Bangalore through the eyes of a mathematician

8 February 2019

By Rafael Prieto Curiel
@rafaelprietoc

MG Road metro

It is impossible to visit Bangalore for the first time and not be surprised by many of its urban aspects; from its noise and pollution to its ingenious ways of moving thousands of people through auto rickshaws; from its densely packed streets to its large parks and green areas; from its lack of drinking water and its foaming and burning lake to its growing network of metro stations; from its pressing inequality to its booming IT industry; from its growing informal housing and business to its rich mixture of cultures and history, food and markets, old bookshops and new and trendy art galleries. Bangalore presents itself as a promising city, with severe challenges to deal with in the upcoming decades.

How to analyse a city from a mathematical point of view?

Mathematics is about detecting the patterns, the rules and the hidden norms of different phenomena and then, detecting the outliers, or the observations which are special and do not follow our rules. Is it that Bangalore is special because of its size? With its 11.8 million people, it could be considered as one of the largest cities of the world. In different contexts, it could be the largest city in a country. For instance, a city with the population of Bangalore would be the largest city in Germany, Italy or Spain. In fact, Bangalore is larger than most of the capitals of the world. But yet, within the Indian context, Bangalore is not even the largest city of its country (Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai are larger) and is the 20th largest metropolitan area of Asia. Large Asian cities are more the norm than the exception.

If it is not its size, maybe it is its growth. The boom of the IT industry has attracted thousands from other regions of India. From 1980 to 2019, Bangalore’s metropolitan population increased from 2.8 million people to 11.8 million. For every person that was in Bangalore in 1980, now there are more than 4. But, is it growth that makes Bangalore unique? India’s population is still experiencing fast growth accompanied by an increase in urbanisation rates. Thus, with more people and a larger share of them living in cities, is it even surprising that Bangalore is growing so fast? Although cities experience growth at a different pace, Bangalore’s population growth is, for most of the years since 1980, actually below the rate of Delhi and Jaipur and many more Indian and Asian cities. Cities growing at a very fast rate is again, more the norm of Asian cities than the exception.

Why is it relevant that size and growth are a frequent and regular pattern of some of the Asian cities?

Having observed just one city, Bangalore, it is clear that its traffic, noise and pollution are the results of a transport system that has been put under stress for decades. The same streets and avenues that used to move hundreds a few years ago are now forced to move thousands. The city’s growing demand for water and energy, and its production of waste are also severely affected by city size.. In a period of 30 years, the city has had to find four times the amount of water it used to. Water stress is mainly driven by population growth and this is not exclusive to Bangalore.

To put it into context, Bangalore represents 1% of India’s population. Roughly 5% of the population of India lives in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Jaipur, the five large cities. Thus, people from these five global cities could be considered an outlier, since 95% of India is not like that. And this is very different in other parts of the world. In Mexico, for instance, Mexico City’s metropolitan area represents 17% of the country’s population and nearly one in three Mexicans live in one of the five largest cities of the country. India has ten times the population of Mexico but Indian cities are not ten times larger and do not have ten times the population of Mexican cities. Rather, India has many more still-growing cities and most of India is still not living in cities.

India is projected to become the largest country within the next decade and so many of its cities will also continue to grow at a fast pace. The arithmetic story told by Bangalore and its rapid population growth, with its related challenges and need for innovative solutions, is the upcoming future of dozens of Indian cities. The pattern repeats.