happen during weekends with the family.
The sheer amount of bicycles in this city has some very interesting results. I have found many instances where the parking space for bicycles however extensive is not enough to accommodate the amount of bicycles especially during peak hours. This is especially true around the train station, the university campus and the market area.
It may also be interesting to note that the behavior of bicyclists is not very different from that of car drivers (which we get to see in Indian cities). Road rage amongst cyclists is something which is not uncommon in Delft. I have witnessed quite a few instances where cyclists are cycling at break-neck speeds at crucial intersections where they need to slow down. Pedestrians need to be doubly sure while crossing these traffic intersections else cyclists might bump into them. In fact the funny part here is that when compared to cyclists, motorists come across as angels (even if there is a single pedestrian/cyclist at an intersection, they make it a point to stop, allow the pedestrian to cross and then move ahead).
A very different challenge with respect to bicycles here is to ensure that your bike does not get stolen. Thus you might invest is a second hand bike which may cost as less as 50 Euros, but in order to ensure that it does not get stolen, you will have to invest in a huge lock which can cost upwards of 20 Euros. A friend of mine laments about the fact that he has bought three bikes till now, all of which were stolen.
The city of Delft also has a good amount of greenery with 20-30 year old trees lining the streets. And just as I was beginning to think that the municipal authorities seem to be quite different from their Bangalore counterparts with respect to cutting trees, I was proved wrong; the other day, just as I was returning to my house, the municipal authorities had cordoned off a street and had nearly finished chopping six-seven full grown trees. The only thing which is better is the efficiency with which they chop trees. Of course, that level of efficiency can surely be expected from a developed nation.
The other interesting point about the Dutch is their bureaucracy which I must say provides competition to the Indian bureaucracy. Every process right from registering yourself with the municipality or the immigration department, opening a bank account, getting a university email account is so inter-related that without completing each of these steps, it is not possible to proceed to the next step.
Of course having said all of the above, I must confess that I have been here for all of 20 days and maybe I might change my opinion regarding many things. My aim is not to compare different cities or different situations especially given the fact that we are talking about extremely different contexts and in that sense, one really cannot compare Bangalore to Delft or any other city.
But the idea is to observe and understand how certain cities/towns/administrations make decisions regarding development, what are their motivations and if anything can be learnt from those experiences.
More from Delft and its infrastructure in due course of time… ⊕