Destinations & Decentralisation



Balagopal

30.06.2009. Living close to your destinations has a lot of advantages. Less commuting. Money and time saved. Quick to log in at your work. Punctual by default. Assured availability. More time at home off work.

In spite of the obvious advantages why do people live far off commuting to work by road and rail? Costs of living close to your place of work are usually high as the places of work cluster themselves to urban areas often banning residential units coming in between them. Instances are also few where building complexes house both office and dwelling units for its employees. The case becomes more complex when employees of different classes usually do not mix after they leave their work places. Does the situation look attractive if getting work done is the only objective?

Work, employment, workplace, migration, all these functions call for redefinition. Recent trends show the sprouting of more centralised work places in the name of 'special economic zones'. Result? Painfully transplanting a set of people prized for their skills to places far off from their homes, the only apparent advantage being certain statutory subsidies and concessions from government. Or gratification of land owners who get the sudden opportunity to drive land prices up. Such centralisations are justified if the project is of a peculiar nature as airports or shipping terminals. Flip side? Broken homes, failed marriages, murders and suicides of these highly skilled and educated people!

Any kind of centralisaion of resources means deprivation of a lot of other resources. The power distribution scene, for instance, in Kerala's neighbouring states tells the story of deprivation due to centralisation. Certain projects could be conceded in cases such as heavy industries or manufacturing processes that might challenge the environment. But clustering of other types of business enterprises is to be given critical revision. Communities living in 'non-urban' districts suffer from long spells of “power-cuts” at the cost of ensuring the urbanites power for performing outsourced work at shops hoping to earn export dollars!

Paradoxes abound in the concept of the workplace as destinations for people. Are products the concern or the people? Take the case of banks and other purely bureaucratic functions. With state-of-the-science-technology at hand, two clerks working side by side at a bank may apparently be adjacent but the computer circuitry connecting them is controlled by servers located thousand of miles away! Yet the clerks are forced to travel from homes and reach their work 'destinations' often in challenged circumstances. Wither productivity?

An average four precious hours can be cut if commuting from homes to work can be totally avoided. Home is now the ideal place to perform wage earning work too. Early adopters become winners in any enterprise. Will the traditional enterprise be daring enough to 'farm out' their employees; practice and encourage home based work? Expert workflow studies will bring to light a lot of functions between the customer and the back office which can easily be performed in employees' homes. The aim should be to bring the 'destinations' home!

Essentially such daring strategy making must be preceded by ambitious infrastructure planning. The two crucial inputs to productivity are power and telecom. Policy makers with only the country's progress in their minds must come forward to plan and implement projects that will make decentralising an utmost priority. It is high time the cost of productivity is measured in terms of a complete analysis factoring idle time and wasted money spent in the name of commuting to work. Released from the work context, time and money wasted thus will become tremendous profit in terms of uncongested roads and saved energy!

As always it takes a few awfully daring pioneers to make any great thing happen. Schools, banks, government bodies or any organisation can nowadays, with available technologies, function from the homes of their functionaries, layers of "tribal" authority protected.

Saffo, a visionary who predictis on how technologies change our future, mentions how America benefits and become clean as their back end clerical work gets dumped on Indian sweatshops, clogging our power stations and roads even causing social tensions. An equally eloquent thinker and author Paul Zane Pilzer predicts that in a professionally wired society of the future, peoples' only destinations outside their homes will be places of leisure and worship! The need for basic human interaction with other human beings will be purely social and spiritual!

Utopia in sight?

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