A Letter From Grandpa
By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
Narayan Kataria, president of Indo-American Intellectual Forum in New York, has recently mentioned that India is the first nation to have cultivated the science of town planning. Town planning was taught to us at the Faculty of Technology and Engineering, M.S. University of Baroda, India. We were, then, taught that Mesopotamia and Greece were the first nations to use urban town planning technology. Archeology has now proved that India was the first country to use town planning technology.
According to historical information available now, Ur, the oldest city of Mesopotamia, located near the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq also had urban planning. But that was in later period. The Greek Hippo-damus of fifth century B.C. is widely considered the father of city planning in the West, for his design of Miletus. Alexander commissioned him to lay out his new city of Alexandria, the grandest example of idealized urban planning of the Mediter-ranean world, where regularity was aided in large part by its level site near a mouth of the Nile. But this was in fourth century B.C. The ancient Romans later used a consolidated scheme for city planning, developed for military defense and civil convenience. Many cities in Central American civilizations also planned their cities, including sewage systems and running water. In Mexico, Tenochtit-lan, was the capital of the Aztec empire, built on an island in Lake Texcoco in what is now the Federal District in central Mexico. At its height, Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities in the world, with close to 250,000 inhabitants.
As long ago as 2500 B.C., Mohenjo-daro and the half-dozen other cities of the Indus Valley had already put to use the crisscross gridiron system of street layout — an urban convention long thought to have been invented by the Greeks of a later era. This requires planning on paper, preparing maps, approval by Central authority permit and then execution. This could not have happened overnight. At least it should have taken thousand years. So town-planning existed in India about 6,000 years ago. Mohenjo-daro was planned with a broad boulevard 30 feet wide, running north and south, and crossed at right angles every 200 yards or so by somewhat smaller east-west streets. Along these impressive avenues were shops and food stands. The blocks between were served by narrow curving lanes five to 10 feet wide. The grid layout is one indication of the perception and care that had gone into the planning of the city. Indeed, evidence from the ruins points to a degree of control and planning under some central civic authority unprecedented in the history of early civilizations. Each city at its peak covered an area of six or seven miles and could house some 20,000 to 50,000 people, a very large urban population for that period. The wide main streets bordered rectangular city blocks that measured about 400 yards in length and 200 yards in width, far larger that a typical block in modern Manhattan.
Distinct characteristics of urban planning from remains of the cities of Harappa, Lothal and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley Civilization, lead archeologists to conclude that they are the earliest examples of deliberately planned and managed cities. The streets of these early cities were often paved and laid out at right angles in a grid pattern, with a hierarchy of streets from major boulevards to residential alleys. Archaeological evidence suggests that many Harrapan houses were laid out to protect from noise and enhance residential privacy. These ancient cities were unique in that they had drainage systems, seemingly tied to a well-developed ideal of urban sanitation. The ruins of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa indicate that these twin cities grew according to a central plan that had been conceived at their foundation — much as Washington, DC, to this day follows the conception of George Washington’s French planner, Pierre L’Enfant.
— Grandpa’s blessing
Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org