Musing about cities

Calcutta used to be called a city of palaces. Surprised?  You shouldn’t be. Not that long ago, Calcutta had views and vistas like the ones below, illustrated by the Daniells:

I love Calcutta. And it’s rare that I meet someone who’s lived there and who doesn’t share that love. Yet, as the city has evolved over the years, even the biased observer would be forced to admit that not everything is perfect.

I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in many great cities over the years; there’s something about them that continues to fascinate me.

The writings of two incredible people, Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander, if anything, served to accentuate and sharpen my interest. I would particularly cite The Death and Life of Great American Cities and A Pattern Language to those who are interested.

For many years now, I’ve wondered what it would feel like to build a great city from scratch. How to make sure it is alive, organic, adaptable, real. Now, thanks to friend Sabeer Bhatia, I have the chance to find out, albeit vicariously.

He thinks big. Very big. He’s taken on an amazing project, Nanocity. Here’s a quote from the web site:

To develop a sustainable city with world class infrastructure and to create an ecosystem for innovation leading to economy, ecology and social cohesion

Go take a look at the site and try and understand the scale of the project. 11,000 acres, the size of Manhattan, between two rivers. A stone’s throw from Delhi.

Sabeer thinks big. And I wish him well.

11 thoughts on “Musing about cities”

  1. Seems like it’s actually only 25 km from Chandigarh which itself is known for its architecture and urban planning with projects by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Matthew Nowicki and Albert Mayer. Nice to see this kind of venture happening in the Punjab.

  2. Yup. Sabeer has certainly earned the right to think big.

    He could have easily been a firewalled drone (albeit, a successful one) with no access to personal mail, but he went out and made a difference.

    I am firmly of the belief that:

    “Thinking big is the realm of many, but making it big is the vestige of the few & fortunate.”



  3. For many years now, I’ve wondered what it would feel like to build a great city from scratch. How to make sure it is alive, organic, adaptable, real.

    Sounds like you should ask for a copy of SimCity this Christmas :-)

  4. Declan, you’re asking me to sacrifice my traditional tie and cufflink for a video game? Im-possible :-)

  5. they built milton keynes from scratch, its the worst place in the UK, how not to do it

  6. Pingback: » NanoCity
  7. China has a slightly less amibitious new city planned (target: a quarter the size of Manhattan by 2040).

    Since when did Manhattan join Nelson’s Column and the London bus as a standard unit of journalese?

  8. Um…wow? There is a lot of eye-opening stuff going on in Asia.

    We muse about cities quite a lot at New Commons, and this project seems like it’s part of a cluster of new thinking in the planning/development community that stresses what they’re calling “resilience“.

    In terms of NanoCity, their two principles of ecological sustainability and developmental flexibility join to form a resilience perspective that includes things like water use and natural disasters, as well as slowly shifting socio-economic factors. Resilience thinking expands the frame of reference for planning and development in the same way that A Pattern Language expanded ‘architecture’ to include everything from the relationship between a window and its trim boards to where to site a city’s red light district or what makes for a good playground. Resilience says ecology impact economy impacts built environment impacts ‘social cohesion’, etc.

    The New Commons-aligned resilience thinkers are preoccupied with water in Western AU, but they’ll love to hear about this.

    Lastly, anybody interested in expanding the possibilities of infrastructure should check out Michael Singer, a US-based sculptor who now makes things like airport terminals, electricity plants, water treatment plants and waste management facilities. Amazing, smart, practical, cheap, sustainable.

    Brilliant quote from him when he spoke in Providence: Create infrastructure that celebrates the dignity of the people who work inside it.

  9. “Create infrastructure that celebrates the dignity of the people who work inside it”. Love that quote, will read up on Michael Singer now. Thanks a lot.

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