Norris shares experience in megacity Mumbai

Professor of geography Darrell Norris delivered an address titled “Chaos or Catalyst? Mumbai and the Dilemma of the World’s New Megacities” on Wednesday Oct. 2 to students and faculty members as part of the Faculty Colloquium Series. According to David Parfitt, director of the Teaching Learning Center, which puts on lectures and events such as the Faculty Colloquium Series, “the purpose of this series is for us to get a chance to learn more about each other’s research” and “to learn about the expertise we have right here on campus.”

In comparison to the Distinguished Speaker series hosted by the College Union, Parfitt said he believes that “the Faculty Colloquium Series has some equally distinguished speakers.”

Norris visited Mumbai, India last year after receiving a grant from Geneseo. He said his “observations on development of cities in Asia” and “firsthand experience of Asian urbanization” incited him to give a lecture on the effects of urbanization on the city.

At the center of Norris’ discussion were the startling statistics of extreme poverty in Mumbai, one of the world’s fastest rising “megacities.” According to Norris, India has “demonstrably failed” to create a significant middle to lower-middle class. In other words, in a city like Mumbai, “you’re either rich, or you’re poor. Usually very poor.”

Norris said that the knowledge gained from his experience in Mumbai “comes down to two words: fruits and roots.” Norris described roots as “physical, energy-based, social or infrastructural initiatives that historically have gone along with national development.” He used “fruits” as a reference to the products of a society. Norris cited the United States as an example of a consumer society that is more concerned with “fruits.”

Norris described a particular incident that occurred during his trip to Mumbai, when a large monsoon hit the city, rendering it “crippled.” Norris discussed the horrid conditions in the city post-monsoon, where water rose knee-level in streets, unbelievable amounts of trash washed up everywhere and buildings with poor quality concrete collapsed, killing civilians.

According to Norris, the humidity reached such a level that his new point-and-shoot camera stopped working altogether. Later in his lecture, Norris said he attributed the city’s lack of preparedness and inability to properly deal with a crisis of this level to the fact that Mumbai is a “fruits” society and doesn’t focus enough on the “roots” aspect.

Savi Iyer, dean of curriculum and academic services, who grew up in India, said she agreed with Norris’s assessment.

“You take care of yourself [in India],” Iyer said. “You don’t assume that the government is going to do things for you.”

Norris ended his lecture by reminding the audience that his observations in Mumbai do not necessarily hold true for all of India.

“Do I feel as if I’ve peeled enough layers off the onion to have any real grasp of Indian society? Well, no,” he said. In the future, however, Norris said he does want to return to India.