Is Commercialism Making Cities Less Livable?
Commercialism is blamed for most evils that plague the society and Indian cities, too. In Coimbatore, roads have become narrower. Despite the roads being in a poor condition, traffic has become more intense over the years. There is not enough space for pedestrians. Many of the residents think that commercialism is to blame.
Is this plausible? If this is true, the most commercialised cities in the world would have been unlivable. But, that is not the case. The most prosperous and market-oriented countries have more livable cities. In almost every study, the least livable cities in the world turn out to be from developing countries. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that the most commercialised Indian cities have become less livable in some important ways. So, what is going on?
Do cities become more crowded when more commercial enterprises spring up? It is true that people migrate to cities or neighbourhoods with more commercial enterprises. It may seem that such “crowding” is unpleasant. But this does not explain why such cities become more crowded in the first place. People migrate to such cities precisely because there are more shops, hospitals, schools, leisure spaces and other amenities. But, this is only part of the answer. People migrate to such cities also because these are highly populated. When there are more people, there are more potential employers and business associates.
This does not mean that people always prefer to live in neighbourhoods where there are large numbers of people. When population rises beyond a limit, it is possible that this will diminish the benefits of living in a neighbourhood. It is hard to think of a neighbourhood where real estate prices have significantly fallen because of population growth. Usually real estate prices rise when neighbourhoods become more and more populated. Such neighbourhoods may have become more crowded, but they are not less livable.
There is more to this. A vast population and crowding are not the same. A city can be densely populated without being crowded. This is because density of population is about the number of people who live on a certain tract of land while crowding is about the number of people per built-up floor. In Mumbai, for example, density of population is very high and the number of people who live on built-up floor is high, too. There is not much built-up floor in the first place. So, Mumbai is dense and crowded at the same time. But if the built-up floor in Mumbai rises ten-fold, and the population remains constant, crowding will decline by 90 per cent. This is because people will have more square feet space to live on. So, one way in which cities can become less crowded is by allowing real estate developers to build more floor space. Crowding declined in Shanghai in the past 30 years.
Now, it is true that streets and open spaces may become more crowded when population rises in cities. But there are many reasons why this is less true of developed countries. To begin with, when cities become more commercialised and prosperous, the boundaries of cities widen. Transportation becomes cheaper and cars become more common. So, the relatively wealthy move to suburbs, and the centre of the city empties out to some degree. Infrastructure in cities also improve. There are usually more roads which are wider and well-constructed. This is less true of Indian cities where infrastructural growth severely lags behind economic growth. This is an entirely different problem altogether because there is very little private participation in building roads and highways. We should not blame this on commercialisation.
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