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  • On this planet today,

  • there are about 50 cities that are larger than five million people.

  • I'm going to share with you the story of one such city,

  • a city of seven million people,

  • but a city that's a temporary megacity, an ephemeral megacity.

  • This is a city that is built for a Hindu religious festival

  • called Kumbh Mela,

  • which occurs every 12 years, in smaller editions every four years,

  • and takes place at the confluence

  • of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers in India.

  • And for this festival,

  • about 100 million people congregate.

  • The reason so many people congregate here,

  • is the Hindus believe that during the festival,

  • the cycle every 12 years,

  • if you bathe at the confluence of these two great rivers

  • you are freed from rebirth.

  • It's a really compelling idea,

  • you are liberated from life as we know it.

  • And this is what attracts these millions.

  • And an entire megacity is built to house them.

  • Seven million people live there for the 55 days,

  • and the other 100 million visit.

  • These are images from the same spot

  • that we took over the 10 weeks

  • that it takes for the city to emerge.

  • After the monsoon,

  • as the waters of these rivers begin to recede

  • and the sand banks expose themselves,

  • it becomes the terrain for the city.

  • And by the 15th of January,

  • starting 15th of October to 15th of January,

  • in these weeks an entire city emerges.

  • A city that houses seven million people.

  • What is fascinating is this city

  • actually has all the characteristics of a real megacity:

  • a grid is employed to lay the city out.

  • The urban system is a grid

  • and every street on this city

  • goes across the river on a pontoon bridge.

  • Incredibly resilient,

  • because if there's an unseasonal downpour or if the river changes course,

  • the urban system stays intact,

  • the city adjusts itself to this terrain which can be volatile.

  • It also replicates all forms of physical, as well as social, infrastructure.

  • Water supply, sewage, electricity,

  • there are 1,400 CCTV cameras that are used for security

  • by an entire station that is set up.

  • But also social infrastructure,

  • like clinics, hospitals,

  • all sorts of community services,

  • that make this function like any real megacity would do.

  • 10,500 sweepers are employed by the city.

  • It has a governance system, a Mela Adhikari,

  • or the commissioner of the festival,

  • that ensures that land is allocated,

  • there are systems for all of this,

  • that the system of the city, the mobility, all works efficiently.

  • You know, it was the cleanest and the most efficient Indian city

  • I've lived in.

  • (Laughter)

  • And that's what it looks like in comparison to Manhattan,

  • 30 square kilometers,

  • that's the scale of the city.

  • And this is not an informal city or a pop-up city.

  • This is a formal city, this is a state enterprise,

  • the government sets this up.

  • In today's world of neoliberalism and capitalism,

  • where the state has devolved itself complete responsibility

  • from making and designing cities,

  • this is an incredible case.

  • It's a deliberate, intentional city, a formal city.

  • And it's a city that sits on the ground very lightly.

  • It sits on the banks of these rivers.

  • And it leaves very little mark.

  • There are no foundations;

  • fabric is used to build this entire city.

  • What's also quite incredible

  • is that there are five materials that are used to build this settlement

  • for seven million people:

  • eight-foot tall bamboo, string or rope,

  • nails or screw and a skinning material.

  • Could be corrugated metal, a fabric or plastic.

  • And these materials come together and aggregate.

  • It's like a kit of parts.

  • And it's used all the way from a small tent,

  • which might house five or six people, or a family,

  • to temples that can house 500, sometimes 1,000 people.

  • And this kit of parts, and this imagination of the city,

  • allows it to be disassembled.

  • And so at the end of the festival, within a week,

  • the entire city is disassembled.

  • These are again images from the same spot.

  • And the terrain is offered back to the river,

  • as with the monsoon the water swells again.

  • And it's this sort of imagination as a kit of parts

  • that allows this disassembly

  • and the reabsorption of all this material.

  • So the electricity poles go to little villages in the hinterland,

  • the pontoon bridges are used in small towns,

  • the material is all reabsorbed.

  • Fascinating, it's amazing.

  • Now, you may embrace these Hindu beliefs or not.

  • But you know, this is a stunning example,

  • and it's worthy of reflection.

  • Here, human beings spend an enormous amount of energy and imagination

  • knowing that the city is going to reverse,

  • it's going to be disassembled,

  • it's going to disappear,

  • it's the ephemeral megacity.

  • And it has profound lessons to teach us.

  • Lessons about how to touch the ground lightly,

  • about reversibility,

  • about disassembly.

  • Rather amazing.

  • And you know, we are, as humans, obsessed with permanence.

  • We resist change.

  • It's an impulse that we all have.

  • And we resist change in spite of the fact

  • that change is perhaps the only constant in our lives.

  • Everything has an expiry date,

  • including Spaceship Earth, our planet.

  • So what can we learn from these sorts of settlements?

  • Burning Man, of course much smaller,

  • but reversible.

  • Or the thousands of markets for transaction,

  • that appear around the globe

  • in Asia, Latin America, Africa, this one in Mexico,

  • where the parking lots are animated on the weekends, about 50,000 vendors,

  • but on a temporal cycle.

  • The farmer's market in the Americas:

  • it's an amazing phenomenon, creates new chemistries,

  • extends the margin of space

  • that is unused or not used optimally, like parking lots, for example.

  • In my own city of Mumbai,

  • where I practice as an architect and a planner,

  • I see this in the everyday landscape.

  • I call this the Kinetic City.

  • It twitches like a live organism; it's not static.

  • It changes every day,

  • on sometimes predictable cycles.

  • About six million people

  • live in these kinds of temporary settlements.

  • Like -- unfortunately, like refugee camps,

  • the slums of Mumbai, the favelas of Latin America.

  • Here, the temporary is becoming the new permanent.

  • Here, urbanism is not about grand vision,

  • it's about grand adjustment.

  • On the street in Mumbai, during the Ganesh festival,

  • a transformation.

  • A community hall is created for 10 days.

  • Bollywood films are shown,

  • thousands congregate for dinners and celebration.

  • It's made out of paper-mache and plaster of Paris.

  • Designed to be disassembled,

  • and in 10 days, overnight, it disappears,

  • and the street goes back to anonymity.

  • Or our wonderful open spaces, we call them maidans.

  • And it's used for this incredibly nuanced and complicated,

  • fascinating Indian game, called cricket,

  • which, I believe, the British invented.

  • (Laughter)

  • And in the evenings,

  • a wedding wraps around the cricket pitch --

  • Notice, the cricket pitch is not touched, it's sacred ground.

  • (Laughter)

  • But here, the club members and the wedding party

  • partake in tea through a common kitchen.

  • And at midnight, it's disassembled,

  • and the space offered back to the city.

  • Here, urbanism is an elastic condition.

  • And so, if we reflect about these questions,

  • I mean, I think many come to mind.

  • But an important one is,

  • are we really, in our cities,

  • in our imagination about urbanism,

  • making permanent solutions for temporary problems?

  • Are we locking resources into paradigms

  • that we don't even know will be relevant in a decade?

  • This becomes, I think,

  • an interesting question that arises from this research.

  • I mean, look at the abandoned shopping malls in North America,

  • suburban North America.

  • Retail experts have predicted that in the next decade,

  • of the 2,000 malls that exist today,

  • 50 percent will be abandoned.

  • Massive amount of material, capturing resources,

  • that will not be relevant soon.

  • Or the Olympic stadiums.

  • Around the globe, cities build these

  • under great contestation with massive resources,

  • but after the games go,

  • they can't often get absorbed into the city.

  • Couldn't these be nomadic structures, deflatable,

  • we have the technology for that,

  • that get gifted to smaller towns around the world or in those countries,

  • or are stored and moved for the next Olympics?

  • A massive, inefficient use of resources.

  • Like the circus.

  • I mean, we could imagine it like the circus,

  • this wonderful institution that used to camp in cities,

  • set up this lovely kind of visual dialogue with the static city.

  • And within it, the amazement.

  • Children of different ethnic groups become suddenly aware of each other,

  • people of color become aware of others,

  • income groups and cultures and ethnicities

  • all come together around the amazement of the ring with animals and performers.

  • New chemistries are created, people become aware of things,

  • and this moves on to the next town.

  • Or nature, the fluxes of nature, climate change,

  • how do we deal with this, can we be more accommodating?

  • Can we create softer urban systems?

  • Or are we going to challenge nature continuously

  • with heavy infrastructure,

  • which we are already doing, unsuccessfully?

  • Now, I'm not arguing

  • that we've got to make our cities like a circus,

  • I'm not arguing that cities must be completely temporary.

  • I'm only making a plea

  • that we need to make a shift in our imagination about cities,

  • where we need to reserve more space

  • for uses on a temporal scale.

  • Where we need to use our resources efficiently,

  • to extend the expiry date of our planet.

  • We need to change planning urban design cultures,

  • to think of the temporal, the reversible,

  • the disassembleable.

  • And that can be tremendous

  • in terms of the effect it might have on our lives.

  • I often think back to the Kumbh Mela

  • that I visited with my students and I studied,

  • and this was a moment where the city had been disassembled.

  • A week after the festival was over.

  • There was no mark.

  • The terrain was waiting to be covered over by the water,

  • to be consumed.

  • And I went to thank a high priestess

  • who had helped us and my students through our research

  • and facilitated us through this process.

  • And I went to her with great enthusiasm,

  • and I told her about how much we had learned

  • about infrastructure, the city, the efficiency of the city,

  • the architecture, the five materials that made the city.

  • She looked really amused, she was smiling.

  • In any case, she leaned forward

  • and put her hand on my head to bless me.

  • And she whispered in my ear, she said,