BENGALURU: 2020: The year that never was. Now that we’re at the end of it, one wonders what 2021 will be like. More of the same, for some months at least, it appears. That’s quite normal. The calendar is a human imposition on the universe, and its endings and beginnings are of no consequence to much that happens in the world. But having invented it, we tend to see our imaginations arranged by it.
The big question for all of us is, will we learn from 2020, or are we likely to simply want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic turned our world upside down? Will we pay more attention to the great problems of the world -- climate change, mindless consumption, conflicts and divisions between people, disempowerment and dictatorships? Or will we treat the retreat of the virus as a sufficient victory to not want anything more than that?
This is a good time to ask that question too, since it’s not yet clear how soon we’ll be out of the woods. The vaccine may take a while to roll out, perhaps up to a year. And a lot of unexpected twists and turns could occur along the way. Who knew, for instance, that we’d find a rapidly spreading version of the virus in the UK two weeks ago, and that strain would now be in many other countries? More hurdles could be in store.
Humankind’s accumulated recklessness of many centuries steers us to ignore our great problems -- poor public health, worsening natural environment, and deep inequalities. We’ve become accustomed to those, and are only wishful of escaping the consequences. But that’s not very different from eating a ton of sweets and hoping not to get a toothache at some point. There’s only one way that story ends.
More than a lost year, 2020 could become a lost opportunity to change many things. We’ve made choices by our acts of commission and omission, and seen their consequences starkly. We must choose again, and very differently. It is not enough to look ahead, unless we’re willing to also see the future with very different eyes.
It is a sad commentary on governance in Indian cities that we often wish for the same things each year as we did in previous ones. Bengaluru has no shortage of such long-promised outcomes. The two I really hope to see are the doubling of the BMTC bus fleet, and a city-wide network of walkable streets that I proposed under the name Kaaludari two years ago. I fear, however, that we’re more likely to build flyovers and underpasses, which have reliably failed to transform the city, despite promises by many governments. If we want outcomes to be different, we must begin to make very different choices.
Social technologist and urbanist.
Founder of Mapunity, and the How Institute