Ecocity 6: Bangalore, India, 2006

Host organization: Project Agastaya

Convener: Rajeev Kumar

Garden City of India

The capital of high tech, the Silicon Valley of India, busy Bangalore provided Ecocity 6 with another spotlight illuminating problems and opportunities on ecocity front lines, this time hosted by an NGO called Project Agastya and Raja Rajeev Kumar. Bangalore is famously prosperous as the Garden City of India, but equally renowned for frantic, titanic traffic congestion. It’s a city of sprawl of a very different sort, not a suburb but a whole big city, scattered into inefficiency. Large playing fields for soccer, cricket, polo and other games, military marching fields, great government buildings, botanical gardens, small lake-sized reservoirs called “tanks,” temples and shrines, colleges and corporate campuses scatter the city and demand long connecting streets. Then, where they connect to one another and the zones of commercial buildings, where the streets converge there is another big void: the traffic circle so wide the buildings on the other side look small and distant. People give directions by traffic circles there!

The temptation is to widen the roads, but the walls around gardens and private and institutional property cinch them in. In their pristine separateness, the British with their visions of country manor and colonial privilege had a lot to do with this and the high walls that turn the streets into virtual tunnels of noise and swirling exhaust, with the looming trees from spacious gardens beyond the walls contrasting pleasantly and confusingly. For a movement that studies urban form as a primary armature for energy and land conservation or squandering, civic enjoyment or alienation, contacting or segregating nature from the urban experience, to experience this pattern of development was something quite unusual and informative. For Bangalore citizens to host a conference on ecocities there, was an act of courage and high commitment.

Highlights of the conference itself included Dr. Rusong Wang’s new work on land use pattern transformation concepts for Beijing and other large cities, shifting the growing car-based ring road and radial pattern to one of strong centers connected by transit, surrounded by agriculture and nature. Delegate Iris Se Young from Hong Kong described the suburban cul-de-sac pattern as the dead ends at the vertical heights of tall urban towers – a wholly novel perspective for most of the participants. Iranian architectM. R. Poujafar described development recently starting to mar the oasis-like valleys leading to the 18,000 foot snow capped peaks north of Tehran – and the potential to stop that kind of development and fineness over into a revived local agriculture with a small core of tourism for beleaguered urbanites showed fresh possibilities. A successful campaign to stop a shoe-in bill to get bicycle rickshaws off the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh was related by Debra Efroymson, head of the campaign. She and her colleagues from the NGO Work for a Better Bangladesh (WBB Trust) saved 20,000 rickshaw driver’s jobs and prevented the total takeover of that city’s streets by the elite in cars. Progress on behalf of education for sustainable cities was reported from Canada by Jennie Moore of Vancouver and from Maine, Harry Cabot proposed some new ideas of schools in sync with local calendars. Vasiliy Filin, a Russian laboratory psychologist/design critic laid out a theory of actual neurological damage and associated mood pathology caused by the assault to the eyes of severely repetitive pattern or blankness of the visual field created by a large fraction of modernist urban buildings. A presentation from South Africa by J. J. Steyn recounted a small rural community for Afrikaners seeking the virtues of ecological life in a small intentionally insular village and one from Kenya by architect Bernard Moirongo showed how redesign of public plazas can help stem crime, with case studies from Nairobi. Waxing very real for many, papers on ecological sanitation systems by Christine Werner and others described solutions developed by German and Swiss authors working in several developing countries and applicable almost anywhere on village and town scale.

Ecocity 6, like earlier conferences, was a window on the world, like a magnifying glass aimed directly at problems and solutions for cities, towns and villages. Again, participants came away awash, in new insights, with friendship created or renewed and lessons ready for application back home all over the world.