Driving through the Golf Course Road, the city of Gurgaon is often portrayed as the city having tall shiny office buildings, the apartment towers popping out like concrete weeds, the metro line running overhead that seems to be overpowering you, and the shopping complexes with designs the eye has never witnessed and the brain never even thought of by a common man in India. To describe the transition of this ‘smart city’ in one line; it is the shift from once agricultural lands to the current day ‘glass facade’ jungle that we see today.
However, do these above-mentioned features not remind you of another very popular metropolitan city? It is the city that was the first to witness the sprouting of tall glass and steel structures and it was because of this phenomenon that the term ‘skyscrapers’ was coined in the 1880s. And it is none other than New York City! ‘The City of Skyscrapers’ famous for its soaring iconic structures and its tough street life, seems to have inspired many cities that developed later on. Though it is not the best example to learn from, yet one such Indian city that appears to have taken influence from New York is Gurgaon.
It was in 1996 when Mr. KP Singh, the chairman of DLF, invited Jack Welch of General Electric (GE) for a meeting in India and that concluded with Welch deciding to set up Genpact in Gurgaon. In turn, this captivated the other multi-national companies, and in no time what was once known as ‘Gurugram’ started its transformation into a Millenium City. Regardless of this booming suburb becoming the symbol for development in India at once, it seems that the city has everything except a well working citywide sewer system, constant electricity or water, or decent roads. To quote Mr. Ramaswamy R. Aiyer, a respected name in water management in India, “Gurgaon is a disaster, a horror story of how urbanization should not happen”.
As mentioned earlier, the two cities – Gurgaon and New York seem to have a lot in common yet there are some clear distinctions as well. To start with, New York is often called the ‘city that never sleeps’ and though Mumbai is known for the same in India, yet Gurgaon seems to be catching up as well. From the 24-hour dining to nightclubs that stay open all night along with the city’s fast lifestyle and high-end facilities, these cities seem to never run out of energy. Another common feature between the two is the vast availability and use of public transport.
Whether it was the typical ‘yellow cabs’ that New York was famous for or the modern-day Uber cars, the use of public vehicles has always been given more preference due to the ever-increasing population and the massive traffic snarls that are common in the city. Alike is the situation of Gurgaon where despite the construction of various flyovers, traffic jams have become a part of peoples’ routines and people are either seen car-pooling or choosing public transport over private ones.
On the contrary, accessing subways and metro stations is not an easy task as the major lines are packed throughout the day. Lastly, the lack of open green spaces has created the ‘heat island effect’ in such cities causing a rise in the overall temperature of the area which even the artificially created green roofs and walls also cannot help with much.
Unlike the city of New York, where primary infrastructure came before corporate sprawl, this DLF city is developing in reverse. The earlier situation of these cities in their developing phases was quite different and hence separately approached city planning systems. New York City’s planning though not considered the best one, yet managed to develop in a systematic grid plan with a proper road network and the skyscrapers regardless of being different from one another, follow a similar character and blend in well together to form the whole picture of the city.
On the other hand, in Gurgaon, the development seems to have taken up haphazardly and the glass structures glitter separately yet when looked from a distance, it gives a picture as if things are just laid, placed, and arranged in sites very different from each other that it becomes impossible to define a common character for them. This is the outcome of the fact that when the shift from once agricultural lands was taking place, private companies bought pieces of land randomly in the area. This in turn gave extreme freedom to the architects to design a landmark of their own in that specific area without thinking of planning the city as a whole.
In fact, it can be rightly said that Gurgaon is not an example of ‘bad planning’ or is an ‘unplanned’ city, rather it was built on a ‘non-plan’ which generated an eagerness to mix, match and combine anything to ‘sell an image of good life’ in the new city.
For the city of New York, even so, density might not look great because of how packed and congested it is, yet some of its benefits are evident. These being the excellent access to public transportation which reduces the number of cars on the road and thus fewer greenhouse gases released; or the fact that someone can run errands, go out to eat, and go shopping all in the same neighborhood by walking less than a mile. On the other hand, though it seems that Gurgaon aimed at bringing that feeling of walking between the skyscrapers from New York, yet it failed to take other inspirations of planning and infrastructure as well.
Gurgaon acknowledges the disconnect between function, form, and social life by fanciful and wondrous forms. Observing all these factors in 2011, the New York Times rightly talked about this developing city with the title, “In India, Dynamism wrestles with Dysfunction”. Hence, across India, the city of Gurgaon has become a model as well as a warning tale for other cities.