Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Globalize Goodness

Even as people and governments are in an unholy scramble to ape the latest trends and offerings that are in vogue in the name of globalization, Dhananjaya Kumar brings you an alternate mantra of consciousness wherein the globalization of healthy tendencies and commitment can be a pointer to the future…

I am increasingly puzzled by various theories of: economic boom and bust, impending environmental catastrophe, deep-rooted psychology of destruction, misplaced faith in finite fossil fuels in the presence of infinite energy — remember, E=MC2. Yes, the push for globalization is working well in spreading industrialization, and consumerism.  But there are restrictions on the movement of people and therefore, the propagation of good ideas and best practices.  A wonderful example comes to mind.

The city of Curitiba in Brazil is a showcase of urban planning and innovation, which deserves to be replicated worldwide.  With its present population of about 2 million, Curitiba has transformed itself from a once-filthy and flood-prone squalor to an enviable place to live over the past two to three decades — thanks to a dedicated team of planners, engineers, architects, and a cooperative private sector.  Imagine this happening without running big debts or deficits.  No, this is neither a miracle nor a gift of divinity — just ordinary people imagining and creating a sustainable future, working cooperatively and with dedication.  They can be proud of their vision and its fulfillment, apart from being awarded “the best environmental city” by the United Nations and preserving four times the open green space per inhabitant than recommended by the World Health Organization.  They have produced a model that India and other countries can learn from.  The focus thus far has been on globalization of products and brands; let’s now try to globalize good ideas available for free.

The Curitiba experience is richly innovative in the areas of transportation, environment, public parks, and affordable housing. The main feature of the transportation system is that it is designed for people rather than cars.  Typically, urban authorities concentrate on building more roads and parking space for cars and call it urban planning.  Curitiba, on the contrary, has focussed on convenience of people through: pedestrian-only streets, bus rapid transit system, high frequency of bus service coupled with color-coded bus routes and integrated bus fares, a trinary system of traffic flow, one-way streets, absence of major street intersections, a nodal system of roads to steer new construction, etc.  Private companies were initially skeptical, but benefited by participating in the master plan.  Through a revenue sharing arrangement, bus operators get paid per kilometer rather than per passenger. And the net cost to government is close to nil.

All components of Curitiba’s master plan are integrated in such a way that they all complement one another. For example, the environmental component helps to reduce congestion, create jobs, promote mass transit, and make low-cost housing more attractive to inhabitants. Initially, it proved difficult to collect garbage from tightly packed slums that polluted the nearby river and piled up garbage on open land. Hence, the city decided to “buy trash” at designated collection spots and the payment was made through free bus tokens.  Local folks would even pick up trash from elsewhere, bring it to the pick-up trucks and collect tokens for free bus rides to job sites. Then there was a campaign to educate people about “trash that is not trash” (i.e. recycling).  The recycling separation station, built by volunteers, employs the homeless and the illiterate to separate plastic, paper, metal, and glass; these are then compressed, weighed and sold as raw material to local manufacturers. Those workers thus make a living and receive free education. Slums are cleaner and more livable.

Similarly, Curitiba has put in place unorthodox solutions to orthodox problems in other areas too.  Slums and low-income housing localities do not face the usual problems of: distance from employment centers, standardized housing designs, and lack of services. Instead, small-scale industries and businesses are promoted within those communities, housing designs are variable to suit individual/family preferences, schools and clinics are readily accessible, in addition to common areas for recreation and free vocational training.

Large areas within and around Curitiba were prone to frequent floods or used as dumping grounds.  Instead of building concrete canals to control water flow, the city decided to harmonize with nature. River flow was left alone. Man-made lakes were created to absorb excess waters when required.  Abandoned wastelands were converted into public parks, recreation facilities, and high-end housing enclaves.  This process not only beautified the city, but continues to generate significant tax revenues, a portion of which is applied to operate and maintain the infrastructure.

Curitiba (photo credit Eugeni Dodonov, via Wikimedia Commons)

These ideas and practices are worth emulating everywhere including India. In fact, about 100 cities worldwide are in their own ways embracing the Curitiba experience. Rebuilding or transforming a city is a monumental task. But small changes in the minds and on lands do have a cumulative effect. Moreover, major events or projects can serve as a platform to introduce new ideas and practices. For example, the Commonwealth Games was a wonderful opportunity to retrofit and re-launch Delhi. Instead, the city got flooded and funds washed away.

Highlight 1: The city of Curitiba in Brazil is a showcase of urban planning and innovation, which deserves to be replicated worldwide. With its present population of about 2 million, Curitiba has transformed itself from a once-filthy and flood-prone squalor to an enviable place to live over the past two to three decades — thanks to a dedicated team of planners, engineers, architects, and a cooperative private sector.

Highlight 2: These ideas and practices are worth emulating everywhere including India. Rebuilding or transforming a city is a monumental task.

Author profile
Dhananjaya Kumar

Dhananjaya Kumar is the Co-Founder and Trustee of India International School and Cultural Center (IIS).

IIS is a non-profit and equal-opportunity educational institution, serving the community since 1982. The main objective of IIS is to: provide quality education in the arts, culture, and languages of India; impart knowledge and skills to younger generations seeking personal growth and harmony with others; and sensitize the youth to basic human values and preservation of the environment. About 100 classes per week are taught by 35 teachers in core subjects including: vocal and instrumental music, classical and modern dances, fine arts, Yoga, and languages. IIS students frequently perform at national and local community festivals, theater, radio, and television.

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