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“Kathmandu Valley voted the most beautiful city in the world of 2030!” – Time Magazine.
Time magazine’s 2030 year-end cover page has just labeled Kathmandu Valley as the “Shining Pearl” of Asia! The world news media is abuzz with disbelief. “How could this city, shaken to the core by a terrible 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015, transform to such a beauty within 15 years? What is Kathmandu’s secret here?”
The magazine presents 10 convincing reasons from the world’s respected urban planners and city living legends who overwhelmingly voted, “Kathmandu Valley as the most beautiful city in the world in 2030.”
1. Kathmandu: The servant government city.
2. Kathmandu: A city of contradictions.
3. Kathmandu: The greenest city in the world?
4. Kathmandu: The living heritage city.
5. Kathmandu: The ‘recycle it all’ city.
6. Kathmandu: The city that never sleeps…
7. Kathmandu: An energy+ city.
8. Kathmandu: City of wanderlust.
9. Kathmandu, A city of common-sense.
10. Kathmandu, The start-up capital of Asia!
Kathmandu: The servant government city.
“As I step into a local municipality (ward) office that, from the outside, looks distinctly 18th century aristocratic palace, carved in wood illustrating Nepali historical and mythological events, I am surprised to find myself entering a futuristic lobby adorned with beautiful paintings and sculptures representing Nepal’s various ethnic communities. Further along a big poster hangs on straight ahead “Democracy = Transparency.” Just a few steps further another one provokes, “Your Government, Your Servant”.
A ‘customer care’ officer greets me with a customary bow, ‘Namaste, How may I help you?’ There are no papers here. All essential processes from citizenship documents to marriage certificates to land taxes are all processed electronically. Housing checks and permits are scheduled online. After hearing my request he escorts and introduces me to the elected representative of the municipality.. She politely invites me to sit down and asks, “Would you like a cup of freshly brewed Nepali organic coffee while we look up the information you are interested in?”
In 2030, Kathmandu is world-renowned for adopting the ‘21st century servant government’ model for accountability and transparent local governance. Regular local elections, efficient and inclusive local management of resources, disaster preparedness along with transparency and zero tolerance for corruption has led to a win-win partnership between citizens, businesses and the government. The local government officials offer quick hassle-free services with their ready use of information technology. Locals regularly seek and get information on their city’s governance through the simple yet powerful “Right to Information” act holding business, organization and local bodies accountable. Any information not delivered within 48 hours is addressed by Nepal’s swiftly implemented law. Citizen journalism has enhanced mainstream journalism. Public shunning and boycotting of corrupt people and their business/organizations have become social norms. Local taxes are transparently collection, managed and locally distributed by ingenious prioritizing such as online polling. Every tax rupee is directly tied to projects so that each local knows where and when her tax was spent.
This all began when a virtuous cycle was set in motion after that terrible earthquake in 2015 as an empowered citizenry started working together integrating technology, civic sense and youth volunteerism. This started a trend of efficient service of high quality from a reimagined public service system which was overwhelmingly populated by young professionals trained on 21st century governance ideals and the appointment of locally elected leaders in key positions. The powerful autonomous government body, “Nepal Resurgence Board,” constituted in 2015 with its army of urban planners in Kathmandu, helped speed up reconstruction of policies and infrastructures in and around the valley.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My Government, My Servant!’
Kathmandu: A city of contradictions.
“As I step out of my galli (alley), I find myself walking on a colorful pavement in a neighborhood whose walls come alive with vibrant graffiti's. I could spend hours wandering here, as I see a range of artistic expressions all the way from meticulous thanka-style spiritual paintings, beautiful sculptures to something that looks like an attempt by a five-year old… Each galli seems to personify the face of that neighborhood. In Kathmandu, I am often given directions to neighborhoods not by street addresses but by these unique landmarks and motifs which changes with each corner you turn! This city truly is a walking contradiction, a beautiful collage of diversity.”
Local municipalities (tole) of 2030 have built a tradition of citizens adopting each galli (alley) of the city. They all seem to be in an endless race to outdo each other to keep up a record of the best managed and designed roads, parks, public toilets, bus parks, cycle lanes and more; using the “adopt-a-tole” model. Communities take ownership of the immediate road (& public space) in front of them. They name, beautify, and support it themselves. The municipality’s autonomous infrastructure maintenance body works with the Mayor directly to help local community members build not just roads but community infrastructures like parks and public toilets. The citizens have also taken responsibility for the greenery in their neighborhoods. By actively collaborating with their local municipality under the ‘servant government’ system, the public infrastructures are now 100% accessible to 100% of the citizens for 100% of the time. Kathmandu seems to have internalized the essence of chaos theory and its brilliant urban planners came up with a way to build a city, emulating the rules of organized chaos, making this an exciting city where no two places are alike. In fact Kathmandu prides itself on its contradictions.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My Neighborhood, My Responsibility!’
Kathmandu: The greenest city in the world?
"As I step out of the airport, I am welcomed by gentle breeze and the fragrance of fresh-cut grass. I travel towards the city in a taxi that runs on clean electricity. I roll down the windows to enjoy the roads abuzz with bicycles and pedestrians. I pass by many community parks where children are running around with their dogs. Clear, stylish, wearable technology responsive signboards are everywhere guiding you to the history and urban legends of the city. Those concrete or brick walls have long been replaced with trees and hedges. As I pass by, I can’t help notice that plants and trees seem to be integrated into building designs themselves. I come across the jewel of the city, the Central Park of Kathmandu (a stretch of greenery that connects the former Royal palace grounds all the way to the Dasharath Stadium).
I step out and walk around. In this vastness, young people are immersed in making music, girls are jogging, a rap battle going on steps away and further along people playing cricket, football and more. Family of three generations are on a cozy picnic under massive trees. A flock of birds make their way through the blue skies. It makes any outsider wonder, “Why can’t my city be like this?”
Starting from 2015, Kathmandu started turning all its open spaces into self-sustainable, accessible green spaces and ponds while converting all the hills around the valley into national parks and wildlife reserves. By 2030, it held the distinguished reputation of being the greenest city of the world. This has enabled students, children, and the elderly to relax, play and enjoy nature to the fullest. Open spaces around spiritual places like Pashupati, Swayambhu, Changu Narayan, Boudha, Basantapur, Patan and Bhaktapur now have clean, elegant, vibrant gardens and ponds. “Plant a tree before you die” ethos has helped reduce pollution turning Kathmandu into a beautiful, livable tranquil abode. The former royal palace ground is linked to Rani Pokhari, Tudikhel and Dasarath Stadium becoming a humongous lush green park for the city of Kathmandu to relish, rivaling that of New York’s Central Park.
Kathmandu in 2030 holds the distinction of being among the most bicycle-friendly city of the world and brands itself as a bicycle-preferred city. There are dedicated disability, walking and cycle friendly lanes on all major roadways and galli’. There is even a special tax rebate for those who decide not to own fossil fuel vehicles. By 2030, Kathmandu has set a global example by allowing alternative energy public vehicles to become the primary means of transportation on and below the streets of Kathmandu. Real-estate builders are given tax breaks to build ‘green plus energy homes’ and penalized for making energy negative buildings and infrastructure. Quality of air/water (environment) has become a fundamental human right of utmost political importance. Since leadership is penalized during elections depending on the air pollution index, authorities are particularly sensitive to any deterioration on its globally adapted environmental KTM-2100 Protocol. Many Kathmandu folks work from their homes or nearby cafes and parks. Pedaling, walking or public transport make for the bulk of transportation in this city which has just been voted as the world’s most breathable city. The banks along the twin rivers of Bagmati and Bishnumati are a popular space for hanging out, pedaling, leisurely drives and a bird lover’s heaven! All this has enabled Kathmandu arguably as the greenest city in the world.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greenest city of them all?’
Kathmandu: The living heritage city.
“Making my way through the narrow alleys, I chance upon small temples and monuments in every corner, some filled with erotic, wooden sculptures, others with intricate metal carvings on doors that simply blows my mind. One can never be certain what wonders the very next turn might hold for you. The evolution of centuries of work, molding with the state of the art technologies of the day, makes this a sight for me to comprehend. Add the warm smile lighting up on the faces of every Nepali I meet, tells me that this smiley city is singularly content."
What city boasts a thousand Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Sikh temples within breathing distance from each other? Furthermore Kathmandu folks have rediscovered their own brand of spirituality by rediscovering their calling to “treat guests as god!” Kathmandu is an enlightened city of tolerance where major religious and spiritual practices are intricately interwoven not just in people’s minds and lives but also in every aspect of the city’s planning. Since that terrible quake in 2015, Kathmandu folks have re-discovered their commitment to build a monument for each family member that departs. This has made Kathmandu a city of a thousand temples whose stories are told to the children in far corners of the world!
One strong reason for Kathmandu valley to regain such glory has been the fact that its citizens decided to not just rebuild the heritage destroyed by the 2015 quake, but went one step further by rediscovering their burning talent as architects, creators and builders. Kathmandu’s heritage has been its collection of 1,000+ year of amazing architecture, history, fusion of 100+ ethnic cultures, life-lessons based on simplicity, trade, creativity, communal living, and local ingenuity. Add to this, the new found obsession of the post-earthquake generation to outmatch the creativity of the past. Buildings in Kathmandu are only permitted to be built/retained if they pass the strict and holistic KTM-9 building codes (designed to withstand 9 richter scale).
Kathmandu is a mega-city that is constantly shaped and reshaped by competing townships (municipalities) within it, that continuously try to outdo each other on style and innovation, while never straying from that common value, “you reap what you sow.”
Kathmandu folks have finally learnt from their past to not just keep but also to evolve and enhance their heritage. The current generation, aptly named “the bridge-builders” took up the challenge 15 years ago to be the ones to march Kathmandu to become an actively mutating heritage city the world has come to hold in awe. The decade old “Nepal Living Heritage University” has pioneered a disruptive education system that brings Nepalis and students from around the world to experiment on holistic living, planning and engineering. Based on the lessons learned from that terrible 2015 earthquake, they have gone on to build a unique disaster resistant urban planning model (a hybrid of the rich heritage of the valley and modern style). They are exporting this interdisciplinary knowledge around the world like their ancient hero “Araniko” did in the 13th Century.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘(Leave behind) a monument of love before you die.’
Kathmandu: The ‘recycle it all’ city
"As I step out of a heritage boutique homestay I rented in Bungmati, a green notification on my device informed me that I had received money back for the waste I had recycled for the month. It gave me my three preferred options: add it to my bank account, donate it evenly to the 3 causes I love or invest it all in a government owned “Nepal resurgence fund” that is building a mega infrastructure project designed to create a million jobs over the course of next 5 years.”
By working with entrepreneurs, Kathmandu has figured out how to recycle, reuse and turn (any) waste and even generate profits. Locals generate money out of their own waste. Household items are encouraged to be sold, bartered or rented out. Online-offline auction melas (sites) remain popular sites for many Kathmandu citizens to hang-out. Each year, Kathmandu hosts an annual “Recycle it all’ challenge for the world’s best innovators.
Garden and roof-top farming has thrived thanks to the household practice of using their own organic waste and waste water from the kitchen and rainwater/dew water harvesting is the primary supply for drinking water. Folks use their (reusable) safety tanks instead of pumping their waste to the sewage systems which have long gone dry.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘You reap what you throw!’
Kathmandu: The city that never sleeps…
“At 10 in the evening, I get a message from a friend to meet her in the old city to discuss an exciting idea she wants to pursue in a possible venture. I step out on a brightly lit street in Lazimpat, and decide to walk comfortably through alleys. Citizen-run ‘Neighborhood watches’ ensures that you feel secure in their area. I chance upon few kids drawing graffiti on the streets and a bicycle police casually stops by to give the kids tips on how to improve their work-in-progress. I pass through the night markets at Ason and revel at the sight of locals and tourists bargaining, recreating a scene that probably goes back centuries. I check out a new alley that promises a shortcut to where I want to go. A young woman comes jogging out of a narrow alley and smiles as she passes by. I google her face. I am ‘pretty’ sure she is doing the same on me!”
If you think Kathmandu of 2030 is beautiful at day, dare I say it’s even more beautiful at night. Every corner of this city is reachable within a thirty minute drive. Kathmandu is blessed with beautiful weather throughout the year. By 2016, Kathmandu folks learned it was just plain stupid to close down their energetic city by 8 in the evening so they started to invest in rapid public transport systems (elegantly adapted and improved from what they saw in Bogota, Colombia). This now runs 24/7 and 365 days a year, getting rid of traffic congestions while ensuring safe, convenient and reliable transportation options for all. This was a win-win situation for the local, the tourist, the small entrepreneur, the street vendor, the street-side cafes, the taxis and the youths. A city that is awake all the time, reverberates with more ideas and innovation, infusing creativity into our culture once more. A 24-hour open city has created a separate brand of Kathmandu as a youthful, friendly, safe, business-friendly city full of positive vibes. Families regularly enjoy their moments at the well-lit ‘spiritual’ parks while a happening night-life exists just a block away. Ask any citizen anything and they jump to “guide” you to a solution, a token example of the legendary warmth and generosity Nepalis are known for. Is this the reason Kathmandu repeatedly comes on as one of the top 10 places to disappear for a few days.
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘My City: Active, Alive, Always!’
Kathmandu: An energy+ city.
“As I walk back home from my office in Bhaktapur, I am notified of an increase in my bank balance. I am in for a nice surprise. I had just earned enough from my sale of surplus solar energy to afford for a quiet dinner with my family at that elegant restaurant along the brightly lit banks of Bagmati as planned.”
Who would have thought just 15 years ago, a city with no electricity for up to 16 hours a day would transform into an energy plus city glowing with surplus “clean energy.” A critical mass of Kathmandu folks in early 2015 decided that they had an alternate source they could tap into: abundant solar energy. With strong sunshine almost all year round, Kathmandu is a fertile ground for solar energy. Harnessing this power that shines for almost 12 hours a day has turned each house into electricity producers and a surplus seller. Energy conservation remains a top priority as citizens still remember those ‘loadshedding’ yester-years and their responsibility to mitigate the global warming menace that is battering coastal and mountain cities around the world. They have decreed that all electrical products have to pass the strict ‘KTM-2100-Green” standards or else the businesses are ‘socially’ boycotted. Clean energy and energy conscious citizens duly transformed Kathmandu into an energy hip, energy rich, positively energized city!
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Bright tole, enlightened soul.’
Kathmandu: City of wanderlust.
“As I wander around aimless in my newly bought ‘hatti chaap’ branded shoes, I feel a sudden rush of wanderlust. I wander around the city allowing my eyes to feast upon the surprises at each turn. Time loses its meaning as my brain is mesmerized by the strong emotions evoked by Kathmandu’s alley ways and the crisp blue skies above. The myriads of intriguing cultures keeps me raw and alive! Imagine a shaman’s shop right next door to a doctor’s office. Finest arabica coffee shops tucked inside 100 year old mansions. During my week long vacation, I have made it a point to lose myself by wandering back in time in the interiors of the three historic cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur. Then, off I travel to the exteriors of the valley’s lush green hills, hopping from one village to another while taking in the sights of the majestic Himalayas to the north.”
With its year-round fantastic weather, Kathmandu is a haven for any wanderlust. With its stimulating, serpentine alleys, back streets full of blast from the past, and welcoming cafes around each corner, Kathmandu has become THE perfect place to lose yourself. In-fact ‘wanderlust’ (losing yourself in aimless wandering) has become ‘THE thing to do’ for travelers from all around the world. From wandering off to the towering 2,000 meter lush green mountains (locals call them ‘hills’) around the valley to watching the tallest mountains of the world and strolling by the centuries-old architecture and culture, Kathmandu has become all about pausing and rewinding yourself in this “distracted-fast forwarding” world, a city of wanderlust.”
Citizen’s Mantra: ‘Wander in Kathmandu to find yourself.’
Kathmandu: A city of common sense.
“A city filled with common sense? Really? Just 15 years ago when I walked in this very city, bandhs (forced strikes) had been a regular abomination. A city that would be shut down on the whim of a politician, a thug or a few rowdy locals, with tens of thousands of demoralized police helplessly watching as mobs ran rampant. Who would have thought common sense would again prevail in Kathmandu? I look around today.This city is now open, humble, safe and inviting! It seems, Common-sense prevails on and off the streets.”
After the earthquake in 2015, citizens adopted a zero-tolerance policy against Bandhs and started actively supporting local police and youth groups to make sure all of Kathmandu Valley to be a bandh-free zones. Political forces which encouraged bandhas were taught a painful lessons in the elections. Common-sense charters popped up in neighborhoods making a new social norm that focused on social ostracizing for all who dare to stray. Humility, empathy, civic sense and integrity remains the corner-stone of a set of ‘common-sense’ values practiced by every citizen here and taught to every child. “Common-sense education” seems to be the cornerstone of education in all primary schools improved upon by “civic-sense education” system in secondary schools in Kathmandu. People of all genders and age feel safe and dignified to go about their daily business, anywhere and anytime because they know that common sense prevails all around.
Citizen’s mantra: ‘Common sense IS common (in Kathmandu)’
Kathmandu, the start-up capital of Asia!
As I step inside a cafe recommended by a friend, I see photo frames of handshakes and hugs between renowned artists-innovators-investors on the walls. I have been told this cafe has turned many crazy ideas into a prosperity generating engines. Positivity is in the air. The locals and the foreigners here seem to be talking about ideas, plans, dreams and teams. Language doesn’t seem to be a barrier as I must have heard at least 10 different languages in the last 10 minutes! I can’t help feel that I have come to the right place to infuse myself with ‘positivity’ and ‘passion’.
In 2030, entrepreneurship seems to be in everyone’s DNA in Kathmandu. The catastrophic earthquake of 2015 transformed a whole generation of Nepalis to be crisis managers, impulsive risk-takers and passionate doers. Empowering youths to innovate has been critical to injecting ‘vibrancy’ into Kathmandu. Localized, decentralized and effective and a million mentors strong network of ‘Entrepreneurs for Nepal built over the last 20 years has ensured a credible entrepreneurial ecosystems providing Nepali & Nepal centric entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, and networks necessary to start and expand businesses. Local mentoring clubs in Kathmandu regularly match local youths with elders to shape their future. Venture funds, angel investors, impact funds and global community with ideas and guts have all poured into the city to tap into local talents. Innovation, competition and disruption is the name of the game! The explosion of this start-up culture has made Kathmandu into the “start-up” capital of Asia.
Citizen’s mantra: ‘Start-up, scale up, invest on or die trying’
As I finish reading Time magazine article in the year 2030, I am still struck by this city’s remarkable transformation. A news alert beeps on my device, “...In other news, Paris has just announced its plans to get technical support from Kathmandu to revamp its city life.”
I would like to hear “your ideas” for building Kathmandu the most beautiful city in the world. Please post your thoughts below. Thank you BibekSheel Nepali Vision team and Srijana Chhetri, Sagar Onta, Raj Maharjan, Krishna Chhetri, Jagannath Kafle and more for helping.