India, the world's most populous democracy, is in the midst of a monumental transition. Its urban population is expected to more than double in coming decades; within a generation, close to half the country's population will make their homes in cities. (1) This has wide-ranging implications for politics, economics and culture, and promises major transformations in both the natural and built environments. Yet at this time of massive growth, a dearth of skilled local planners has made India's skyline vulnerable to the whims of international planning firms, while policies favoring the rich have spawned ill-conceived infrastructure projects, says Rahul Mehrotra, a prominent architect and chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Mehrotra, who also heads an architectural firm in Mumbai, spoke with the Journal's Elizabeth Tomei about urban challenges and prospects in his home country. (2)
Journal of International Affairs: The Indian economy began a fundamental shift when it opened to liberalization and globalization in the early 1990s. How has this impacted Indian cities in the last two decades?
Rahul Mehrotra: I think that the big shift is twofold. One, there has been a lot of deployment of new infrastructure, what the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai calls "weapons of mass construction." (3) They have been deployed largely in the interest of the elite and have led to greater exclusion of the poor. Globalization usually brings glamour as well as displacement, and that is exactly what has happened in India. We have emphasized building state-of-the-art airports and, because the rich have become far more mobile, automobile-oriented infrastructure that leads to gated cornmunities on the edges of the city. Within cities, you are seeing large chunks of postindustrial landscapes being redeveloped, again as gated communities for the rich. The result--the second part of the shift--is that because gated communities have essentially seceded from the city, government investment in basic urban infrastructure has been dismal. We haven't improved our water systems or public-health infrastructure and we have ignored building social infrastructure like schools and hospitals. The rich are benefiting from this shift, and it is posing new and extremely sharp questions of inequity.
Journal: You have spoken frequently about the concept of "impatient capital," which seems relevant here. Would you explain the idea?
Mehrotra: Capital is by nature impatient--it needs to be realized as soon...