Commonwealth Games, a failure of "just-in-time" planning

Delhi debacle is a warning to urban planners.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, businesses across the world experimented with a system of product assembly known as "just-in-time" production. By sourcing parts "just-in-time" for their final assembly, these companies were able to cut inventory costs, leading to leaner, more competitive industry.

Cities competing for global investments have been experimenting recently with a model of what we might call "just-in-time" planning, a process in which decisions are made at the last minute, or in extreme instances, when projects have already begun.

The Commonwealth Games debacle is an example of this 'just-in-time' planning.

Over the past decade, Delhi -- which hosts the Games as they open today -- has been one big construction site, with billions of dollars each year pouring into new roads, shopping malls, apartments and now the Commonwealth Games. Yet, with a conspicuous absence of maps, figures, and other records of land use - once considered standard tools of urban planning - it is impossible to keep track of this urban change.

In 2006, I asked a top planner in the Delhi Government what method he used to survey the city for the newly updated master plan. He replied, "We didn't do a survey. Well, we did a 'windshield survey': I sent some engineers out in cars and had them look [around]... We know what needs to be done without having to survey. We know what a world-class city should look like."

In the excitement about Delhi's self-proclaimed transformation into a "world-class city", planning has come to mean facilitating developments that contribute to an imagined "world-class" future, even if they violate existing laws. As long as these projects appear "world-class", the government is rarely questioned: everyone understands that 'world-class' deadlines do not wait for debate.

"Just-in-time" planning creates ambiguity regarding how land can be used. Planners can now weigh up the advantages of, for example, placing a school or a shopping mall on the same lot. While educators wait patiently for a school to be approved, government planners can always hold out in case a private developer presents a more compelling proposal. In terms of local government revenue and macroeconomics, the private developer makes more sense. Indian economic growth depends disproportionately on investment -- according to the Indian Government, it was responsible for 40 per cent of GDP growth in 2007 (in the UK it was only 18 per cent). Sustaining growth therefore requires continually presenting favourable investment opportunities.

In theory most policies and laws in India prevent projects that are outside the public interest, but the "just-in-time" approach allows planners to exceed the limits of their own regulations.

By launching projects before any semblance of regulatory oversight begins, they can use the urgency of the deadline to overcome rules and sanctions. The decision on where to locate the Commonwealth Games Village is a clear example of this. In 2004, the Supreme Court of India ordered the demolition of the homes of more than 150,000 slum residents for occupying the ecologically fragile Yamuna River floodplain.

Soon after this environmental precedent was set, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) decided to build the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna just downstream from the demolished slums. Two DDA-commissioned scientific studies found its proposal 'unviable' with potentially 'catastrophic consequences' for the floodplain. But, by the time the DDA sought government approval, construction was already underway.

When a court case challenging the construction was finally heard in 2008, the Supreme Court noted the need to complete the Village in time for the 2010 Games and claimed, contrary to evidence, that 'the Commonwealth Games Village site is not on a riverbed or the floodplain.'

Under the logic of "just-in-time" planning, the urgency of becoming world-class allows political leaders and planners to invoke exceptional powers, requiring exceptional sacrifice from the public and exceptional investment by the state.

It is on this basis that money for healthcare and education is diverted to bankroll bridge-building and the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever. It is also on this basis that Commonwealth Game workers are paid below minimum wage, multi-generational slums are demolished and illegal malls approved.

The Commonwealth Games crisis does not signal an absence of planning, as most commentators have noted. Instead, it is a symptom of an ad-hoc mode of planning, which extends the state's powers. Like businesses experimenting with 'lean' and flexible inventories in the past, cities around the world have adopted lean and flexible planning to gain competitive advantage.

As the images of unprotected Commonwealth Games workers on 12-hour shifts show, "just-in-time" is not always time enough.

Dr. Asher Ghertner has been researching urbanization in India for the past six years and is Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics.

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One Day Without Us reveals the spectre of Britain without immigration

Imagine a country without its NHS workers, its artists and even its consumers. That's why immigrants are striking today. 

What’s the best way of making yourself heard in politics? Protesting in the street, or contacting the media? Writing to politicians? A badge?

One option, of course, is to walk out - and give people a chance to recognise what they’d be missing if you weren’t there. In the labour movement, that’s long been an option – a last-case option, but an option nevertheless – when your contribution isn't being recognised.

A strike is a tit-for-tat negotiation and a warning shot. “I’ll work properly when you employ me properly”, it says, but simultaneously: “Here’s what you’d lose if I stopped”. Done right, the worker’s absence can shift the power balance in their favour.

Normally, people strike according to their role, in pursuit of certain conditions – the tube strikes, or last year’s teacher's strike.

Yet there is also a long and rich history of walk-outs whose terms are broader and boundaries hazier. One of the most famous is surely the 1975 Women's Strike, in Iceland, during which 90 per cent of the country's women refused to participate in either paid or unpaid work.

In 2016, the formula was repeated in Poland, where women went on strike to protest against a draconian change being proposed to the country's already-strict abortion laws. (It worked.)

Immigrant strikes, too, have a history. In 2006, for instance, a coalition of Los Angeles Catholic groups, unions and immigration reform groups proposed a boycott in opposition to a bill which, among other things, called for new border security fences to be built between America and Mexico. (Ahem.)

The action grew to become a national event, and on May 1, the “Great American Boycott” took place, with immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere leaving work, skipping school and refusing to buy or sell goods.

Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit looming, some have decided it’s time for another strike. Enter “One Day Without Us”.

Today, immigrants here in Britain will strike not for pay conditions or holiday allowances, but for basic recognition and respect. Across the country, businesses will close and immigrants will leave work, many of them to take place in alternative actions like rallies or letter-writing campaigns.

The name of the protest pulls no punches. This, it says, is what it would be like if we all went away. (Subtext: “like some of you want”.)

Because – and let’s be honest here – it’d be bad. In hospital this summer, I was treated by migrants. After 24 hours in NHS, I took a count, and found that only about one in five of the staff who had treated me were identifiably English. Around 4.6 per cent of NHS staff nationally are from the EU, including 9 per cent of doctors. Immigrants clean buildings, make our food, and provide a whole host of other vital services.

One Day Without Us, then, could do Britain a huge favour - it provides us with a quick preview function before anyone ups and leaves for good, taking the heart of our health service, or our food supplies, with them.

In recognition of this, some businesses are actively giving their workers the day off. One 36-year-old owner of a support services company, for instance, is giving her staff a paid holiday.

“Not all my colleagues are taking up the offer not to come in”, she explained. “Some, both British and foreign-born, would prefer to work. That’s fine, I wanted to give colleagues the freedom to choose.

 “It will cause some inconvenience and I’ve had to explain to clients why we aren’t offering all our services for one day, but I feel doing this is the only way to show how much this country relies on migrants. I may be a businesswoman, but I’m a human being first, and it hurts my heart to see how foreign-born colleagues are being treated by some people in the current political climate."

The woman, whose staff is 65 per cent foreign born, has asked her company not to be identified. She’s heard her staff being abused for speaking Polish.

Of course, not everyone is able to walk out of work. I write this from Chicago, Illinois, where last week activists participated in an American predecessor to One Day Without Us called “Day Without Immigrants”. Type “Day Without Immigrants" into Google followed by the word "Chicago" and you will find reports of restaurants closing down and citizens marching together through the city.

But search for just "Day Without Immigrants", and the top stories are all about participants being fired.

One Day Without Us, then, encourages any form of engagement. From human chains to sessions during which participants can write to their MP, these events allow immigrants, and supporters, to make themselves known across the country.

Businesses and museums, too, are involved. The Tate, for instance, is offering free tours showing visitors artworks created or influenced by migrants, showing Londoners which of the paintings that they’ve seen a dozen times only exist because of immigration.

Because paintings, like people, come from everywhere, whether or not you remember. Britain is a mongrel country, and so its art and culture are as mongrel as its workforce: a persistent thread through the country’s history.

We risk a lot forgetting this. At its best, assimilation provides a way of integrating without forgetting one’s own unique identity. In a world where immigrants risk threats or violence, however, invisibility can be the best option. For some, it is better not to be recognized as an immigrant than be abused as one.

Those of us who don’t risk threats have a duty to recognise this. I dislike the glibness of “we are all migrants” – maybe, technically, but we’re not all getting slurs shouted at us in the high street, are we? Still, I also don’t like anyone forgetting the fact that their existence, in all probably, is contingent on someone once being given clemency in a place that was their own. The movement of people is woven into the fabric of society.

Of course, it is impossible to say how successful One Day Without Us will be, or how many people’s lives will be directly affected. But I hope that, even as a gesture, it works: that people think of what would be missing from their lives without immigration.

We ignore it at our peril.

You can view all the One Day Without Us events on the organisers’ website, or contribute to a fund to support businesses which are closing for the day here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland