Editorial

Urban eyesore

Editorial

Urban village refers to a well-planned development at the edge of an urban area. To us, it is literally a village between towns, may be far from the crowded downtown, or it may also lie in the shadow of the tall buildings. Village to us often alludes to a farming community, and these urban villages, especially in Dimapur District, are those that used to be farmland a decade or two ago. But these villages have today become a major headache to all for what can be said as due to its unplanned and uneven growth. It goes without saying that a typical urban village here has absolutely no planning. Nothing surprising here because even most of our major towns are unplanned! The issues faced by most towns in our state can be traced to both a collective political failure when it comes to urban development as well as a prolonged system of corruption. In fact today it is clear that a significant part of the city is morphing into a large slum with narrow, congested roads and a hotchpotch blend of old and new, residential and commercial construction. The residents used to be farmers but now are mostly landlords and the majority of residents are migrant workers. The streets, if they can be called that, are narrow, dirty and lined with all kinds of small shops selling fake or shoddy merchandise. Besides, it is also the birthplace of much of our town’s sweatshops and crime cases. Just like bankrupt state-owned cooperatives/enterprises, these villages are remnants of the old times, when planning of any kind was non-existent and suburban farmers scrapped a living from growing vegetables and peddling to city/town slickers. But unlike the state owned cooperatives, few solutions have worked to regulate a semblance of order in these urban villages. If one demolishes them without proper compensation, there will be unrest among the residents. If one pays market price, the cost will be prohibitive since urbanization has driven them into prime real estate. This is not the whole story. Sometimes it is even the local administration that is being held hostage by greedy residents. If we dig deeper, one will find that the victims of urban development are the urban poor, say, those with 40-50 square meters to a family. No matter how reasonably compensated they are, it is not likely they will be able to live in their old neighbourhood any more. Whereas the original suburban farmers, as a whole, profit extremely well from urban sprawl. These residents, in anticipation of big-money buyout, scramble to build all kind of structures on their plots so that when the administrators come to measure their properties, they will get more richly compensated. And suddenly awash with easy money, some of these landowners and sellers have turned to business ventures, but stories of gambling and drug binges also abound, resulting in more social discord and increase in crime rates. Sure, some section of the society might not want anything to change, arguing that this is how people live and interact and they should let be. It reflects a lifestyle that should be respected, they may contend. But clearly urban villages are eyesore not a cultural heritage, as some might again contend. Obviously they are not on anyone’s tourist routes, and the renting public inside them don’t live there because they like to, but because they cannot afford a better place. In fact urban villages are virtual slums. The buck can be passed to the local administration, which did not have the foresight to properly zone suburban areas when they were still farmlands. And once migrants swarmed in, and stores and sweatshops sprouted up, it was too late. Eventually the market may be able to take care of it when private developers or even the government can offer a high enough price to buy up all the shanties and build something new and exorbitantly priced. Or they may, road conditions permitting, bypass these places and build out into the far suburbs, leaving pockets of unseemly blocks on the cityscape, a reminder of urban growth that is uneven and under-prepared.

error: