Okay, so it’s not exactly laying in front of the bulldozers. . .

. . . but hiring private security guards to patrol the streets to prevent illegal construction is kind of bourgeoise-guerrilla in its own way.

The construction in question is a “signal-free corridor” (in American English, “big-ass highway”), which the Bangalore Development Authority is trying to build through Koramangala. Here’s the deal: Bangalore was not build for cars and Lo, the Lord hath sent a plague of Tatas and Suzukis raining down on the People of Karnataka. Private vehicle registrations has nearly tripled in the last decade. The BDA’s response has been straight-no-chaser Urban Renewal:  highways, overpasses, underpasses, and road-widening. It’s hugely controversial, and usually the BDA wins. But then the irresistible force of the BDA ran into the immovable object of the Koramangalan Pissed-Off Neighbors.

Koramangala is the Bangalore equivalent of, say, West Hollywood. The Koramangalans moved to their hood for a certain je ne sais quoi. Je really don’t sais quoi, since it looks a lot like the rest of Bangalore in terms of urban form, but with more Taco Bell and KFC.  In any case, it’s not what most Americans would picture as a suburb, where highways are not out of place. In Koramangala, the main roads are 4- to 6-lane arterials with stores and stoplights, hustle and bustle. Did I mention the KFC?

The Koramangalans answered the signal-free corridor with a lawsuit challenging the procedure by which the project was approved. They got a restraining order, which the BDA proceeded to ignore. Enter security guards. Next: Occupy Koramangala?

The fashionable narrative about the whole hullabaloo is that the opponents of signal-free corridors are enemies of Progress, selfishly standing in the way everyone else’s automobile dreams. But they are raising important arguments in favor of multi mobility: that if you widen the roads enough for everyone to drive, there won’t be many buildings left standing for them to want to drive to.

Can Pissed-Off Neighbors Save the World?

This story is about a Kolkata developer who was approved to build an 8-story mall, and who decided to up and build a 13-story mall instead. Awesome.  Two things about this caught my eye. First, the claim by the quoted pissed-off neighbor (PON) that the mall had no parking. Given the recent refusal of Bangalore to take strong steps on addressing the impending parking apocalypse, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this were the case. According to the developer’s specs, however, there are two levels of parking, which admittedly seems mighty slim for 13 floors. Not awesome, but probably not apocalypse-worthy. (The link features a seizure-worthy animated image of the mall, which I both can’t and won’t reproduce here. You’re welcome.)

Okay, so on to thing #2: the PON, who along with his neighbors finally forced the state to step in and the city to deny an occupancy permit, at least until the smoke clears. As anyone who has spent 5 minutes in municipal decision making knows, PONs are the foot-soldiers of accountability, the Irked who battle the Irksome on the rocky terrain of noise, height, parking, staff responsiveness, and so on. Their data-driven battles, where winners are declared on compliance minutiae, keep staff aware (and how) that they are being watched. No matter how deeply ensconced in the entrails of your department you may be, you never know when one of the files on your desk is the one that someone will raise a stink over.

Indian cities are badly in need of accountability. . . can the PONs help?  In Mumbai, for example, the juicy battles between right-wing goons (aka, the police) and miniskirt-clad partygoers got even more interesting when PONs started filing information requests on nearby bars, seeking to shutter those that lacked proper licenses. (India passed an extensive Right to Information law in 2005.) Hindu housewives on holy high horses?  Hardly. These are swanky cosmopolitans with the usual complaints about property values and quality of life, or more specifically the lack thereof when one lives next door to a lot of other people having a very good time.  Here, by the way, is apparently how one has a good time on New Year’s Eve in Mumbai:

Granted, the typical PON concern about noise and parking is almost  laughable given the scale of deprivation in India. On the other hand, the use of RTIs holds potential to spur an increased culture of accountability. Any step in that direction is a welcome one.