Making the World and thoughts on City planning

Being a designer, one of the biggest design assignment that you can hope to work on, is the world. However, that job has been already earmarked to “God” with special powers with none with as much talent! :). The rest of us are left to work on the habitable places and create cities, homes, things that go into the homes, things that we wear or how we travel. We can also design the processes which help us to live this life better or more comfortably.

Last week, we studied about five cities and how they developed. Cities, which are the physical representations of need of people to live and work together, create a safe and social environment; have today grown to some place other than that.We took Eixample, a district in Barcelona. Eixample means “extension”, designed by architect, Cerde.

Ildeforns Cerde succeeded in building a plan for a city in that has found itself today after a 150 years as one of the most dense in the world in terms of population (351 people per hectare), dwellings( 230 dwellings per hectare)  and car (140 cars per hectare), with the least amount of private space. His idealized version of a road with chamfered edges created to provide ease of movement of carriage ways, has been challenged by the behavior of the citizens and their growing need of parking spaces who use the open space provided by the plan for double parking of  40% vehicles on the street. He perhaps never imagined how the horse carriages, people & bicycles would be replaced by traffic so dense and the noise it brings to its millions of residents of its numerous apartment blocks.  But then forecasting for 100 years over itself is challenging.

eixample _traffic

The open space left by him intentionally has today become of sea of traffic separating each  mid rise apartment block from the other. Crossing a street from one block to another effortlessly is supposedly a challenge, much less amble or cycle effortlessly as depicted in this 1908 video. However, close by is “The Rambles”,a lively street, which is connected to Eixample.

arterial_roads_eixampleThen my mind wandered off to Renaissance fortress city Palmanova, which was designed circular. Mumbai too, which is extended linearly top and bottom and now is exploring eastwards. Its brought me strong appreciation for Lutyens Delhi. The New Delhi area here is rather well designed with a circle of greenery between each block. Whatever may have been the suburban catastrophe, is balanced by the “clean and green” design of Central Delhi. Just one wish, that they complete the metro work soon, so that we can live to appreciate it.

The Colour of Light and Air


Top two pictures: Old Delhi, Red Fort Area at Night. Bottom Left: Turkman  Gate, Old Delhi. Bottom right: Emporio Mall, Delhi

After the first impression that I got last week after stepping in Delhi, it took ten days to look at some of the brighter sides.

While the wide roads had distanced people and reassembled them into groups, most of the youth looked exactly the same. Most women had long hair, wearing leggings or  slacks with boots.

The metro rail had masses of smartphone totting people, who were extremely warm and cordial. It seemed like a different world underground than what was on the roads above.

While some “sculptures” and “mosaics” apparently made in the name of beautification were horrendous to say the least. (Thats why no pictures here!), but a chance visit to NGMA revealed a better management of art sculptures. (but no camera that day!)

jan2 jan3

Top: Delhi park on a misty morning. Middle left: foggy journey starts. Middle right: A Red wattled Lapwing goes for a morning walk as well. Bottom: Toll Plaza at Gurgaon at mid day

Weather has dramatically shifted from chilling decembers to killing january and the last I heard, the temperature was 1 deg Celsius. Fog and mist stay for a longer part of the day and most of the night. While Delhi recorded the lowest temperature in 44 yrs, the cold wave has taken over most of North India. As the icy chill cripples my hand, it is an accomplishment to have created this post. Time for central heating of homes!


Delhi Blues – II

Cold foggy day in the capital. Something known as smog, when the air pollution mixes with the fog and creates an unpleasant blanket. The best part today was undoubtedly the sighting of a flock of black winged stilts, which seemed to have found an oasis in a collection of water in a nearby park. This park was earlier the only piece of green in the concrete around and very recent. So its interesting that these birds have found some use of the otherwise unused patch. Morning walkers still amble around maintaining the same unfriendly faces that is now a hallmark of all cities developing into big. Chauffers of thier sedans wait outside the park with a smug expression as if comparing notes on whose boss’s car is bigger. Why do people drive for a walk?

Delhi Blues

Delhi is the city I grew up in, so a holiday break here after years of staying away was something to look forward to. The first thing we encountered early morning was a thick layer of fog. The train as many others on that route got delayed by three hours, which is common.
Delhi is also known as a city of thugs. The average delhite or “dilliwala” as they are known, has learnt to live with this reality among other disadvantages. So, the porter thug asked for only Rs 100 to carry a bag till the exit, which was best refused. Next challenge was to reach my destination. Had it been Mumbai, there would be no concern to travel and the amount would be resonable, but in Delhi even that is a challenge. More so, as a crowd of protesters in the central India gate area had given the police the chance to close all arterial roads around, so we took some peripary road and after some permutations and combinations reached after a couple of hours. The only other hold up was the crossing of the mayor or one of the other many govt officials, with a cavalcade and a beeping red light on top of the car, that delhietes have began to dread. These hold ups generally last around 15 to 20 min. The higher the hierarchy, the longer the hold up and the more the traffic piles up.
We finaly move on. All around is like a blanket of dust and dirt. Whether the buildings or the flyovers or the hoardings. It sometimes feels that you are looking through a screen of smoke. The cars have quadrupled over last decade, with the typical “delliwala” nonchalant attitude, of couldnt-care -less about the city as far as the luxury sedan was comfy inside.
The mind drifts back to Goa, no one seems to be in a hurry, everyone is warm and courteous to each other. The sky is actually blue and not smoky. The trees are green and fresh. Then I remember also the vivid image of a kindergarten techer sweeping off hay from the stage, where we practiced for a nursery play. And wonder how many people living in the so called cities find it below thier dignity to hold and use a broom in public. Ofcourse, Goa is not India, its someplace else.
Delhi also has a great number of consumers with GDP figures to envy the rest of the country. One visit to the group of malls at vasant kunj is enough to get a glimpse of the buying behaviour. There are three malls here arranged in order of thier affordability. The premium mall has an entry fee to keep away windowshoppers. Thats where you can get your LVs, Dior and other global brands.
All in all, it a culture I cant identify with anylonger. Delhi has transformed into this giant mass of unknown faces, each wanting to outdo the other, pushing, elbowing, treading on others spaces and encroaching on whatever is possible. It lacks the beauty of a city, the culture of a civilisation and human concern, which is so basic to existence. It makes up by being a center of power, authority and decision making being a capital city, but sadly nothing more looks attractive.

The "New" Delhi dissected

View from metro station at Barakhamba road

Last week in Delhi was an interesting trip. After spending years living there,  this visit made me suddenly feet like a tourist, or rather an outsider.
The pretext of commonwealth games seem to have changed the essence of Delhi in some ways. Mainly infrastructural. Traversing through the city, I noticed little changes all around. And some big visible changes too. For one, the roads seem to have overtaken the city landscape. Roads and the signages. Everywhere were these steel frames either as signages, or huge hoardings. Or the steel was in the underpasses, bridges or the underground pathways… some of them simply spouting up with no reason. Acting as self imposed  barriers between the city and people.

In middle of the green patch near Aiims was this monstrosity of a “contemporary” steel sculpture like alien water bubbles suspended in time. My mind often went wondering what the locals in Delhi would be thinking each time they crossed this. Inspite of my design background, I couldn’t understand why and  I couldn’t relate to this..could they?

But there were those little changes. In CP, suddenly I noticed a building that one had heard about but never noticed before. “Mohan singhs place”. Saw the sign and exclaimed ” oh so thats where it was!’ ..its another matter that the visual image of such places is generally dirty, dusty with paan stains around. Then saw bhikaji cama place and the little detail of the tiled steps was the new feature, but did nothing to enhance the building. Going back to CP, suddenly the hanuman temple, the gurudwara, the church and the mosque were back in the landscape, haven been hidden behind clutter for too long.

Near the old priya cinema was the most interesting development of all. And it was sponsored privately.There are these three wheel taxi cars with huge branding on the roof. One could call for these colourful, futuristically styled vehicle to your doorstep for local travel. Didn’t get to try it, but it was rather cute.

The red and green buses, which were once inaugurated with much funfare….drove around the inner roads with the same ruthlessness as before. They are only now larger devils.You can change the vehicles, but can you change the people?

Another development was the lighting style outside the presidents estate when you travel from cp crossing willingdon crescent (now renamed mother teresa crescent 😦 ).But what were those tiny lion sculptures all around? reminded me of quietly poised lion cubs or a lion shrunk to 25% its size. The concept was good…but somehow the lion size was too small to indicate power.And do people really walk about and sit on those stone benches propped overlooking the notorious ridge??

Well….whoever…has done whatever in Delhi over this “commonwealth” infrastructural and “beautification” scene….mixed feelings for that…. but yes…its not the Delhi I remember. Neither its a Delhi I can relate to now. Maybe it has its rewards with the growing population over a period of time and a preparation for the next 20 odd years by some wise team of urban planners…but surely the essence has been brought out as cold, distant and alien for now. Is this the future?

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