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Megacities, Intolerance, and Community March 24, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Politics, Technology.
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Yesterday, I listened to a podcast from PopTech 2005, where Suketu Mehta described some of the technological, social, political, and economic issues surrounding the explosive growth of “megacities” like Bombay, India. Unfortunately, the structure is kind of odd, because his presentation was really the second half of a two part session called “People, Place, and Planet. (The other presenter was Mark Lynas.)

I say it’s unfortunate because, if you haven’t listened to Mark’s presentation, the Q&A session appended to the end of Suketu’s session is really confusing. Even so, there were two moments during his presentation that grabbed my attention.

The first is when he described recent, massive flooding in the city (37″ of rain in 24 hours), comparable in scale to the flooding New Orleans experienced after Katrina. Not only did the crime rate stay close to normal, nobody in the city seemed surprised that the rich and poor alike helped one another.

The second was his description of the response that Indian commuters would have if they were to see you rushing to catch a train that had just left the station. “Like petals of a blooming flower, hands would be reaching out to grab you and pull you to the train. Not knowing if you were Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Untouchable… they would make space for you on a train where there was none. Where people were packed tighter than cattle are allowed to be transported, by law.”

Instead of despair, he sees hope for cities such as this. This is in the same presentation where he had begun describing the horror of watching people burned alive for their faith. For my country, the United States, my hope is not nearly as strong.

In my country, helping one another in a time of disaster is newsworthy… unexpected. In my country, the hands reaching out to you from a train would not be there to bring you aboard, or welcome you into the crowded spaces.

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