“WEB OF LIFE” – Acknowledging India’s Colonial Urbanization

Ever wondered what is your personal association with the term ‘urbanization’?

A term we probably encounter every time someone asks about our city’s infrastructure development or  the monstrous real estate prices with ever diminishing affordability of housing  as a common struggle for all.

Besides the above mentioned reflections of urbanization and the typical definition as that of urban growth, with accelerated population shifts from rural areas to cities (urban areas), have we ever considered “urban growth ” which forms the essence of urbanization as , “the character of a city”?Maybe yes, maybe no!

Isn’t the incalculable reaction there because the smallest unit of being urban we relate to, is the city we inhabit? Cities do make a lot of sense to humans.In the past , walls may have defined a city. But today’s city boundaries are often blurred. People are concentrated in a small space rather than being spread out over a large territory. This allows the government and others to provide more service such as water, electricity, and transportation to a larger number of people. Schools and shops are more easily accessible than in rural areas.

But have we ever consciously realized the trajectory of our urban growth as a “Third world”or a “Developing nation” ? Few might have already felt the pinch of being pushed into a vessel  of disparity on a global vs local ground. But who cares, that doesn’t change the reality of it or does it? In my opinion, we have been too harsh on ourselves when it comes to settling under the skin of our nation’s urban development , over the time. You see, it’s not our fault! The era of urbanization dawned too early and quickly on us.To even know from where it all started, if it is what it is supposed to be like or just something we know we need to consummate like the “First world | Developed nations”.

I say, “Acknowledging India’s Colonial  Urbanization” because we have Britain’s Imperial past attached to us  for good 90 years and that’s a long time! To be honest and transparent,  they tasted the whole urbanization wave  first hand and over the time, pushed over the platter to us, being the connoisseur .

With this post, I am bringing my readings and understanding over the subject  about how the Western , urbanized land once  was very much like that of ours.We need to prize our cities with utmost understanding and appreciation of the process. And of course, progressively admire and acknowledge the blessing in disguise, the West showered on us. Bring on the flak (zero pun intended) and jury with your best analysis skills .

(Part 1):

From the beginning of time, we have been made to understand, that every smallest of the unit in this universe goes through a loop of evolution and if all that required is available, fights for its survival. Yes, “the Darwin Theory of Evolution” on origin of species. Remarkably, his theory has not only had a revolutionary impact on life sciences, but has also on natural history, sociology, linguistics, economics and history of technology. Putting it pragmatically, it’s the survival of the fittest, and the fight to conquer and rise to the top. It is never-ending from the beginning of time and can I now call it the “web of life”?

Let’s make sense of what I’m saying by revisiting the Marxist theory of socio-economics that changed the face of Europe. It is one of the most revolutionary, fundamentals of economic teachings that the world has grown from. In his theory, Marx started with the information he had at hand in his time with a background of the French revolution which was/is known to everyone as the struggle for supremacy, waged by bourgeois against the nobility and the royalty. After this, a new class struggle originated. Where with the advent of Industrialization, manufacturing capitalists grew against the landowners; and at the same time followed the working class’s revolt against the bourgeoisie. *it will take me another post to get to the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat **So, what were all these classes? Wherein did they differ from each other? Marx proved that these class distinctions were owing to the various functions each one played in the productive process and it is in this productive process, that classes have their “origin”.

By providing this analogy, I’m trying to swiftly delve into the ‘evolution of urbanization of cities’. The idea that cities are emergent and adaptive: and that we need to understand that we cannot expect them to exist in a state of equilibrium, as they are intrinsically unstable, always in flux and thus far from equilibrium. (Batty, M. (n.d.). Cities and Complexity. Understanding Cities. MIT Press, 2005)

To under size, they are always evolving, surviving, thriving and helping it’s inhabitants to sustain.

The aim of it is to finally make the argument ‘India-centric’ and as an Urban designer and most importantly a citizen of this country, try to bring the understanding and ease-out the frustration over India’s urbanization over time till date.

Mulberry Street , NYC, 1900


The roots or the primary phases of Urbanization date back to the second half of the 18th century in the industrial cities of the British Northwest. And during the following one hundred years spread to the continent, first to the countries of North West Europe, to the Netherlands, to Belgium, North-West France and to Germany. It took well into this century before massive industrialization started in Northern Italy and, after World War II, in Southern Germany and Southern France.As it turns out, larger regions in the Mediterranean countries are only “now” passing through this primary phase of the economic transition.

For some stats, by 1965, only Greece, Ireland and Portugal had a level of urbanization below 60 percent. Belgium and the United Kingdom had the highest level at 93 and 87 percent. By 1988, Greece had exceeded the 60 percent mark with Ireland just behind at 58 percent. Though, the most significant rate of growth of the urban population between 1980 and 1988 was observed in Portugal, Spain and Greece.

What is Urbanization? As i  mentioned earlier, it is a population shift from rural to urban areas and the ways in which each society adapts to change. To see the evolutionary side of it, let’s also take into consideration the development of the earliest cities in Mesopotamia and Egypt until the 18th century with the continuation of the above mention.


The Industrial Revolution changed material production, wealth, labor patterns and population distribution. Although many rural areas remained farming communities during this time, the lives of people in cities changed drastically. The new industrial labor opportunities caused a population shift from the countryside to the cities. The new factory work led to a need for a strict system of factory discipline. During this time, child labor and the unsafe working conditions rampant in many factories led to many reform movements. Expectedly, population movement was caused by people living in small farming communities who moved to cities.

Jacob Riis , Lodgers in A Crowded Bayard Street Tenement, London

 These prospective workers were looking for wage labor in newly developed factories. Over the time, drop in famines, warfare and illnesses, and an increase in food sources, all mixed to cause a population spike and as early as 1850, many European cities becoming centers of industrial growth. In fact, by 1850, over 50% of the entire population of Great Britain lived in either a town or a city instead of in a rural community.

And this growth of cities led to horrible living conditions. The wealthy fared far better than the industrial workers because they could afford to live in the suburbs on the outskirts of the city. However, for most of the factory workers, cities were dirty, crowded places where epidemics frequently broke out.

Overcrowded row houses created to home the workers and their families contributed to these conditions. Government reports of the time indicated people sleeping as many as six to one bed. The sanitary conditions in early industrial cities were filthy as well. Since the municipal governments did not concern themselves with cleanliness at the time, the cities did not have proper waste disposal systems, and people threw trash and sewage directly onto the streets.

The burning coal of the industrial factories coated cities in a layer of grime and polluted the air, and water supplies were polluted by waste.

Slowly, they realized the problem!

(Part 2):

The westerners who were wrestling with major problems of slums and housing crisis after first world war came up with the alternative to overcrowded and industrial cities, along with greater sustainability approach.

Contemporary town-planning charters like ‘New urbanism’ and ‘Principles of Intelligent Urbanism’ originated with a movement.


Forget six counties overhung with smoke,

Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,

Forget the spreading of the hideous town;

Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,

And dream of London, small and white and clean,

The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green.

-William Morris The Earthly Paradise (1868)

(c) National Trust, Wightwick Manor; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This movement was that of “satellite towns” with the ideas of “Garden city” in both America and Europe. Then came into existence the Regional Planning Associations followed by a series of umbrella urban developments with –

“ The City of Sweat Equity –

……if we are going to reform the world , and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not to talk about relationships of a   political nature, which are inevitably , full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programmes full of things for other people to do….. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s heart and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people want to talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.– Robert M. Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

From 1930-1897 they further grew into;

Michigan & Griswold circa 1920

“The City on the Highway” – Dealing with The Automobile suburbs.

“This segregation of motor traffic is probably a matter that may begin even in the present decade….And the quiet English citizen will, no doubt; while these things are still quite exceptional and experimental in his own land, read one day in the violently illustrated popular magazines of 1910, that there are now so many thousand miles of these roads already established in America and Germany and elsewhere. And there upon, after some patriotic meditations, he may pull himself together.H.G. Wells Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901)

“The City of By-Pass Variegated” – The Mass Transit Suburb: 1900-1940

And the newness of everything! The raw, mean look! Do you know the look of these new towns that have suddenly swelled up like balloons in the last few years, Hayes, Slough, Dagenham and so forth? The kind of chilliness, the bright red brick everywhere, the temporary-looking shop fronts full of cut-price chocolates and radio parts.-George Orwell ,Coming up for Air (1939)


With the onset of  planning becoming an academic discipline that planning theory became an object of labor. The emergence of urban planning in the west in the late 18th century and its slow absorption into the realm of local and state government through to World War II came about without the aid of self-conscious theoretical direction or of individuals who labelled their work planning theory(Lubove,1967,pp1-22).

For the coming trend, planning was looked at as the art of re-arranging rapidly growing industrial city so that it would be more orderly, more beautiful, and more livable (Krueckeberg , 1983, pp. 3-6).

The Rational Model was then generated by the practitioners of planning where they modeled to approach anD analyse urban problems by establishing a goal and then systematically explore all possible solutions and the various consequences of those solutions. Their theoretical perspective proposed every problem from, traffic congestion, incompatible land uses, health care, or riot control to be approached in a single, scientific fashion.

From an intellectual perspective, theorists of the rational Model were concerned with the nature of rationality, the limits of comprehensiveness, the meaning of efficiency, the degree to which scientific analysis could said to be in public interest, and elaborations of the process to conform to real world situations (Bolan, 1967).

Thus, it is observed that with the Western planning theorist’s technical and mathematical approach to planning in its initial years of finding itself, it can be observed that the factor of “designing a city” was seen as an alternate approach for more humane and responsive approach to city lives.

Extracting from Marxist urban theory in sociology, political science, and geography, a sense of space and or urban form is being reintegrated into planning theory. The integration of theory and practice and the development of planning theory with focus upon a real rather than an abstract object remains elusive. Do we now observe the evolution of urbanism and who the pioneers were?


LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01
Indian Railways , 1909, LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

“We want not only England but all parts of the Empire to be covered with Garden cities.” – (Garden City, 2 (15) 1907)

“I hope that in the new Delhi we shall be able to show how those ideas which Mr. Howard out forward….can be brought in to assist this first Capital created in our time. The fact is that no new city or town should be permissible in these days to which the word ‘Garden’ cannot be rightly applied. The old congestion has, I hope, been doomed forever.”    –   Garden city and Town Planning, 2 (5)

To Be Continued……..