City Ecology: An Architect’s Perspective, by Jitesh Malik

[The facts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and have not been verified or endorsed by the project team in any way]

Chandigarh in its plan has left ‘wide open spaces’ for socio-cultural and ecological processes to flourish at many levels, both in its physical spaces and in the intentions of planning. The open hand at the Capitol Complex was envisioned as one of those democratic spaces, where groups could gather and introspect the directions of the future of the city. It is only now that we are able to evoke and reclaim those spaces from the ‘power centres of democracy’. The plaza that was supposed to be flat and accessible by common people has been claimed by the powerful, in our case it became the parking lot of the judges of the High Court – how ironic!

 The ongoing efforts of the administration to clear the security fences and once again open the Capitol Complex as was intended by the initial planners and architects is surely welcome. Lalit Kala Chandigarh recently hosted an event there, which gave the citizen access to the “VIP ONLY” space. “Heritage” as we have come to know can pay, quite literally sometimes, as in the infamous furniture scandals. It is for us really to debate what is “Heritage” and what we want to value as a culture: is it the appearance and upkeep of buildings or is it the making of a truly democratic and aesthetic city?

 We surely have reason to celebrate and protect the city for its invaluable contribution to the world of Design and Architecture. We do not want to look at Chandigarh as just a marker in the history of independent India, but we have to recognize it is a living experiment, a heritage that is alive, for cities are made and unmade every moment! We all love Chandigarh for its clean and green image but one of the major conflicts between the vision for a ‘People’s city’ and the aspiration of its citizens is the inclusion of the economically weaker. In this constant urge to project the image, we are often seen hiding our slums and villages, the bamboo fence in Hallomajra being the latest in its attempt to retain this image. All the working class colonies are kept well-hidden and quite successfully so!

 A successful city would give a lot of space for growth to the already established, the powerful as well as to the new migrants of all socio-economic backgrounds. For how long can we keep the workers hidden? Chandigarh has to shed some of its clean and green image and be ready for some real processes and negotiations. We are already confronting a lot of vehicular traffic and pollution. Citizen groups are coming together but are limited to give comprehensive long lasting solutions. We do need a lot of professional studies in identifying and mapping cultural/social/vehicular behaviours. We need to be open to call professionals and planners from around the world to do design charrettes and debate various interventions.

 The un-programmed green spaces that are left in the city are its great asset! It will take citizens’ imagination to use them for various purposes. The world over, cities are learning to coexist with ecological processes, forests and urban farms. What Corbusier and the team envisioned as the lungs of the city are not just pretty manicured spaces to look at but these spaces could be active cultural and ecological places. Wouldn’t it be nice if a cycle path ran within the leisure valley, where one didn’t have to confront the noise and pollution of the vehicular traffic? Wouldn’t it be within the vision of the city if its parks could also become art and craft hubs for children and adults, where open restaurants could sprawl? We could have native grasses and birds and butterflies along the choes, which are totally getting polluted by the time they exit the city? Wouldn’t it be nice if the retired grandparents could adopt a small group of migrant children and spend time in the neigbourhood park?

 At Chandigarh, we have learned to manicure an image, but are we ready for nature’s and culture’s real processes to take root? I think the plans and intentions are all well-meaning; it is for us as citizens and professionals to open our heart and mind to the new and exciting!

Text by Jitish Malik
© All Rights Reserved.
Image by Jeesu Jaskanwar Singh.
© All rights reserved

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