Podcast: Sound and vision

El Gat Del Raval (the Raval Cat), Barcelona – the work of Fernando Botero. Image: Valgui/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s very easy (or at least, it is if you’re me) to fall into the trap of seeing cities as physical things – a matter of streets and buildings and transport infrastructure.

But they’re about more than that: they’re also about the people inside them, and the things that they create.

So this week, in a break from our usual schedule, we’ve decided to get cultured. To that end, we talk to Shain Shapiro, director of the consultancy Sound Diplomacy, and founder of the Music Cities Convention. He tells us what makes a music city, and why live performance matters to city life. (You can read some of Shain’s articles for us here.)


That’s “sound”. For “vision”, we talk to festival producer and arts professional Sara Doctors, about how the people who re-built Britain’s towns after the Second World War wanted to put public art at the heart of every community – and why it never quite came off. The segment includes discussion of “Madonna’s Tits”, the local name for a pair of Thomas Heatherwicks you can find in the unlikely location of a roundabout in Barking.

(Some full disclosure here: Sara, as well as being incredibly knowledgeable about the arts, is also, er, my wife. At one point she mentions a giant cat statue in Barcelona’s the Rambla de Raval. It’s the one at the top of this page, it was designed by Colombian figurative artist by Fernando Botero, and we met him on our honeymoon.)

In our new “your city” segment we hear from Canadian listener Victoria, who tells us what she loves about Toronto, and what she’s rather less keen on. She’s on Twitter here. If you’d like to contribute to this segment in future, get in touch by email.

Last but not least, our map of the week is Katie Kowalsky’s pop art map of the world (above) on which Barbara and I have, shall we say, differing views.

If you want to subscribe to the podcast (which you obviously do), you can find us on Acast or iTunes, or put this RSS into the podcast app of your choice. Or you can find more episodes right here.

Enjoy. 

 
 
 
 

The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook