Whither our cityscape?

By Nandhini Sundar – December 17, 2016

The Hindu

Small properties that prevailed in quaint streets are being erased to become part of mega projects with huge footprints. By Nandhini Sundar

Has the massive corporate buying of urban buildings that has been happening over the last decade altered the urban landscape, signalling the emergence of a new phase in major cities?

A city is a complex system yet incomplete, fusing in a mix of many formal systems such as the governments to large corporations along with a diverse range of people from different cultures, engagements, of different classes, social backgrounds, the rich, middle and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, each bringing in a different character, flavour.

Each resident produces a certain component of the city, each leaving a legacy that makes the urban scape cosmopolitan. Even the powerless leave their imprint, be it cultural, social, or economic, such as ethnic food, therapies, music and much more. Yet, today, with the emergence of ‘global cities’, this representation of diverse backgrounds and cultures is disappearing, the new inhabitants international, their global culture homogenous, irrespective of the diverse backgrounds they may hail from. The question then arises, who does the city belong to? At the recent IIA NATCON 2016 hosted by Indian Institute of Architects, Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, spoke on the changing cityscape, a phenomenon happening across the world. “The large scale buying of urban spaces by large corporates is introducing a de-urbanising dynamic, a multiplication of high-rise luxury buildings”, stated Sassen.

According to Sassen, this corporate takeover of urban land is not confined merely to high-end sites but extends to even spaces that housed modest residences and offices. “It is a witness of an unusually large scale corporate buying of whole pieces of city over the last few years.”

The transformation from this is a shift of ownership from small private to large corporate and from public to private, avers Sassen. “This takes on a new dimension, one that alters the historic meaning of the city.”


The result: the urban landscape, that earlier housed small dwellings or public spaces, is now becoming large and private. The erstwhile small properties that prevailed in quaint streets and small public squares are now being erased to become part of mega projects with huge footprints. This is privatisation and de-urbanisation of the city space, Sassen contends. “This means there is now a smaller quantum of spaces that were previously accessible to the public.

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