Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Growing pains

Today's tour of the metro construction was in direct contrast with our Thursday screening of a documentary about the social and environmental impact of the Namma Metro. During the tour, we also had the opportunity to ask the engineers tough questions about ecology, human displacement, alternatives, and planning.
Today's tour of the metro construction was in direct contrast with our Thursday screening of "Our Metropolis," a documentary about the social and environmental impact of the Namma Metro.

Equipped with the knowledge that hundreds of slum dwelling families and thousands of trees were displaced by Phase 1 of the metro, our class made its way down inside a grandiose underground terminal 275 meters long and walked a subterranean tunnel to the next stop.

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Although stops and tracks in the very center of the city are being designed underground, the majority of the track is being designed as a "fly over" on supports well above the city streets, altering the landscape and destroying green space.

This is necessary because meter for meter, underground track costs approximately three times more than its above ground counterpart. The Namma Metro team has already taken loans from France and Japan to fund the project.

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While treated to tours, discussions, lunch, and chai from the various heads of departments of the Namma Metro project, students asked tough questions about ecology, human displacement, alternatives, and planning.

Despite canned answers from engineers who are weary from defending their project, most students in the group came to the collective decision that some sort of public transportation was necessary for Bangalore.

Questions still remain with all of us: At what cost is innovation and infrastructure unacceptable? Was the metro the right solution?

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The metro corporation has claimed that all people displaced were more than fairly compensated, and slum dwellers were provided low income housing.

But the documentary provided strong anecdotal accounts of people who were furious about displacement. Stories about people who were not warned of their eviction ahead of time, people who never received their compensatory sum, and people whose historic family home was being totaled.

These accounts provided us with a strong juxtaposition of information to chew on during the tour.

The heads of the metro are hopeful that with the completion of all phases of the metro, they will see a rise in patronage to almost 3 million people a day. To put that number into perspective, that is about the population of the Twin Cities. Forty million people ride our light rail each year.

The engineers all stood behind the decision of the metro, claiming other forms of mass transit like a monorail or express busses simply won't have the capacity to sustain the quantity of people who will commute on the metro.

The engineers, despite having to constantly defend their project, expressed to us that they are proud to serve their country by providing such a large, high-tech infrastructure project that connects people and industry.

What do you think? Is it worth wounding the few to move forward? What would happen if the metro was never created?

Because I just had to, here's Rachel and me in front of the state government building. The front says in giant block font, "Government work is God's work."

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