The original article was posted on scroll.in on 2 September 2020 at 05:55 pm
The Z-Axis Conference brings together ‘starchitects’ from around the world to share their experiences about solving urban challenges.
A few days ago, the outstanding poet and translator Mustansir Dalvi (he has also been on the faculty of Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Architecture for 17 years) released a new collection of verse. Walk, he said, was written from his “sense of helplessness, frustration and anger” earlier this year, when “we were seeing vast number of people, walking back home, sometimes covering over 1,000 km from state to state, without support, money or transportation”.
By now, it’s clear India launched heedlessly into “the world’s strictest lockdown” without the measures necessary to safeguard the vast majority of its citizens. At that time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi misguidedly promised that the “Mahabharata war was won in 18 days, this war the whole country is fighting against corona will take 21 days”.
In order to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 in India, the government has extended the nationwide lockdown up to 3rd May 2020.
One of the biggest concerns in the country right now is the distribution of food supplies and essential commodities. In Indian cities, with large income inequalities, servicing these huge numbers equitably becomes a logistical impossibility. Last-mile door-to-door services have become essential systems to get supplies to every individual.
With commodities becoming scarce, people of privilege start to hoard, and consequently, prices rise. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which affects the urban poor the most, many of whom work on a daily wage. This has resulted in a much-documented exodus of migrant workers from their workplace to their villages1. With inter-state movement seized, coupled with the lack of availability of labour — stocks of fresh food supplies are rapidly diminishing. Many local markets lie desolate — potential signs of an acute food shortage.
The lockdown has once again brought to the surface, the gross inequity in Indian cities. Millions of men, women and children are now dependent on the government or charitable trusts for every meal. Raghu Karnad writes in the New Yorker about how this time offers us an opportunity to rethink the way our cities work 2.
This re-imagination of Indian cities has been coming for a long time and has to be addressed on several verticals. One avenue which can be explored is the way the lockdown has prompted ( at least for the upper and middle class in Indian metro cities) the opportunity of new supply chains. The supply of produce that was previously zoned, distributed and procured at the end by consumers is now available every alternate day at one’s doorstep.
SUPPLY CHAINS IN TIMES OF CORONAVIRUS
A temporary market observing social distancing rules at Vasant Oscar, Mulund, Mumbai
pre-packaged vegetable orders (₹700) delivered together at Runwal Greens, Mulund, Mumbai.
A temporary market observing social distancing rules at Vasant Oscar, Mulund, Mumbai and pre-packaged vegetable orders (₹700) delivered together at Runwal Greens, Mulund, Mumbai.
Our tryst with COVID-19 has promoted previously unprecedented networks of independent, un-aided, customised supply chains that bind several small scale, last-mile service operations with the large-scale cross border movement of essential commodities.
Last-mile delivery of supplies is not new to our cities. India has had a long-standing system of daily fresh milk delivery. Families have independent relationships with local dairies — milk is delivered as per their required quantity, schedules and choice. In Goa, we have the “poder”, a bread delivery man who goes door to door twice a day delivering fresh bread to every household.
The current lock-down situation has coerced daily commodities like bread, eggs, fruits, vegetables and oil to be delivered in a similar fashion. The mercurial rise of e-commerce and delivery apps like Swiggy and Zomato has now set up systems of local delivery boys, App-based ordering and WhatsApp savvy hawkers. Some enterprising businesses have created supply chains based on orders, locations and timetables, creating a direct link with the customer. The increased logistical demand for this system has given impetus on communities scheduling and acquiring essentials together. , reducing the need to move around within the city.
SUPPLY CHAINS IN SUBURBAN MUMBAI
In this context, let’s discuss the case of Mulund (West) a suburb of Mumbai. Mulund is primarily a residential suburb, on the foothills of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, it is dominated by large housing complexes that house the middle class, shopping complexes, fast food chains and recreational activities. A gridiron plan was designed by architects Crown & Carter in 1922, which extends from present-day Mulund railway station to Paanch Rasta road Junction in Mulund (West), housing the Mulund Market, the suburb is serviced by the Eastern Express Highway.
Due to the lockdown, the suburb has been cut-off from the highway — the supply chain which was previously centralized at the Mulund market has now been decentralised due to the collective efforts of the municipality, local police, retailers, vendors, society secretaries and residents. Internal circulation routes for supply trucks have been set, where every alternate day, residents receive essential supplies at a fixed time right outside their societies. The Mulund market has been declared a pedestrian zone, this decongests the route during essential supply hours. Local hawkers and temporary delivery services from pharmacies, supermarkets and grocery stores enable greater penetration of the supply chain. Moreover, these services enable the restriction of procurement-based mobility with great ease whilst maintaining social distancing. The police barricading combined with the efficiency of supply completely quarantined all mobility within smaller zones, and, till now, has succeeded in restricting the spread of the pandemic whilst producing avant-garde supply chains.
The following illustrations present new emerging delivery networks in Mulund, Mumbai. The red line illustrates the traditional method of procurement, propagating individual mobility, whereas the green line denotes the services that now coordinate the supply of essentials, focusing on groups of people based on their location.
Not so long ago, the world was looking into the possibility of drone deliveries, these systems require greater expenditure in the form of capital than of labour. The ease of access and fast, high precision delivery service shall definitely create an entirely new ethos of supply chains for essential products, health care emergencies, war-zones and remote locations.
Holistically speaking, when it comes to the contextual cases of third world metropolises like Mumbai, we can learn a lot from these avant-garde adaptations our supply chains have made. The patterns observed under the current COVID-19 lockdown suggest that zonal iterations to our current supply chains with local integration of distribution shall serve to present a great model even post the pandemic has eclipsed.
The avant-garde supply chains produced as a byproduct of COVID-19 illustrate the evolution of supply chains as a naturally decentralised model within the developing world.
THE CCF CHALLENGE:
We want to understand the supply chain in your neighbourhood. We challenge individuals to map:
‘New’ Supply chains that have emerged in their immediate surroundings.
Your vision of the ‘Future Normal’ in commodity supply.
You can use any medium to represent — write, photograph, sketch, video, render or simply doodle! It would be great if you could accompany the mapping project with a brief write up that explains the context, your observations and predictions explaining the emergence of these avant-garde supply chains.
Use the hashtag #CCFSupplyChallenge and tag us @charlescorreafoundation on Instagram. We shall feature and discuss unique observations on our social media pages and website.
1. Article on the problems faced by migrant labourers by Sahil Joshi for India Today:
“Analysis of Google Trends data shows that in the past one month, the search term ‘coronavirus’ was explored most frequently by people in Goa (more than any state in India). On Google Trends, Goa had a score of 100, which means that the percentage of people searching for information on the virus through Google was the highest in the country.”1
Goa is an interesting case — while being India’s smallest State, “populated by approximately 1.5 million people; it receives almost 8 million visitors annually”.3 According to the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Goa is also India’s most Urbanised State!
The countermeasures adopted began with an advisory from the Union health ministry, suggesting a postponement of all mass functions, including seminars and conferences, followed by the closure of all educational institutions including schools, colleges as well as casinos, spas, gymnasiums, swimming pools, cinema halls and pubs by the State Government followed by a nationwide curfew on 22nd of march declared by the Prime Minister and as of the midnight of 24th March, India has announced a 21-day lock-down to check the on-going spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID – 19).
As India prepares its arsenal to combat Coronavirus, we look at the history of cities and the deeply rooted connection between urban planning and epidemics/pandemics.
The truth is that the developments in our urban infrastructure and planning are direct results of pandemics. Ian Klaus (2020) says that “Modern planning and civil engineering were born out of the mid-19th century development of sanitation in response to the spread of malaria and cholera in cities.”4Conversely, public health officials have been an integral part of upgrading our cities.
In the case of Goa, Celsa Pinto in her book ‘Colonial Panjim’ (2017) illustrates two incidents in the 19th century: The first, in 1822, a complaint was raised by residents Diogo de Costa Fernandes and Antonio de Souza expressing apprehensions over poor waste management leading to epidemics. The second in 1855-56 was a special effort by the Health Department to tackle sanitation problems as the debris and organic waste thrown by inhabitants gave rise to diseases like conjunctivitis, angina, tuberculosis, etc.
The great plague of Marseilles (1720), the cholera pandemic in Asia (1820), the Spanish Flu (1920) are examples of how medieval and industrial cities were forced to implement planning practices to aid in disease quarantine and how post-pandemic, management of water and waste helped remake cities. Moreover, in contemporary conditions of our globalised world, pandemics drastically reflect the shortcomings of our cities. The infrastructure needed to combat epidemics has almost always been an afterthought.
We rethought our connectivity as a city building fundamental post-SARS pandemic. Ebola made us conscious of the coexistence of our cities and the impossibility of mass quarantine. As India begins to get conscious of the corona pandemic, waves of xenophobia sweep the tourist hotspot of Goa, moreover the bordering states, as well as the international connectivity, illustrate the amorphous nature of our cities and urban centres. It took the emergency response services and police around 45 days from the reports of the corona pandemic in India, 30 days from the initial corona infection reports, 15 days post the temporary shutting of some services and 2 days post a nationwide curfew to close the borders between Goa, and its neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
In many ways the fundamental planning strategy that we need to factor is density. Rethinking density management is key for long-term survival in a pandemic-prone world. India is home to a large number of informal settlements. How do we manage density in such a scenario? How do we map an outbreak? How do we quarantine areas and cut off physical contact? One can potentially rely on using the democratic planning method — local mapping and using communities to source data. However, much like Wikipedia, decentralising information and data gathering bring with it credibility issues, with no way of sourcing primary information, all urban knowledge acquired shall present an inadequate picture of ground realities at best. Furthermore, India’s porous and informal borders coupled with shifting trends of internal migration within the state and country coupled with a steady inflow of tourists from around the world raise the larger planning-oriented question: is density even a controllable parameter in Indian cities?
India needs higher standards in public health and planning. Contextual planning demands the decentralisation of essential services as a pragmatic response to pandemics. In cases of pandemics, Indian cities — with our inadequate planning, transportation systems and given the scale of our urban assemblies, have become hotbeds for mass infection. Amidst mass hysteria, and when our systems and responses fail, there has to be an inquiry into the shortcomings of our planning practices. “Singapore had to shut down its main hospitals during SARS. Many countries such as Italy are considering door-to-door testing. But we need to also rethink the ways, perhaps digital ones, we test and contain.”4 The door to door testing model would fail in Goa, with millions of mobile tourists, and in cities like Mumbai and Delhi with upwards of 10 million inhabitants, even temporary quarantine is a distant dream.
The coronavirus first spread through a market at Wuhan. Wuhan is an extremely important transportation and international trade centre. The rapid urbanisation of Chinese cities has made them attractive destinations for Chinese workers; urbanisation enables higher densities as the planning process starts to strategize for public gatherings and mass transportation. The physical output of these strategies creates spaces that would enable the spread of infectious diseases at an exponential rate, moreover, the squatters created in developing countries are particularly susceptible to mass infections. Equally, with major transportation and trade routes now connecting India by land and air there is a blurring distinction between urban and rural in terms of the supply chain of products. Pandemics aren’t simply a by-product of globalisation; they are in fact a very stern reminder of connections, economics and participation of global cities with all other areas within a country. The story of Wuhan teaches us that rapid growth cannot be sustainable unless there is an investment in social and technical infrastructure that develops with the pace of urbanisation. Yes, there is a great monetary advantage in mobility and infrastructures that address to it but outbreaks like the coronavirus pandemic do denote that what we’ve been sold as desirable urbanisation is contrary with what makes sense from an infectious disease perspective, “quarantined mega-cities and cruise ships demonstrate what happens when our globalised urban lives come grinding to a halt.”4
As the Indian lock-down progresses, citizens quarantine themselves and mobility is restricted, the deserted urban fabric starts to reveal itself onto the foreground. Infrastructure begins to support a non-existing assembly of people as vegetation reclaims space and nature thrives. Our cities as of this moment are denoting, with extreme precision, the presence, absence and shortcomings of planning and space management at micro and macro scales. As we immerse into a national quarantine, the infrastructure around us is truly tested. Cities are centres developed around mobility and connections, but what happens when these connections are methodically severed? What results would isolation create in a mobile world? Are we to increasingly adopt newer planning practices or are we to focus on planning for emergencies? The deserted reality of our urban fabric today presents us with opportunities for observation. A rare insight into discerning the elemental framework of our urban infrastructure under pandemic pressures and in the vast emptiness.
The larger point that the pandemics steer our focus towards is when the outbreak shall be halted and bans lifted and the world resumes as normal, there still needs to be a great degree of research and understanding into the relationship between the spread of infectious diseases and urbanisation. There are two aspects that we need to focus on. “One, we need to grasp where disease outbreaks occur and how they relate to the physical, spatial, economic, social and ecological changes brought on by urbanisation.”4There is a direct relationship between contemporary urbanisation and potential pandemic outbreaks. The coronavirus and its effects over our planet are streamlining our focus towards the evaluation of the present conditions of our cities and its infrastructure, raising planning and contextual inquiries, forcing us to introspect and question what we really learn from rapid urbanisation and more importantly, is there a need to catalogue and curate the exploration of emerging urban landscapes?
In the wake of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the CCF team came across a collection of maps that spatially visualise outbreaks, and did a little research around the analytics that illustrate pandemic movements. As it turns out, there has been an effort to document pandemics since as early as the 1600s.
Marie Patino’s article, ‘Coronavirus Outbreak Maps Rooted in History’ shares these historic maps enabling us to understand the shift in data analytics and gathering from a more central approach towards radical democratisation of technology, catalysed through Internet access and data sharing.
Jay Hilotin’s photo essay, ‘Spanish flu 1918 v/s Covid-19′, shares interesting stills and glimpses depicting the on-ground reality of pandemics, within them is a map titled, ‘Worldwide Diffusion of Influenza’, which illustrates the second wave of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.
Historian Mark Osborne Humphries claims he had found “archival evidence” that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917. This illness was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish ‘flu. Humphries also found medical records which indicate that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms.
‘Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak’ in the New York Times, presents a constantly updating world map and illustrating the average number of new cases each day (for the last 7 days). It presents a great insight into how this strain of coronavirus propagates at a regional scale and presents an opportunity to document the global rise of the disease.
Nikhil Rampal’s, the India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU), used Google Trends data, to try to measure the degree of curiosity around the deadly virus in India. This analysis denoted that, across India, the search term ‘coronavirus’ was explored most frequently by people in Goa. Goa had a score of 100, (which means that the percentage of people searching for information on the virus through Google was the highest in the country). According to Google Trends, values are calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is the location with the most popularity as a fraction of total searches in that location, while a value of 50 indicates a location which is half as popular.