The Delhi metro has nearly 17 million people. That’s a lot. No combination of words and pictures could capture the things I have seen, heard, felt, tasted and smelled in the past few days, but I’ll do my best here.
When I say “scales of humanity,” I think two things: the scale of an economy and city which accommodates millions, and the scale of a city which accommodates any human.
Jane Jacobs pitched the idea of “human scale” in Life and Death of Great American Cities. The idea being that neighborhoods could be walkable, defensible, and people could feel they make a difference in their community through its design. A real estate developer from Phoenix, Arizona once also said, “Life happens under five stories.” Jacobs also spoke of a diversity of urban life. This was note a diversity of race or religion, as we might think, but rather a diversity of occupations, opinions, actions, and lifestyles.
- I asked the graduate student returning home sitting next to me on the plane from Paris to Delhi what the first thing I should be prepared for when I stepped off the plane. “People,” he said. “There are…just so many people. Everywhere.” I’d heard this before, but the first few days in Delhi didn’t make it seem like that densely populated of a city.
- I can count on my fingers the number of buildings over six stories I have seen in Delhi. And none of them were residential. The density one imagines doesn’t come in the form of building up.
- The idea of people hit while driving through the neighborhood near Jama Masjid on Sunday. They all smell different, look different, sound different, and yet are all neighbors.
- They laugh, cry, run, sit, pray, stand, beg, kneel, shit, eat, talk, shag, argue, give, trade, jump, drive, bike, ignore, and engage.
- They are wealthy—wearing Gucci and driving Mercedes; they are homeless—wearing grubby cotton and sleeping on the medians of urban roads. They are happy—rejoicing from their daughter’s marriage; They are sad—mourning the loss of their grandfather. The range all types and all emotions.
- More population necessitates ignorance. One cannot absorb and fully acknowledge everything. One has to go about his or her business in naked anonymity. This is true of any dense city.