The Urge to Urbanize
I am mesmerized by the flow of water over the rocks, a constant canvas of swirling movement. The longer I sit here and observe, the stronger the sense of calm washing over me, providing my anxious mind with much-needed relief. I hadn’t realized how suffocated I was feeling in a landlocked city of 12 million people until I arrived here at the Cauvery River and took a breath of fresh air. As I soak in the unwavering beauty of the natural scene before me, I find myself contemplating humankind’s urge to urbanize.
The community in the nearby village coexists with nature, rather than trampling over it. The population density is such that there is room for livestock and migratory pelicans without these creatures being enveloped in automobile traffic like is a common sight in Bangalore. There are many benefits to city living: job opportunities, convenience, diversity of people, an array of entertainment. But there is also one crucial element of life that we’ve lost with urbanization, and that is our connection to nature.
Bhargavi explained to us how in rural India for the longest time all waste produced was biodegradable, returned to the earth as compost to complete the cycle of life. In the 1960s when plastic packaging made its way into these people’s lives, the concept of trash was foreign to them. Of course they began tossing plastic aside with their other waste, that’s all they knew. Over time, without widespread understanding of what exactly synthetic packaging materials were made out of, piles of inorganic waste began accumulating and burning of these piles became common practice too.
When buying a coconut in Bangalore, unless you’re a foreigner, you aren’t given a straw, just a coconut with a hole cut in it through which to slurp the juice out. You use a spoon carved out of the shell to scoop out the tender meat. A zero-waste process. So why has society shifted towards such prolific use of unnecessary manufactured products, and so far away from materials derived from earth?
We tend to see cities as modern and efficient, but dense urban areas create a concentration of waste, and in their very modernization seek to separate man from nature. We pave over the earth and process foods to the point where the origin is unrecognizable. We claim that this all makes our lives easier, but does it really? And at what cost? As we face the greatest environmental crisis in the history of the planet, can’t we look to cultures that live within natural cycles as a model for sustainability rather than accuse them of being undeveloped?