The Curious City

I moved to a new city a month ago. Moving is not new to me – have been doing it all through my childhood, it is an integral part of me. However, nine years ago, it had all stopped. My roots started growing in one particular city which I, now, very fondly call ‘home’. But here I am again – in a new city, with new people, to study something new, to study… cities! Travelling has always kept me fascinated about what is around me, and what places are made of. It intrigues me how cities are constantly changing around you. Isn’t it so intriguing how we keep trying to define things around us, and as soon as we find the perfect definition, its characteristics change!

If the city could be compared to a jigsaw puzzle, would it not be wonderful to keep watching every piece metamorphose into something new, every few years, and yet be firmly fixed to its neighboring pieces to form a larger structure which is viewed as a whole? How interesting would it be to pick up one piece and change what’s on it. Would this be a change at that level alone or would that change cause you to view the whole puzzle differently?

Cities are fascinating beings with the power to evoke strong emotions of love and hate at the same time. There are so many characteristics of a city which can be felt somewhere within you and rarely can be explained in words. In my essay, I will talk about the things that make a city so special to me and why I love everything that it has to offer.


Just like the places I have been to, the people I have met and the experiences I have had, makes me who I am, a city’s history is what makes it what it is. Every city has found itself in situations that can be defined as their turning points to make them what they are today and will continue to do so in the future. History gives a city a unique character. It is the understanding of these landmarks in history that help us appreciate what we have – and us, urban designers, an edge to strive to retain the memory of the place and thus our designs, a unique significance. Furthermore, it is not only the study of the city in question which is important, but  it helps greatly to understand establishments of the past to analyze the present establishments and make living here more comfortable and enjoyable.

 What fascinates me about the history of London, is that since it  came into being, it has always had a financial and cultural significance. It has been witness to the various historical changes over time and at many points been the epicenter of change which is significant to world history (e.g. the industrial revolution). The city has also been very unfortunate to witnessed two very destructive fires, floods, plagues and heavy destruction during World War II. This doom proved to be the city’s boon. It provided a fresh canvas to paint a new picture for the city of London.  The city therefore, has many layers which gives it a very unique anchorage.


Why do people move to cities? Usually for better opportunities and to lead a better life. And yet, people never stop complaining about them – lack of infrastructure, traffic, weather, etc. I believe it is the people who make the city what it is. The warmth and vibrancy comes from its people. There is a certain social structure that has been established universally, and each city has its own take on it. It is most fascinating to see these interactions in play from city to city. Take the example of Milan and Naples – they belong to the same country but what a contrast they exhibit! The people in Milan are very well turned out, quite business-like in their manner, while the Napolitans are loud, brash and crude. However, they are all typical Italians by nature – warm and happy!

People are a city’s greatest resources. Their intellect and ambition is what drives a city. The ambition on every level of the social strata is capable of bringing about a change to make living in the city a wonderful experience.


For the longest time, it was the physical connections of the city, the road, rail and sea networks that connected the people of a city to one another. ‘Network’ has a whole new definition and understanding now. What really has made the world one global city is the invent of the virtual world. The connections and networks that are formed by the virtual world are so intricate and precise, that everything can get done in a matter of minutes. Large corporations and tiny think tanks, all function out of a similar platform. It may not be our job to design virtual networks, but it is extremely important for us to understand these networks since they are an integral part of our lives and we are in it as much as anyone else.


We all want the ideal – the ideal city, the ideal job, the ideal house, – the ideal life! We aim and envision a bright and wonderful future. But how many of these visions are actually realized and how many of them are practical for day-to-day living? Our lives revolve around the billions of people around the world. Each day we are being affected by things happening in our immediate neighbourhood as well as the changes that are taking place around the world. We strive to achieve our best, but often succumb to the pressures of daily life. It is important to find out how cities and the people who run the cities, make life comfortable for everyone so that we do not have to struggle for basic living.


A city should be inviting and people would want to come visit it. Tourism is such an important part of a cities economy. Some cities are fortunate to have a very rich history like Rome, to be able to attract millions of visitors each year. Not only does Rome have a very rich history to boast of, but it caters to thousands of international students and working professionals which makes it one of the most desirable cities to live in. It may not be the best planned city, but according to a recent survey, it is the 12th most visited city in the world[1].

Some cities are not as fortunate to have a rich history to boast of like Bilbao. Although the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao was a part of a larger plan, it alone attracted an average of 82,372 visitors, monthly, within 11 months of its opening[2]. as a part of the larger master plan, a new subway line was created, new drainage and water systems were installed. The new airport, residential, business and leisure complexes were built in the city while sea port and industrial areas were pushed away from the city. All these changes, initially made to improve the life of the citizens, aided tourism in the city in a major way. The changes, along with the boosting tourism industry aided the growth of employment in the city who was a major issue earlier. It just goes to show how important it is for a city to be tourist friendly to aid the growth of the city.

Tourism is not limited to history and geography like Niagara falls in USA, but people visit a place for business opportunities and also heath care. There are several countries that have identified medical tourism as one of their national industries.


Our assignment in the course could not be more apt to understand the quirkiness of a city. Cities, indeed, comprise of segments which are unique and yet aid to form a very intricate fabric of the city. A city like New York (NYC) is a perfect  example for such a ethnically diverse metropolis. The Lower East side is known as the Melting Pot since as many as 800 languages are spoken in the city[3]. About 36% of the city’s population is of foreign origin[4]. There are parts of the city which are dedicated to a particular community and this ethnic diversity is what makes NYC so special. Just like the jigsaw puzzle I mentioned earlier, NYC has its diverse pieces which fit perfectly to form one of the most exciting cities of the world.


As important as it is to look at the history, new developments and changes cannot be made to a city without a clear insight of the future. It is extremely important to project for growth for a successful design. However there has always been a clash between the architect’s vision of the future and the realities of designing for the people. It is extremely important for us to understand that it is the people who make a city successful or otherwise. China unfortunately has seen this with its dead cities. The city of Dongguan, one among many other cities, was a part of China’s vision to maintain economic growth and development. The city boasts of the largest mall in the world, the New South China Mall. This city, however, is vastly empty and so is the mall. Somewhere, the vision went terribly wrong!

We are all aiming to achieve the perfect city, but what really makes the city perfect? It is a question we ask ourselves and how capable we are realize these dreams. It is essential not to lose touch with reality while aiming high since this  perfect world has to be built in the physical realm.