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Speculative Urbanism And Its Consequences In Bangalore

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Cities are “spatial manifestations of broader social forces and struggles”, contained and shaped by their built environment. Industrial capitalist modernity has been the driving force behind city development, and the commodification of ‘place’ has resulted into cities being ‘converted into products to be sold in competitive markets’. The rush to achieve world city status has been exemplified by the government of Bangalore, where the phenomena of speculative urbanism and subsequent processes of development-induced displacement have resulted in mass social upheaval and an array of dire consequences for the urban and peri-urban poor, who are the victims of mega-infrastructure projects intended to boost Bangalore up the global city hierarchy. This essay will discuss the issues outlined in the blog, touching on speculative urbanism, the inaccurate application of gentrification theory to the Global South and the colonial legacies still shaping Indian cities. We urgently require a postcolonial engagement with theories of gentrification, and push the boundaries of existing theories emanating from Euro-American cities, as the elite usurpations of land in Indian cities occurred through market and extra-economic processes which do not fit into the neat box of gentrification.

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Only then can we fully understand the processes that occur and how to tackle the problems they bring. Robinson’s (2002) critique of the strategies deployed in order to achieve world city status succinctly explains why Bangalore has embarked on a process of development induced displacement, which Cernea (1999) explains is “not only literal eviction from one’s place of dwelling, but also encompasses the expropriation of productive lands and assets in order to pave the way for an alternative use of space”. Global cities frequently present cosmopolitanism as the aspiration of developing cities. There is a broad hierarchy, with global cities at the top, followed by off the map peripheries with global city aspirations. This is problematic as it not only influences what we think the optimum city is, but also impacts what strategies are deployed in order to achieve such a status. With the case of Bangalore, increasing economic liberalization led to the promotion of foreign investment and the development of market-led economies. Consequently, Bangalore experienced an increase from 13 IT firms in the early 1990s, to 1154 IT firms in 2003. The introduction of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), new forms of governance (through parastatal agencies), urban reforms, and the promotion of multinational investments in large infrastructure are only a minute subsection of the vast changes brought to Bangalore in the 1990s. Thus an Information Technology sector explosion, following rampant economic liberalisation, was the spark that promoted an aggressive urban policy of development-induced displacement. Doshi (2015) outlines how the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and World Bank financed large-scale projects, prioritising the mass displacement of groups of people to pave the way for beautification projects and provide infrastructure directed at elites and upper middle classes.

For example, JNNURM received central government funding up to USD20 billion for development projects. Such policies tie in with ambitious manifestations of the ideal world city, intended to promote global interconnected industries, elites, leisure facilities and high end commercial and residential real estate. In the case of Bangalore, Goldman (2011) argues that this form of world city making meant substantial state-supported speculative activity, resulting in mass displacement of rural Bangalore, with farmers and landowners forced to sell their land at a fraction of the market value. The elite bias in urban development was implemented vis a vis illegible, illiberal and flexible ways, with slum dwellers, farmers and informal business owners experiencing many different forms of both state and non-state force. The state’s suspension of basic human rights resulted in the exploitation of the law of eminent domain, based on the British Colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894). Essentially, the government could purchase land from farmers, as long as it’s for the ‘good of the nation’, albeit offering a fair market price. However, the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), offered pittance to non-elite members of rural communities, choosing the depressed rural market price instead of the upscale world-city market price as a benchmark. In its efforts to catch up and cash in on its own world city, the government of Bangalore, alongside a new group of powerful parastatal agencies asserting their dominance aggressively utilised the rules of eminent domain, subsequently reducing many of Bangalore’s citizens to ‘bare life’, with no legal or civil rights.

Many can no longer access the city, its resources, or public space. Indeed, much of the frantic rush to disposes Bangaloreans was based on a “speculative imaginary for world-city investors who may just stay away, and for world-city professionals who have yet to come”. The failure to rehouse the hordes of people, or in the case of the Koramangala neighborhood, only inform residents of an upcoming demolition 48 hours prior to it happening, is a key example of government brutality in the context of Indian cities. Moreover, Kranthi and Rao (2010) in alignment with Aranya (2008), argue that the majority of evictions intended to make space for development projects happened by force, and on the odd occasion where the government provided rehousing, it barely fulfilled the basic needs of those evicted. A further look at speculative urbanism is helpful in understanding the processes shaping Bangalore. Bangalore’s world city vision is taking place via the transformation of zero-value ‘dead capital’ into high-value ‘liquid capital’, i.e. the conversion of rural villages into high rise apartment complexes and office headquarters. The nurturing of an entrepreneurial spirit and speculation about future land use is enough to qualify the mass displacement of those currently residing on ‘zero-value’ land.

01 February 2021

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