Last week, the Planetizen news feed on urban planning posted a link to how contrary to predictions, retiring baby boomers were moving not to cities but to the rural countryside in Oregon (Planetizen summary, actual news story).
The very next link on the feed was titled Not So Fast and linked to another story from San Jose which said that seniors were in fact very much moving from suburbs to cities (Planetizen summary, actual news report). What explains these two contradictory trends?
I think the answer lies in the small population (by Indian standards) of America and particularly Oregon. Oregon has slightly under 4 million people. It has as many people as Ahmedabad in an area the size of undivided Uttar Pradesh. With that kind of population density, the number of people who need to do something to make it a trend is very small indeed. (Warning! Reckless Exaggeration ahead!) If three people do something, it seems like a trend. If twenty people do something it begins to look like an independent subculture.
Now, let’s extend already reckless exaggeration even further. Along with the high productivity, resulting leisure time, and huge capital base, maybe the reason the West is ahead in the creation of new subcultures and alternative lifestyles is simply that their population is so small that far fewer people have to be doing the same thing for them to stand out. If twenty people start dressing in black clothes and heavy eyeliner in Austin, Texas (population: less than 700,000) they become a Goth movement, but in New Delhi, India (population: more than 10 million) you would need 20,000 people acting in the same way for a subculture to get attention; let alone traction.
The implications of this are actually very alarming. What if existentialism achieved its name and fame just because Jean-Paul Sartre was good at socialising in cafes and a group of twenty chelas in a city of less than 3 million looked like a major movement. If Skimpy had been grown up in similar circumstances, perhaps philosophy students would today be studying studs-and-fighter-ism.
So basically this is a reason to support Atanu Dey’s plan for 600 new mid-sized designer-cities in India. It will give us cities that strike a happy balance between being urban enough to generate subcultures, and small enough for subcultures to get noticed.