Role of Flowers and Bands in Urban Aesthetics

By: Saad S. Khan*
One of the greatest transitions in human habitat owing to the industrial revolution in the past two centuries is the phenomenon of urbanization. Meaning thereby, that while two centuries ago, at the advent of the industrial revolution, only 6% of the humanity lived in cities; today the proportion has risen ten fold to over 60 percent. By the end of the present century, people living in towns will be around 83 percent. The urbanites are further expected to rise to 94 percent in another hundred years. Hence, by the year 2210, the complete reversal of proportionate share between the urban-rural denizens is likely to be effected. This emerging demographic shift has far reaching implications on human life and livability. The latter term signifies the convenience of living at a certain point in time and space
The urban life is characterized by strong vertical growth, fast technological development and a higher quality of life, which are the positive aspects of urbanization. Concomitantly, there is a flip side of the coin that the city life has brought certain unpleasantries with it too. Traffic jams, air pollution, urban anonymity, street crime, and highly stressful life, to name a few, are some of the negatives in city life.
When most human living was in the countryside, the human being was close to nature, close to natural sources of water, close to clean air and close to greenery. Hence, in the pre-industrial revolution era, the human race survived for thousands of years without access to modern health facilities, primarily because the above factors ensured a fairly healthy lifestyle for the human beings. The city life tended to take nature away from the humankind. The city life is fast, mechanical and relies heavily on man-made resources rather than natural ones.
The idea of “garden city” was first floated in 1898 in Britain by the town planners, and by 1902, had become fairly widely accepted as a basis of building new cities. In 1903, when the Wright brothers conducted the first test flight of an aeroplane, the emergence of the garden city concept was touted as one of the two greatest leaps in human progress at par with the invention of air travel.
Blue Flowers (left) and Blue uniforms of US Marines Corps Band (right)
The basic idea behind the garden city concept is bringing city closer to the Nature and bring the Nature closer to the city. If city is green and eco friendly, it has a direct positive bearing with the livability (i.e. convenience of living) in the city, as well as on the food self sufficiency for the citizens. Lately, “urban aesthetics” has emerged as a separate ranch of urban studies and, no need to underline, the flowers and plants add to the beauty of the city. In fact, Islamabad’s Greek master planner was deeply influenced by the garden city concept and this is reflected in the design of this city with green areas between all the sectors of the town, one third of the Islamabad’s territorial limits being designated as the national park area, and finally, one portion of Islamabad being dedicated to farms purportedly for fruit and vegetables self sufficiency.

Urban aesthetics encompasses the sense of beauty in a city in every sense of the word. Although, city aesthetics cannot be restricted to its floriculture, or more widely, its horticulture, but they do play a pivotal role in it. The urban aesthetics includes color themes for different parts of the city, the color scheme of its taxis, buses and railways, the uniforms of its police force and other municipal administrators, and the landscaping of road sides, crossings and roundabouts.

One of the most important problems of the city, which are often little recognized, are the sight and noise pollution. True, air pollution is a great environmental challenge, but so is the sight pollution manifest in the ugly bill boards, asymmetric built up areas, and unpalatable facades of shops and markets on road front. Add to it the noise pollution through the din of city roads.

Red Roses (right) contrast with Queen’s Own Royal Band (left) in UK
There are a number of tools for improving the aesthetics of a city and primarily they all boil down to color scheming of the city. Nothing can undo a city’s ugliness of modernity than the flowers, and nothing can cancel out the city noise than the introduction of marching bands. Floriculture in Pakistan has always been weak, and barring Islamabad capital city and portions of Karachi and Lahore, the concept of adoring city landscapes with flowers has not dawned upon Pakistani cities. Likewise, the concept of Town Hall bands, university bands, and any city’s distinctive brass bands, do not exist.

Still, Pakistan’s armed forces has a very competent and impressive music corps, trained from the Army School of Music, Abbotabad. Each Regiment of the Infantry has a brass band while all other corps have a brass band with their regimental center. In all, Pakistan has 240 bands in the armed forces and an equal number in the private sector.

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad has a horticulture directorate that looks after the flowering of road sides in Islamabad but does not have any directorate of marching music. However, this is compensated by the fact that the district police in Islamabad has a very fine ceremonial band with graceful summer and winter uniforms. Combining flowers and music was initiated by the Islamabad Horticultural Society (I.H.S) back in the early 1980’s when the ceremonial band of Islamabad Police was a regular feature providing background music in the opening and closing ceremonies of the annual spring flower show and the annual autumn flower show at the Rose and Jasmine Garden in Islamabad.

Kenya Navy Band (left) is as white as are the African Lilly flowers (right)

Lately, the CDA started its experience in combining music with garden, when a regular feature was started at every Saturday in the Fatima Jinnah Park where the Pipe Band of Islamabad Police or any other orchestra plays tunes in the Baradari facing the F-10 Markaz entrance of the Park. Another open area where greenery and music merge with architecture and water fountains is the National Monument near Zero Point in Islamabad, where the combined brass band of all three armed forces plays in the flag lowering ceremony at 6 pm every weekend. In addition, the army bands play in other public events such as welcome ceremony for any visiting head of state in the gardens of the Aiwan-e-Sadar and the military bands playing in public ceremonies such as the Olympics torch ceremony, horse and cattle show, Pakistan day parades and defence day Melas at army grounds.
For a city to be livable here have to be more green areas adorned with colorful flower beds and more occasions where the brass bands play publicly. The riot colors of blooming flowers are a treat for the eyes and the melodies of brass bands are same for the ears. Both are essential components of urban aesthetics and the more they are, the more livable a city is.
The challenge is to match the color of flowers and that of band of uniforms has to be consonant with the wider color themes that the decision makers determine for different localities in the city and its suburbs. Islamabad was once ranked the 12th most livable city in Asia; no doubt its greenery had a part to play in it being likeable. Let’s hope the CDA will also raise an Islamabad brass band to play at least on the city’s anniversary in February each year and to give a musical identity to the capital city.

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