A conclave of architects, developers and urban planners at the Connext Bangalore Dialogue voiced fear, anguish and dismay at our urban spaces and stressed the need to incorporate liveability in planning.

The only open spaces in Bangalore by 2030 would be the roads! By the same year, a quarter of Mumbai’s space would be covered by cars. INTACH says Delhi has lost 21 lakes since 1997. Sparrows have vanished from Bangalore’s skies while Mumbai has no butterflies. Bangalore had 265 water bodies in 1972. Less than a hundred of them survive today. Those that vanished have taken away nearly 79 per cent of the watery surface of the city.

Our cities have grown sick and in the name of development we are contributing to their decay. Vadodara architect Karan Grover, who landed in Bangalore last week, drove to Whitefield and travelled back to his hotel suite in the Central Business District, and counted 500 hoardings on the route traversed. The hoardings were promising heaven on earth to buyers of homes and properties. But looking at the retreat of greenery from Bangalore, he could not remain without asking: Is it development or decay?

Speaking at the Connext Bangalore Dialogue, a conclave of architects, developers and landscape artists, held last week, Grover rued that no city has been spared from ruination since the dawn of liberalisation.

Grover says one of the five cardinal principles of ancient Indian architecture was ‘to provide delight’, which is totally missing from the pattern of development adopted by Indian cities now. “Cities are losing their DNA. All the regimes that ruled India since eternity were concerned about integrating nature with living spaces. Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, who developed Vadodara 120 years ago, created ample lung spaces in the city. Tipu Sultan, who set up the Summer Palace in Bangalore, called it ‘the envy of Paradise’. But look at Mumbai: 60 per cent of the space in that city is covered with slums. So overbuilt is the city today that there exist no channels for water to flow out. The 2005 floods in Mumbai left around a thousand people dead, while 35,000 heads of cattle were washed away. It is greed that drives the development, not the concern for eco-effectiveness and comfortable living,” laments Grover.

Four essentials

Naresh V. Narasimhan of Venkataraman Associates feels that architects should not confine themselves to merely planning buildings but even the spaces between buildings. But this aspect has been totally ignored by the community. Referring to the early planning of Bangalore around its foundation in 1537, Narasimhan says the city within the mud fort comprised Kote, Pete, Kere and Thota (Fort, Market, Lake and Garden) and provided harmony with nature with inclusion of elements like the lake and garden. He says Bangalore is unique in the sense that it has serially flowering trees which lend myriad hues to the city through all seasons. “Yet when it comes to urban design, we are found totally deficient. External space is as important as the internal space.”

Ravindra Kumar from Strada Architecture says Bangalore is a victim of excessive migration from all over the country which has only intensified the race to sell space without any care and concern for the environment. But the situation is not without hope. Kumar says ITPL was a game-changer and brought in the elements of smart cities. The future cities would have to essentially address the challenge of being ‘smart and sustainable’ with people walking to work and a sustainable ecosystem.

Syed Beary of Bearys Group says the Group had taken the initial steps towards sustainable development by coming up with the Bearys Global Research Triangle in Whitefield. The project does away with the sick building syndrome by capturing 90 per cent daylight without heat gain. He says it saves 54 per cent of energy, enables 84 per cent floor efficiency, and accounts for 41 per cent saving on water usage. Overall, it results in 40 per cent savings on the operating cost. Beary says 50 of the Fortune 500 companies operate out of Bangalore and energy efficiency could be imagined if sustainability principles were incorporated in developments.

Sujit Kumar of KlimArt says Bangalore has registered a 632 per cent increase in the built-up area between 1973 and 2009 and has the dubious distinction of losing its wellness quotient at the fastest pace. “The city had 265 water bodies in 1972. Of the total watery surface, 79 per cent per cent has been lost during the intervening years. We have rubbed those lifelines called Rajakaluves that sustained the lakes of the city. Consequently, the lakes are turning into cesspools. A city lives and grows when people breathe easy. But we are intent upon degrading and mutilating the very resources that sustain us. The challenge before the developers is how to offer lasting value for buyers,” he sums up.

If you have the will…

Karan Grover dismisses the scope for pessimism. Given the will, a difference can be made to the cities. He refers to the redevelopment around Gotri Lake in Vadodara and the Bhindi Bazaar redevelopment in Mumbai. Grover and his team were instrumental in advising the redevelopment of slums around the Gotri Lake while raising the funds from among the slum dwellers. He gives credit to the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) for conceiving redevelopment plans for the 18-acre Bhindi Bazaar in the heart of Mumbai where 250 old and decrepit buildings are being demolished to raise 17 high-rise towers to resettle the 1,200 business and businessmen families. Grover, who worked for 30 years in getting the medieval city of Champaner the UNESCO’s World Heritage status, says “We don’t need to learn anything about green movement from the West. It’s all there in our architectural heritage.”

Angela Lm Alessi, environmental design consultant from Ecosustainable Group, says function, order, identity and beauty were essential elements of architecture. The new urbanism must embrace the concept of providing all essentials of life within walkable distance.

Participants in the conclave stressed the need to curb the growth of Bangalore and build economic counter-magnets in order to take the development to other regions of the State. There was consensus that care for environment should go along with saleable space.