Cultures, development and evolution of societies
As I sit in Toronto with the summer heading towards fall, the balmy weather makes me go out and walk the streets and the new promenades along the waterfront. The recently concluded Pan Am games have gifted the lake shore community with modern public infrastructure, the likes of which I have not seen anywhere else. There have been chaotic construction sites for miles along the lake shore and downtown for the last 3 years, but the traffic still managed to move, albeit a bit slower and bicycles still had preference on its designated pathways, even when they couldn't speed up. And now, it is time to enjoy the fruits of patience.
The hotels, shops and businesses along the long stretch of the lake shore, had suffered. So the government subsidized them for loss of business while the construction was progressing through some formula on lower business financials. This was part of the project expenditure of $ 800 million with $ 160 million over budget. But now, the shops, hotels and establishments have a shining exterior, more customer access, improved public transport and growing revenues. And, they don't have to repay the subsidies of the lean years. Gives a new meaning to public private partnership.
The debate has now moved to the future of urban development. There was a grand overhead expressway constructed in the 1960's called the Gardiner Expressway running all the way from the West (airport) to the East all along the Lake shore. The recommendation from the planners is to demolish the Eastern part of the elevated expressway and make way for immense boulevards and walk zones. This is to be accompanied by enhanced public transport in order to reduce downtown traffic congestion. The planners like it, the politicians don't. The mayor just shot down the plan in favor of a hybrid that retains the Gardiner Expressway. The breaking of the elevated expressway and reconstruction would have cost $ 450 million, while the hybrid plan with increased exits and ramps on the expressway will cost some $ 950 million. So, the politicians have chosen the $ 950 million plan rather than what the planners recommended at $ 450 million. Its a fascinating debate at many levels:
-- Expert planners vs Politicians and special interests
-- Public vs private ( car ) transportation
-- Current market forces vs a future vision of urban and societal evolution.
-- The future process of urban growth and design. While Indian cities build more flyovers, a city like Toronto is trying to get away from it.
Perhaps every city needs to go through the same stages of development, or do they?
As I come out with the crowd from the Molson amphitheater after a 4 hour rocking concert by Earth, Wind and Fire together with Chicago, I am engulfed with groups singing away in beer drunk happiness. The weekend has just begun. As I join them and their rhythms, I ponder on the nature of happiness.
Is it about individuals or about communities? Is it about a common sense of purpose perhaps achieved with a common approach to a high standard of education and freedom? Where does the strong civic sense, politeness, adherence to rules and behavior, together with the ambition for personal growth come from? Small populations help, but wait, Greater Toronto (GTA) has more people than Madras and Bangalore in India. So there must be something else working its way through.
We sit on the waterside with the latest addition to the list of micro brewers. I order a Red beer off the tap and settle down to make sense of how the worlds work. Two days ago I was walking among burkha clad women sitting in segregated groups chatting away in Kuwait's biggest and grandest mall - The Avenues. They seemed happy. On the beaches of Toronto I am watching a fascinating game of women's beach volleyball with micro bikinis as their uniform dress. A tough, no holds barred game. And they too are happy. So, is there some yardstick to the 'quality' of happiness. The definite cultural element to happiness is there for sure; but, I don't think even the government of Bhutan, with its measure of gross domestic happiness and no accompanying economic development, have been able to figure this out.
For now, I gather that rose is back in fashion and my choice is not limited to white and red wine. Microbreweries are doing great business. And everyone wants to be on the waterfront, the great Toronto Lake shore, after years of anticipation and ultimate fruition. To that I raise my glass.