ENDANGERED CAPITALS

In this article, we take a look at three nations with colossal capitals facing equally colossal challenges.

In an earlier article, we had a look at four developing economies which have either relocated their capital city or are in the process of doing so.

In this article, we take a look at three nations with colossal capitals facing equally colossal challenges.

It may be a good idea for some of these countries to relocate the seats of their governments, but in each case this idea has so far only been voiced in very small circles—in general no high-level decisions have been made about the relocation of the capitals o any of the countries mentioned below.


Mexico City

Mexico city by night. Credit: Shutterstock / BondRocketImages


The largest and most populous city in Mexico is also the nation's administrative capital.

The population of Greater Mexico City, which lies in the famous Valley of Mexico, is well over 21 million, according to the most recent estimates.

Such an astronomical number of people living in a single city can result in all sorts of problems, ranging from pollution and crime to the overburdening of public transportation and shortages in parking spaces.

Mexico City has been grappling with these issues and more for the best part of four decades.

What is more, Mexico is prone to devastating earthquakes, so decentralizing measures such as separating the seat of the government and the nation's largest business hub, seem like logical precautionary moves.

In as early as 1987, Jorge Castaneda, in an article published by the Los Angeles Times, suggested that Mexico should be on the look out for a new administrative capital.

Some 33 years on Castaneda's idea still makes sense, but Mexico City is still surviving, albeit a little under strain.


Tehran

Credit: Shutterstock / vanchai tan


Many will be surprised to learn that Tehran, the capital of an old country such as Iran, is indeed one of the youngest cities in the nation.

The historical capitals of Iran include Esfahan, Shiraz, and Tabriz, among many others, which are now all megacities in their own right.

The then-small township of Tehran was chosen as the new seat of the government circa 1800 by the Turco-Persian dynasty of Qajar thanks to its reassuring distance from Ottomans and their borders, with whom Qajar Iran waged wars continually.

But, in its relatively short history, the megacity has ballooned up to become the largest city in Western Asia. With Greater Tehran housing well over 10 million, the city suffers from overpopulation, ageing infrastructure, nerve-racking traffic jams, and seasonal air pollution.

Although dozens of expressways and metro lines crisscross Tehran, commuting across the city can take hours.

Back in 2013, Al Jazeera wrote that “The Iranian parliament (…) voted to consider a proposal to pick another city as the nation's capital, potentially moving the seat of government from overcrowded Tehran,” though not much has happened since then nor has anyone heard about the construction of a new capital.

Chances are that Tehran will continue to serve as the seat of the Iranian government for the foreseeable future.


New Delhi

Credit: Shutterstock / Naresh Sharma


The city of New Delhi, or at least its “New” part, was built from scratch during the British Raj to replace Calcutta as the old administrative capital of India. The city was planned by distinguished British architects, Edwin Lutyens, and Herbert Baker in the early 1910s.

Though many secretariat buildings gradually moved to New Delhi starting in 1912, the new capital was not formally inaugurated until 1931.

Much, however, has happened since then: India's independence in 1847; industrial enterprises taking root in New Delhi in the 1960s; and the city's exponential growth in a manner that its designers had never foreseen.

The city was designed to house around half a million people, but it is now home to 18 million souls, at the cost of a worryingly low quality of life for the public.

New Delhi suffers from poor air quality, and the public transportation leaves a great deal to be desired. This has prompted some to ask “should India move its national capital once again?”

New Delhi's manifold problems in terms of life quality are unlikely to be solved overnight, but stopping to act as the administrative capital and housing all branches of the government can certainly be a relief for the city.

Perhaps looking for another administrative capital is not a bad idea after all, although the issue will be fraught with political complications in a country such as India. Another worry is the humongous sum needed for building a capital city from scratch.