Confronting India's Urban Disaster

Contrary to popular belief, Beijing's air pollution is not nearly the worst in the world. The air of Delhi, India, is twice as polluted. For expats, this disaster raises important questions: is it ethical to live, and raise children, in India?

2 minute read

June 8, 2015, 5:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310


Delhi Skyline

Francisco Anzola / Flickr

In the United States, it's becoming increasingly hard to appreciate the dangers of air pollution. Though work remains to be done, American cities and industries have managed to reduce exhaust through a variety of methods, some of which are considered expensive but which environmentalists consider good investments. To see the benefits of those investments, one needs only look, tragically, to India, whose cities have some of the worst pollution in the world. 

In an op-ed, New York Times correspondent Gardinier Harris makes this tragedy personal. While Indian citizens may have no choice but to suffer in dirty air, expatriates face a choice of whether to live in India or not. Harris, who lived in Delhi, argues that the dangers posed by air pollution increasingly make this not just a lifestyle choice but in fact a moral choice, with his children's lives literally at stake. 

"Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air."

"Foreigners have lived in Delhi for centuries, of course, but the air and the mounting research into its effects have become so frightening that some feel it is unethical for those who have a choice to willingly raise children here. Similar discussions are doubtless underway in Beijing and other Asian megacities, but it is in Delhi — among the most populous, pollutedunsanitary and bacterially unsafe cities on earth — where the new calculus seems most urgent.

"Sarath Guttikunda, one of India’s top pollution researchers, who moved to Goa, on the west coast of India, to protect his two young children, was unequivocal: 'If you have the option to live elsewhere, you should not raise children in Delhi.'....And then there are nascent areas of research suggesting that pollution can lower children’s I.Q., hurt their test scores and increase the risks of autismepilepsydiabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis."

Friday, May 29, 2015 in New York Times

Aerial view of snowy single-family homes in suburban Long Island, New York

New York Governor Advances Housing Plan Amid Stiff Suburban Opposition

Governor Kathy Hochul’s ambitious proposal to create more housing has once again run into a brick wall of opposition in New York’s enormous suburbs, especially on Long Island. This year, however, the wall may have some cracks.

March 20, 2023 - Mark H. McNulty

Empty parking garage at night with yellow lines marking spots and fluorescent lighting

Rethinking the Role of Parking in the American City

In cities big and small, the tide is turning against sprawling parking lots, car-centric development, and minimum parking mandates.

March 16, 2023 - The New York Times

A futuristic version of New York City, with plants growing neatly on top of modern skycrapers.

Friday Eye Candy: 20 AI-Generated Cityscapes

AI-generated images are creating new landscapes and cityscapes, capable of inspiring awe or fear.

March 17, 2023 - Chris Steins via Medium

Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge

Panel: Minneapolis Zoning Updates Should Reflect Mixed-Use Future

A discussion of post-pandemic changes in work and commuting concluded that the city’s overhaul of its zoning code should be less restrictive with land uses.

21 minutes ago - MinnPost

Bike Light

People on Bikes Outnumber Drivers in the City of London

The City of London’s efforts to increase biking and reduce driving has finally achieved a long-term goal: a preference for biking over driving.

1 hour ago - Forbes

Aerial view of farmers' market with white booths in downtown Boise, Idaho

Planners Look to ‘Activity Centers’ for Sustainable Development

Existing hubs of ‘hyperlocal’ economic activity provide a model for urban density.

March 23 - Smart Cities Dive

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

HUD’s 2023 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.