I had a blast in India. It was exactly the cultural shock I was looking for.
I was sent over by Ford Australia to attend their ‘City of Tomorrow Symposium’, where they would be addressing the issue of the future of mobility with local urban planning legends and people with intelligent opinions, I was tasked with the simple job of documenting my experience.
…and discovering the country, of course.
The subject of Fords problem space is interesting – how will the cities of tomorrow design solutions to their probable (and in India’s case, existing) issues of mobility? As the population grows wildly, how will cities plan and organise themselves to make sure that getting from place to place doesn’t take up all the left over free time we have in this ridiculously fast-paced world?
Delhi is already facing a huge problem in mobility. The equivalent of Australia’s entire population is crammed into the single region of Delhi. Sidewalks are littered with homeless people. Streets are bombarded with vehicles, people creatively jamming them up with double or triple the amount of ‘lanes’ they’re supposed to have. Occasionally, drivers drive on the wrong side of the road, against oncoming traffic. Everybody honks their horn. Trains, cars and rickshaws are commonly seen with people hanging off the side of them, not to mention in front or within them.
But somehow, it all works. Somehow, it has become the way of life. Somehow, after 2 days, I got used to it.
That’s not to say that it couldn’t be better. It’s definitely not sustainable. It takes forever to get anywhere, and although people don’t crash into each other as often as you’d expect, it’s because the traffic moves that slowly and is that congested. There’s definitely an issue here. One that will only get worse over time if it doesn’t get solved sooner rather than later.
I’m impressed with Ford. No, I wasn’t ‘paid’ to say this. After experiencing the problem space they’re tackling, and the methodology of their approach, I can actually vouch for them with confidence. As far as I know, there’s no other long-standing company (let alone automotive company) attempting to tackle the issue of the future of our mobility from such a holistic perspective.
Ford are thinking about cities, about communities, about people, about sharing. Sure, cars may be a part of it, but if they are, they’re just a piece, and they recognise that. It’s great.
That’s important because there’s no single government in a country that can address these problems in a holistic way. It has to be the private sector. It has to be a company. More specifically, it has to be a global company – one that can bring global learnings together from around the world.
After experiencing the symposium, I’m definitely intrigued to see how the next 50 years unfolds for India. They’ve got a lot of issues ahead of them, but compared to more western, developed countries, they’ve got a bigger opportunity to settle on an urbanisation path untarnished by the modern, western world. One that is influenced by eastern sensibilities. One that is tailored for them – and that to me is interesting.
Over the next two days following the symposium, we had the opportunity to explore the wonder of the Taj Mahal – a bucket list experience for me. But the experience I really wanted to have was deep inside the city. On the last day, we immersed ourselves in the thick cultural blanket of Old Delhi, exploring the spice and surrounding markets, weaving ourselves into the organised chaos of rickshaw-led traffic, and discovering but a taste of the vast cultural experiences India has to offer.
It was amazing.
A short, but potent experience. Enough of an experience to make me want to come back. Hopefully one day, I will.
In the mean time, here’s some photos that document my experience.