If you want a peaceful holiday in India, it is hard to beat the backwaters of Kerala, where you drift by ancient villages in a state that has the highest literacy and life expectancy rates. But it is also well worth spending time in nearby Kochi City, with its fine waterside heritage from the Dutch as well as the English occupations. In travelling to or from the modern airport, you will be struck by the contrasts between the timeless spice warehouses or Chinese fishing nets, and the new shopping malls, office blocks and apartment buildings. Kochi is growing fast, fuelled by investment from the Emirates, where many people from Kerala work. Large areas of former military land are now available for development, and many new rapid transit routes are talked about. There are some beautiful old mansions that have been turned into memorable hotels.
But, as growth takes place on the edge, much of the historic fabric is decaying. Planning is relatively powerless, and no one seems to care about the state of the streets, and making it easier to walk or cycle around. Soon the potential of this great trading city could be lost. For little value is placed on the areas and buildings with most character. It is so much easier to develop and fund high rise blocks than to bring old buildings back to life. As in the film Slumdog Millionaire, the old and new are fighting for space. Yet properly conserved, Kochi could easily become as popular with visitors as Delhi or Goa. A smarter growth process could harness the creative energy and skills of this unique state, which are currently wasted on building Dubai. But as in the UK, the crucial first step is to rebuild the capacity of local government to manage the process of urban change.