Navigating our cities and our differences through design

Yet another East vs West comparison

I don’t have any recollection of how I got somewhere before I had Google maps. The smartphone entered my daily routine around 4 years ago and for the first one year, I didn’t trust the navigation on it to help me reach my destination.

The roads in India are complex and twisted; some may not even qualify being called one, given the years of badly planned infrastructure of our cities. Can a pre-dominantly western software really predict the group of stray cows lounging on the highway unaware of the congestion they may be causing? Can it really demarcate the hawkers, slum dwellings and other impermanent structures that crowd the gullies forming new gateways, cutting intersections on what seems to be just another road from the satellite above?

What does it say of our class system to deem them as invisible when in fact they are important to us navigating our landscape?

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It’s a strange feeling to get lost in Europe, given the centuries of effort they have put into organizing how to get from Point A to Point B. The signs and directions are strategically placed in Bold Helvetica for everybody to follow and still I overlook them.

I’m not used to following accurate signage. 
I’m not used to trains and trams leaving on time. 
I’m not used to finding myself on a map with strange names derived of an unknown language, making my way through the streets without double-checking with an actual human being if I’m on the right track.

Who has ever come across an accurate map anyway?

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To find your way in India, you need to base your trust on absolute strangers. You need to find a person who seems like they grew up in the neighbourhood; identify from their stance if they the have time on their hands and the kindness to help an outsider out. In most likeness you will be delayed by an hour but you will eventually, reach.

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I buy the metro ticket from an automated machine and not a person sitting behind a counter these days and every single time, it feels like I skipped a step in the process.

The ways in which we design our cities define the latent traits we develop as a culture. We may never recognize it when surrounded by those similar to us. It takes an outsider/ stranger/ extra-terrestrial/ refugee/ tourist from another hemisphere to get lost and acknowledge it.

And though the West and the East are both trapped in their own misgivings, at the end of the day, you reach the signs you choose to follow.