Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lift and Deepen

An Indian billionaire has taken a cold, hard look at his life, and figured out what was missing from it:

Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man, has plans to build a 570-foot, 27-story skyscraper in Mumbai as a home for his six-person family, a stark contrast to the city's many crowded slums. Some planners predict similar skyscraper projects will follow.

"The building, named Antilla after a mythical island, will have a total floor area greater than Versailles and be home for Mr Ambani, his mother, wife, three children and 600 full-time staff."
Speaking of crowded slums, overcrowding among England’s dead has led urban planners to consider a sort of reverse Antilla:
In a technique called "lift and deepen" old graves will be deepened with room for up to six new coffins to be placed on top of the older remains.
Six? It’s a start, but I think they ought to be thinking at least as big as Mr. Ambani. There’s no obvious reason why these subterranean tenements shouldn’t go further and fare better. Or perhaps they could form the basement levels of a skyscraper that'd house dead people who are accustomed to the finer things in life.

An article by Debbie Woodell discusses further challenges posed by the population boom among the dead (they multiply like rabbits, you know):
Some cemeteries barely make ends meet and have to rely on unconventional ways to pay the bills (200-year-old Congressional Cemetery, in the shadows of Capitol Hill in Washington, rents itself out as a dog park). Others long ago fell into serious disrepair, and many of these turn into havens for vandalism and other crimes.
The main exceptions, as Ms. Woodell notes, are cemeteries whose residents draw tourists. Which makes me think that the best way to revitalize our ailing cemeteries is to acquire some corpses of substance.

Great individuals, we understand, are citizens of the world. Why shouldn’t their remains be sold to the highest-bidding city, or bought by private collectors who’d then lease or donate them in the name of civic betterment? Why should the bones of Henri Landru molder in France, when they could be a boon to tourism in, say, Fort Stockton, Texas? And why should Adam Smith languish in a socialist backwater like Scotland, when he could be installed in Lake Havasu City, within sight of London Bridge?

That leaves the question of what can we do with the underachieving dead. I suggest that their ashes be used as a building material for monuments to the powerful. It'd be a sort of trickle-down arrangement, in which the great provide an opportunity for the little people to make themselves useful.

(The illustration at top is from John Ronan's plan for a municipal mausoleum behind the Chicago Post Office, which he based on Arnold Boecklin's "Isle of the Dead.")

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I heard this news a week back,I really got upset with him..I'd great respect with him as a businessman,but personally I feel he taken a wrong decision to spend $1bn on his new house.Most of the Indians well aware about Mumbai's traffics and the slums.I wonder how the state government given approval for this building..
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