Cultural coordinates of the dynamic city

A majority of metropolitan cities with their complex activity pattern, especially in the developing countries, face similar problems. City development is unable to keep pace with physical growth causing lack of proper infrastructure. Slums surrounding fragmented pockets of prosperity and a large mass of young population unemployed or under employed and living in deplorable conditions, stratified in conflicting socio-cultural zones are posing a major threat to sustainability of these settlements.
A large and growing city is constantly in a state of flux and turmoil. This is often the result of a plethora of factors, most of them out of control of a single agency. New immigrants take time to assimilate in to the cultural cycle of a city.
Delhi, for instance, adds a population close to that of Ambala city in just one decade. It takes generations before a population is fully assimilated into the culture of the land and large cities seem to be running out of time.
As a result the cultural profile of the metropolis tends to move away from specific to highly generic – almost universal. The resistance to this qualitative change is proportional to the cultural tenacity of the city in focus.

Cultural plurality
For a metropolis inundated with new migrants by the thousands every day, cultural plurality is hard to be

developed and maintained. Leonie Sandercock, an urbanplanner and academic, who teaches at the School of Community & Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, calls this phenomenon as the “emerging global disorder..” effecting every country in its own ways.
A city is a system. The inherent quality of a system is that the objects that constitute the system are linked with each other with an ‘input’ that gets processed and exits the ‘output’. Without processing there is no system.
The ‘processing’ no doubt refers mainly to the input – output of method and the quantum of the tangible resources, like air, water, energy and finance, but equally dependent on other intangible factors as collective emotions, memory, cultural experiences and ethnicity.
Planners are fast learning the lesson that ‘planning’ is not confined to working for government agencies or service providing institutions alone. In the race for survival today, every country needs to be technologically innovative and independent.
For poor and technologically backward countries, this is a real problem. Multiculturalism of the city can be a great motivating factor and contributor to attainment of higher levels of information technology.


As Charles Laundry, the UK-based author and urban planner wrote in 2000: “Competitiveness no longer lies in immobile, physical resources like coal, timber or gold but in highly mobile brain power and creativity.”

Global village
In a world which is fast becoming a global village, cities are also displaying disturbingly universal characteristics.
The dilemma facing developing countries, in a bid to house and employ the burgeoning population is that while on the one hand, technological innovations make it easy for them to resolve the problems, on the other hand they create a set of newer problems.

Polluted air due to motor vehicles, polluted water bodies due to industries, heaps of indestructible solid waste in urban areas are a familiar story. The more worrisome though less evident is the subtle erosion of cultural values due to a universal culture that inevitably flows through the channels of communications that are the fountainhead of information technology.

There is a very real and unique problem here. ‘World culture’ tends to sweep away the vernacular uniqueness of the indigenous culture. And paradoxically it is the indigenous culture that the global environment demands – as a highly sellable commodity.

The need, therefore is to balance the advance of cities into a global network while maintaining their local character.
So how do you prepare young planners to cope with a highly uncertain and dynamic future? Moreover, in a free market economy that limits free thinking in many ways, the most logical approach would be to equip them to be able to conceptualise the problem, break it in to handle-able issues and then address them keeping in mind the ‘particular’ approach involving the beneficiaries such that the solutions are not seen as alien or imposed but those that emanate from within the community.
This approach requires wisdom, tact and a lot of common sense.