Is Madurai still the Athens of the East?

N. Ramalingam, from the The Indian Institute of Architects, comes out with suggestions to make Madurai a likable, livable and lovable city.

November 02, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 08:48 am IST - Madurai

N. Ramalingam.— Photo: G. Moorthy

N. Ramalingam.— Photo: G. Moorthy

The Smart Cities Mission may well provide the defining moment for Madurai. Urban planners look at it as an opportunity to restore the glory of the city. Vice-chairman of Tamil Nadu Chapter of The Indian Institute of Architects N. Ramalingam comes out with suggestions to make Madurai a likable, livable and lovable city.

“We all refer to Madurai as the Athens of the East without understanding its significance,” says Mr. Ramalingam. Athens had the Greek pantheon located at an elevated plane which could be seen from anywhere in the city. Similarly, Madurai had the lofty towers of Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple till concrete structures hid their view. “Now, about a majority of buildings have violated the heritage rule of nine metres in height.” The temple towers can be made visible by cracking down on all structures that are over nine metres tall.

Another distinct feature of Greek and Roman cities was the provision of pedestrian walkways and lanes for single vehicle and two vehicles. The two-lane roads were mostly located on the outskirts. “The original structure of Madurai gives preference only for pedestrians.”

Mr. Ramalingam insists that free flow of traffic on city roads should be brought down. “Vehicles can be re-routed clockwise and anti-clockwise on important roads and streets so that they can reach the adjoining areas through the multiple connecting streets.” The burden of parking of vehicles is of recent origin. The challenges posed by development of business and commerce to the infrastructure can be met by Madurai Corporation by operating mechanised multi-level parking lots at select places.

People should be able to reach a place after parking their vehicles within 10 minutes, he says. For those who cannot walk, battery cars and decorated jutkas or rickshaws should be provided.

Gobbling up of urban open space by buildings is his major concern. “Loss of valuable open space alienates the resident from the city,” he says. “We need open spaces as public hangouts in different scales at different levels. Absence of open space has created an urban illness,” he says.

“We need to adopt a blue-green approach, taking care of both environment and water sources, towards urban regeneration. One such initiative will be development of the five-km-long riverbanks as riverfront.”

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