Riverfront Development- Ahmedabad
- October 30, 2013
Something that your eyes could discern in a minute, is lost to those who gaze at it every day. Its a bit like the emperors new cloths. We will or are forced to see things that don’t exist and equally willed to not see what does exist.
So whats wrong with the river front development at Ahmedabad?
a.The river was a dry perennial river and its conversion into an impounded tank, filled with water from another river, changes its essential character. Its a bit like piling a lot of ice in the middle of a sand dessert and hoping it will be a cool , mountain region. When you change the essential in ecology, the question is never if it can be done, ( mans arrogance has always led him to believe that he can change anything) but the question is why is it even needed, and what will we lose, and what will we gain. This is a fine debate and can be answered only partially through long and detailed ecological studies and modelling and a lot by observation of a phenomena over the years, leaving space for correction. Both that has not or cannot happen, because of the severity of the solution.
b.What it hence does is that it destroys an ecology of fauna, avi fauna, of the waters edge, of seasonality, but one is unclear what it replaces it with.
c. The other thing that’s wrong is that it culturally breaks a bond with the city. The river was a theatre of the cities life. In the dry months, the bed was used to house melas, circuses, do agriculture, for children of impoverished families to use it as a play ground….the memories of these activities , made the river what it was;the complete termination of this in full , is its failing.
d. The severity of the concrete aside- we must ask, that even if this was a way forward- and its not; what could have been done? The concrete then has to be seen as a stage, a theatre, on which many activities can be held – but as is apparent from the large 3-d renderings of the development, other than aimlessly sitting, there is no imagination in this theatre. As you well know, the Bal Gandharva in Pune is a theatre that has a sense of atmospherics, a sense of anticipation, and its then the play that lives up to this anticipation or exceeds it- here the the theater is poor, the stage is un- imaginative, and hence the enactment of the play limited. So without going in long detail , since the point is simple- its this- does the development really imagine many activities and their detailed occurrences, and provide for it- staging of concerts, plays, fairs, living on the water, experiencing the water in many ways, in many seasons , etc. and the answer is no. That such activities will occur is not by design, but by default. After all in a country starved of open spaces, even traffic islands become public parks,
e. Then we have to ask, what does it do for flora. Does it allow a well constructed thought process about where does a grove occur, where an avenue, where a thicket, where a grassland, where a waters edge planting, and what species are good for insects, butterflies, birds, flower colour etc. and the answer here to is that there is no such thought at all.
f. We then have to ask if its safe for children, convenient for the aged, and a quick look at the gaps in the railings, the lack of ramps or lifts, is another problem.
g. Then we have to look at lighting- since rivers are lovely in the night- and to see a completely unimaginative thinking of hammering poles all over so that its a landscape of metal pipes, is a bit limited.
h. So then we have to ask what was the way out, even if this was the conception, however poor it is- well , I imagine one would have done a section, completed it , seen how it acted and improved and made corrections- the sheer arrogance to imagine the rightness of the solution with no real and meaningful public participation, and to hammer it along both sides is amazing.
i. The issue of time is important. here the river has been usurped from a entire generation of children and people- for over a decade or so- its become a construction site- and not accessible to people, other than to gaze from bridges- to say that for a long time a public space is barred – seems a bit unfair. There could be more sensitivity about this.
j. I don’t want to talk about the nature of real estate that will come up, nor about the settlement of people who lived along the river- since I don’t know that well enough.
k. So does it do anything right ? Yes it does- it lays intercepting sewers and pipes that don’t allow the cities garbage to come in the river bed, and go straight to a treatment plant- but then all that was needed were sewers and pipes- that could have been done anyways. But this is its greatest achievement.
l.So finally can it be saved? All things can be- but for it to happen, it will need the same will that made it to exist, to save it- and before that we will have to be able to assess it , talk about it fairly and introspect on what needs to be done.
m. So in my mind, for an able and sensitive administrator, what this development shows, is how it should not be done, and other rivers in the country will have space to develop better manners and ways.
I can quite appreciate your disorientation;rather so often when a design response or a spatial response is not in consonance with what can be considered as being derived from the appreciation of a sense of place, the resulting entity can be a bit confusing.
This has started to happen increasingly in our cities which seem to be rather carelessly breaking all cultural and ecological connections even where greatly possible.
One must then learn to make sense of such things and not get too worried about what is, but really start as a designer by thinking what could be.
To this , its always a good idea to begin with first principles.
In this case if I were in your predicament, and as confused, i would start by asking and then researching some simple questions:
a. What kind or river am I dealing with? What is its behavior ?
b.Historically, what have been the ways that river edges have been dealt with ? And in specific how do they deal with the ebb and flow of the high flood levels and the normal levels?
c. What kind of spaces have been possible to create along its edge? How are they used?
d. What is this learning of riverine ecology ? Why is the ecology of the space where the water meets the land so important ? What happens here? What kinds of plants grow? And birds breed ?And what about insects and fish life?
e. Can the river allow , people to use it as a mode of transport ? Or even live on the river ?
f. What is the cultural connection of the river with the town/inhabitants? How can this be enforced and not defaced?
g.How can be river be kept clean?
h. What is the river ? It is not just a little section that flows in your town- but one that starts some where in the hills, and finally meets another river or the sea? Do understand all of it ecologically and see what this means in the section you are working on? ( Do see on our website a LEAF document on the Sabarmati river)
i. What about the river bed ? Its not a saucer of water, but a dynamic space where water flows, dries ,sometimes full, sometimes the bed exposed. What can happen here ?
These and such are fundamental questions. One can then go on and start asking many others such as:
a. How does one approach the river?
b. What kind of other related development is needed for such a project ?
c. What does the development mean in terms of the cities open space network?
d. What does this development mean to the fabric of the over all city’s development?
etc. One can go one, and the more you ask possible questions and the more you think about them and answer them will you be clearer.
Always look for examples and I for one would ofcourse suggest that you must see the many ghats in the country. Benaras/Ujjain/Maheshwar etc. and in these are really all the lessons you really need.The Holkar Ghats if I remember the name correctly ,in Pune though small are a wonderful example too.The ghats in Nashik, before the new horrendous improvement were lovely too. But over and above the built edges , you must see the more gentler edges where earth meets water, and a new world is created.
Internationally ofcourse there are many different and good examples. The waters edge at Sydney, or on the Yarra River in Melbourne are lovely, as is the more built and not so vibrant edge at Singapore, and the many parts of the River Seine in Paris offer rich learning’s. The one at Ahmedabad was meant to be modeled after this, but clearly a lot got lost in translation.
Do also see the 200 plus mile story of the Thames, in England,to understand the many different moods and meanings it has along its way, at many locations, how the ecology has been understood, what is the cultural relation etc.
And do make sure that your work is a gracious, mature,and evolved result of all this thinking.
All the very best and Happy Diwali
Landscapes in Devastated Lands
October 30, 2013
Not many months back, on the edge of Mumbai in Bhiwandi. an old client , desired to do a series of shelters for the devotees who walk to the Sai Baba Temple in Nashik- this was to be a mid way halt. It was to have shelters , a
November 14, 2013
We are back from Diwali; was a long sleepy ten days. Most restful. The city is wonderful with just the right amount of people in it- most having left town to holiday somewhere. It would be wonderful if we could work out a mechanism where the same percentage