It is fashionable these days to speak of our beloved city, Pondicherry, metamorphosing into what is euphemistically referred to as a ‘Smart City’. Here are 10 reasons why I prefer a ‘Dumb City’ instead. Some residents might concur with me. These nameless denizens may like to lead a leisurely life in a city where:
1. The need to jump out of the way of a speeding vehicle gets minimized – in other words, hapless pedestrians and bicycle riders have the right of way; the use of horns and loudspeakers attract a hefty fine, leaving the offender crying all the way to his bank.
2. Warehouses and big hotels are not permitted within the boulevard limits, leaving the narrow streets peaceful and resident-friendly. Elderly and ailing residents need no longer complain of being startled at times – either by the incessant growling of commercial vehicles during the day or by the sound pollution generated by tourist vehicles during the night.
3. More parks where citizens could stretch their limbs and try to fight off lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension, thus warding off cardiac blues. What Pondicherry needs are more Ashe Marsons (of P.G. Wodehouse’s Something Fresh fame) who are fond of brisk walks and Larsen Exercises in open spaces. The city’s main streets have a denser coverage of trees with thick foliage; water dispensing kiosks, toilets and garbage bins dot the landscape liberally.
4. All crossings within the boulevard area have convex mirrors at corners, thereby avoiding speeding-bike-enthusiasts routinely crashing into other vehicles, putting life and limb to grave risks!
5. All crossings across the canal are obstruction free, avoiding blind spots and congestion on Gingee Salai and Ambour Salai. (As of now, the Vysial Street crossing is the only good example of a blind-spot free crossing across the canal.) Mandatory mini parks could be planned at all these corners. Shops peddling terracotta articles near the Ashram can be relocated to other suitable places, so the road on that stretch becomes clearer for traffic.
6. An overdose of tourists could end up damaging the ecology. The powers-that-are need to exercise their grey cells better and hold consultations with business leaders to come up with innovative ways to augment the UT’s revenues. A concerted drive towards industrialization by using SEZ-earmarked land and other parcels of available land could help. So could a hefty increase in registration charges for petroleum-driven vehicles, with substantial rebates for those who go in for greener vehicles.
7. Active implementation of a multi-modal public transport system with special emphasis on a user-friendly bicycle-sharing system and battery operated vehicles alone being permitted within the boulevard area.
8. Revival of water channels and aquifers, with the single aim of making Pondicherry a model in reversing the trend of increasing ground water salinity. A long-term plan to ward off the ill effects of rising sea levels and incessant rains also needs to be put in place.
9. Strict ban on plastic bags of all kinds and a scientifically designed garbage collection and disposal system, duly backed by latest technology.
10. Cooperation and collaboration at the top, leading to a visionary development of Pondicherry.
‘Smart’ or ‘dumb’, these features would retain the essential character of Pondicherry. If those in charge of making things happen give these a thought, they would surely make the citizens of Pondicherry a healthier and a happier lot in the long term.
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What planners would do well to avoid would be adopting a soulless materialistic ‘smart’ plan which would leave residents gasping for clean air, yearning for sparkling water and ardently wishing for the sound of silence which would make it possible for someone standing on Ambour Salai to hear the unmistakable melody of ocean waves on the Beach Road.