Source: Belamy photo of the interchange that divides people
Synopsis: The imitation of the Western model of development by the developing countries is based on the premise that the Western model is better than their own traditional way of building cities and villages. They also ignore the beauty of their own architecture and adopt the steel and glass tall buildings model that divides the communities instead of uniting them. When the city planning does not include the happiness of people, people leave and abandon the lifeless small towns and cities that starts the decay of such communities.
I have been to many countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas and noticed that many developing countries are adopting the North American model to develop and grow their cities and their infrastructure.
My home country India is also doing the same in the name of development so we now see the glass and steel upended box like buildings everywhere that are imposing but lack the ability to bring people together to live in a society where people can have social interaction and get to know each other to form human bonds.
I understand that the high cost of land in big cities worldwide favors a monolithic tall structure that is perhaps efficient and allows the maximum use of space on an expensive piece of land but it does not inspire anyone to be creative in designing a new building that would be based on how people living or working in it interact with each other socially.
Source: Tall monolithic buildings and empty streets in USA
These upended and quite ugly buildings are the symbol of the development just like the immense jungle of intertwined highways, expressways and roads that look like tangled spaghetti blotting the cities that divide people and communities in the name of efficiency and speedier movement of vehicles 24 hours a day but scary just the same. It represents the concrete jungle that keeps on growing like cancer but ignores the basic need of humanity of living together happily and in peace and harmony.
Such roads and buildings that are a symbol of the Western style of development have helped create a more individualistic and apathetic people who may live or work in such tall buildings but do not know their neighbors or the workmates because the sterile design does not create a warm living space where people are happy. It does not create a happy living community because it cuts off people from each other in the name of efficiency.
City planners in poor countries are greatly impressed by the steel and glass structure and assume that it represents modernity and progress but have no idea what it means in terms of human relationship so they abandon their cultural and humanistic values and start to follow blindly the Western culture and architecture that starts to assert itself on the spiritual health of a country in a bold and aggressive manner that changes people in a negative way.
Source: Google photo of small, abandoned towns in North America
I have watched several videos made by some people in the United States who show the decay of small towns and cities in almost all the States that show dilapidated and abandoned houses and other properties where people live in abject poverty and despair who are trying to survive on food aid some charitable organizations are providing. The abandoned neighborhoods, the overgrown weeds that fail to hide the rusty abandoned vehicles and household things strewn everywhere show how people are suffering and are leaving such dens of poverty and despair.
Source: Google photo of small towns in America that look forlorn and deserted. This is an empty, abandoned building in small town America.
The ramshackle structures that are put up by the fast-food companies, derelict shuttered stores, graffiti-stained walls and garbage piles tells you how the roads and highways have divided and destroyed what was once a thriving community of people who lived together in peace and harmony.
What will strike you is the sameness of these small towns no matter where you go that are featureless and downright ugly and forlorn. Crime and vandalism thrive in such towns where people live in fear and are suspicious of strangers who may be just passing through while getting gas or food.
You will see abandoned factories in the outskirt of such towns that have gone bankrupt that used to provide some jobs with poor wages. You will see enormous piles of abandoned farm machinery and vehicles of all sorts just dumped here and there overgrown with weeds.
You will see huge abandoned school buildings because there are no more children to go there. You will see the broken playground see saws, swings etc. where once children played. (Read my blog called Small town and dreamers here)
A great deal of this decay is directly related to the unemployment so people leave to go where they can find some jobs. It is even more difficult for the young people who have little or no education, so they too leave to find jobs elsewhere. The agriculture used to employ a lot of these people, but those jobs are now handled my machines in most parts except where they need farm workers to hand pick the produce, thus employing the itinerant Mexican or others who have no choice but to accept very low wages. Watch the movie Deer hunter that shows the plight of small towns in Virginia, but it could be any other town anywhere.
This blog looks at the folly and consequence of what the developing countries are imitating from the Western model that is tearing their people apart just like in the United States, but they do not see it coming. Here I emphasize the beauty and simplicity of the African and the Indian village architecture that inspires communal harmony that creates bond between people that brings them all together to help each other. The Western model does not do that.
They do not yet realize that these office towers built everywhere are just offices that big companies rent so it is a profitable business. Some are built as residential buildings where the rent may be high depending on the location but most of the downtown area becomes empty when people working there shut down their stores or offices and go back to their suburban homes that are also featureless, drab and uninviting places. This has created the commute culture due to the development of suburbs that may be 20 kms from the city.
One thing you will notice in any big city in the United States is that almost all the people who work there leave at the end of the day to return to their suburban homes, so the city center looks deserted. The stores and shops also close due to lack of customers or due to rules that they must shut down everything after a fixed hour.
If you are new and are out to walk to get some fresh air in the evening, you may be accosted by a heavily armed policeman who may want to know why you are loitering when you should be home and will scrutinize your ID thoroughly. Just walking on the sidewalk at a certain hour may be considered as loitering by the police.
It is very different in Europe or Asia where the cities are vibrant with shops, restaurants and night clubs and people everywhere enjoying the evening shopping or eating or meeting with friends in a popular café. Some cities never really shut down. There are eateries everywhere and there are huge markets that sell everything you need or want at an affordable price so the cities really come alive in the evenings.
But the north American cities and towns are strictly regulated through numerous laws and edicts making them isolated and lifeless because everything is shut down at a specific time. All you will see are empty streets and monolithic tall buildings on both sides and an occasional street dog that looks lonely and is desperately looking for some food scraps.
You will also find some homosexuals or drug addicts wandering the empty streets to look for someone or anyone to talk to. They are sorry looking pathetic people who wander the empty streets of big or small cities as I found out in Washington, D.C. one day. The parks are the favorite hangouts of the poor drug addicts and prostitutes who are looking for some business so never go to any park in the evening anywhere if you value your safety.
Then there are dark streets where some red lights give out the impression that these are dangerous quarters run by criminals who also control the prostitution business. The drug dealers are seen peddling to the motorists or anyone who buys drugs from them. Often serious crimes happen there.
The sidewalks are often occupied by the homeless people who are seen scavenging for scraps to eat from the huge garbage bins. They sleep on the sidewalks because no one helps them find a decent shelter and something to eat. The homelessness is a very serious issue in North America that fails these poor jobless people who are forced to sleep on the sidewalks of the richest cities and beg for money or food.
Source: Google photo of homeless people in Oakland, California
So, I look at these glass and steel buildings as nothing but a lifeless structure that cancels out people from it but glows in dazzling lights all night representing the so-called modernity. Other countries are now trying to imitate this type of modernity at the cost of dividing people and forcing poor people to sleep in their shadows wrapped often in rags and plastic sheets. The rich people take better care of their dogs than these poor people who lost their shelter, their jobs and their source of income due to redundancy.
Now we will see how the traditional living, the architecture and the communal living style that is still found in many countries in Africa and Asia is slowly giving way to the soulless development found in Western countries that they imitate.
The educated Africans snigger at their own traditional architecture so they prefer the Western style because they were taught that the white people are more modern and live in modern houses. In the process they ignore their rich culture and architecture because they do not appreciate it. Africans think that the monolithic steel and glass but soulless structures represent the modernity.
I have lived in many African countries like Mali, Burundi, Algeria and Sudan where I was deeply impressed by their handicraft and beautiful jewelries. In Mali, I designed my own house in a village far from the town where the villagers built for me a 5-room house with laterite base and mudbricks with a novelty they had never seen before.
Source: Schematic diagram of our mud house in Mali village
They built round huts of impressive size in a semi-circular fashion that were all interconnected making it one big house with cross ventilation and perfectly conical roof of golden colored grass. The idea of interconnecting round huts was a new idea to them, but they took pride in building such a house for me that was cool inside and free from mosquitoes and other insects. They beat the dirt floor with mallet to make it compact and hard and coated it with cow dung to give it a dust free clean floor. It was the most beautiful house in the village built by the Africans who took pride in their workmanship.
They coated the outer walls with shea butter they extracted from shea nuts to give the walls protection from rain. It made the round huts look beautiful with a sheen of the coating. The house was so appreciated by the villagers that they kept coming to see it from distant villages for months. I just took the concept of traditional African mud houses to a new level when I asked them to join them. They did it perfectly because they could understand a diagram on a piece of paper with exact dimensions. I added a stone figurine near the main entrance door and Khajuraho sculptures of plaster of Paris inside the rooms.
In Burkina Faso the villagers build a new house for a neighbor free of charge with the collective effort of the entire village. Women brought water from a long distance to make mud bricks. Even children participated. Men built the walls and the women beat the floor with wooden mallets to make it hard while singing traditional songs. They collected grass from their forest and helped make the perfectly conical roof or rectangular roof.
Source: Google photo of a mosque in African village
Source: Google photo of African village mud houses
Once the house was finished, they coated it with shea butter and later made beautiful paintings on the walls using natural dyes. You will not see this type of houses built anywhere with the community effort but only in African villages. The same Africans who go to live in cities build ugly mud houses or concrete houses that are too hot and uncomfortable, there being no community spirit in cities.
Here is a video that shows how people in Burkina Faso build a house together as a communal effort.
Source : U Tube video on community help in building a house in Burkina Faso in West Africa.
Source : U tube video of how a rural mud house is being made in Burkina Faso
In Rural Zimbabwe people build beautiful houses that are very pleasing to look at. Source: U tube video
The traditional African architecture shown in the video is not only beautiful, it is practical and durable that uses adobe and grass as the building material that anyone can afford. The laterite, the soil of the termite mounds, the grass and the shea nuts to make butter to coat the walls are all freely available to most Africans to make the most beautiful houses.
Source : U Tube video on trafitional architecture of Africa
In the State of Rajasthan, India, you can see beautiful mud houses that are neat, clean and decorated with paintings on the walls. There too the community spirit brings people together to build a house for a villager but the cities are a different matter just like in Africa.
Source: Google photo of mud house in Rajasthan India that are made beautiful with paintings using natural colors.
Source: Google photo of a Rajasthani village house in India that is aesthetically pleasing. You will notice the cleanliness as well.
I think that people should not forget and abandon their cultural heritage that are priceless and blindly imitate the North American model of development that not only divides people with their soulless designs that destroy community.
There is tremendous beauty in African and Indian rural architecture where people live in close communities and where they help each other to build their houses as they did for me in Mali. They not only show ingenuity and their artistic abilities, they show a way to build their homes using only locally available materials at a cost they can all afford or for free.
Source: Google photo of homeless and hungry people in America
When I see the homeless and sad people sleeping on the sidewalks in big cities in the so-called developed countries, I feel for them and wish they had the same communal spirit of Africans who help each other to build their homes and share their food so no one goes homeless and hungry. (Read my blog here called Soulless development )
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