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Most of us come from cities and cultures that are rich in insights and wisdom of how to do things … here, the popular Buddhist story of six blind men and the elephant* is retold with an urban twist - of how we look at urban areas and fail to see the sliver lining in the tales of doom.
It is easy to point out that urban problems are a result very high populations, and high densities - and that this is, by itself, a ‘problem.’ We fail to see that the people are also a resource and can be tapped on to find local solutions to local problems.
* where each of the blind men approached the elephant and gave completely different descriptions of the elephant depending on the part of the animal that they touched
Cities and urban areas are generally highlighted as areas that have high pollution and generate high amounts of wastes. Cities are also portrayed as ‘consumption sinks’ that use up a lot of natural resources.
But we fail to see cities as ‘reservoirs of ideas’ where the opportunities for knowledge generation and innovative solution is much higher.
Urban problems and the solutions to mitigate them have generally been looked from within the limits of a city’s boundaries - as a ‘local’ issue that has to be solved within the boundaries of the city - without taking into account the larger impacts of urban living and lifestyles on the global environment.
Urban areas, especially in developing countries, are routinely characterized as ‘breeding grounds’ for criminals and disease - and fail to see the real causes behind the causes in terms of a lack of transparency, corruption, lack of political will, leadership gaps etc.
City development programmes normally focus on providing a high ‘quality of life’ focussing on the physical facilities such as roads, parks, urban furniture etc. But the real need lies in the development of a better lifestyle among urban residents that is sustainable, equal and fulfilling.
Urban areas are usually looked at as generators of ‘problems’ and we fail to see it as a ‘solution’ — where the focus is on narrow shortcomings and effects of urban living, rather than on the advantages and benefits that urban living can bring.