Last week I attended a Mint debate on “Cities as Vehicles of Innovation and Creativity” in Bangalore. Accenture’s Harsh Manglik said he feels the same energy and creativity in Bangalore as in Silicon Valley.
SF’s mayor Gavin Newsom said a few months ago that one of the things on his to-do list next year will be to strengthen ties between the two IT hubs. Cities such as Toronto and Dublin are already part of a collaborative “Digital City Network” with SF.
Panelist Nandan Nilekani said he was optimistic about Indian cities “because it can’t get any worse”.
Are you a caring Bangalorean?
Nilekani had an interesting historical perspective about why the ideas governance of our cities is so weak. First they were seen as a symbol of imperialist power, so they were on the Nehruvian hit list. Then there was the move to build 300 cities as part of a new socialist India that was subsequently never executed (give or take a Chandigarh or two). “We never saw cities as vehicles of innovation and creativity,” says Nilekani who, since he is a Bangalorean, believes that Bangalore began that thinking.
Moderator and Mint columnist Ramesh Ramanathan said we are all “Prestige citizens”. If you’ve ever had anything to do with Indian cooking, you’ll ace the association—Prestige equals pressure cooker, right? Just as Old Monk equals rum and Godrej equals almirah (do read our great cover story on how a brand can tell the story of a people and email us about the brands you grew up with).
So Ramanathan says we’re all pressure cooker citizens; CEOs and hotshots in the work space but emasculated when it comes to doing anything about the garbage that doesn’t get collected outside our doorsteps.
Nilekani said he believes Bangalore is the most creative city in India. But I think I’m with director Sudhir Mishra on this one. He came to Mumbai from Lucknow in the 1980s and he hates the way the city has changed since. Yet, as Mishra puts it: “Mumbai is the one city in India where you can change your destiny, where you can rewrite the story of your life. Indians are not allowed to do that, but here you can reinvent yourself.” Beat that.
Whether the city’s ethos will be destroyed by the “parochialism of locals and the uncaring outsider”, as Mishra predicts, we don’t know yet.
This is a relevant worry for every Indian city today. In a world where we whiz from city to city, going where the best job takes us, is it possible to feel a sense of ownership about the places/neighbourhoods we live in? Think about it.
PS: And of course, you could make a case for Delhi too. It will always be the cultural/creative hub of India and it is the only city with great roads, well-maintained neighbourhood parks and the only city that’s made any headway on the CNG issue. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org