Monday, July 30, 2007

Banal Office Parks and the Urban Context.

I work at this place where everybody starts their sentences with "So". They are big on tee shirts, for every occasions - Silicon Valley culture I guess, and they gave me a pretty cool one when I picked up my offer letter. After a couple of months here and after hearing every sentence beginning with that word, if they asked me to design a new newbie tee shirt, it would say "So, I work at ......".

The reason I am telling you this is that things like this sort of creep into your bloodstream and if you find me start many of my sentences like this, I don't want you to blame my teachers in the many, mostly good, schools that I went to. They did OK. It's my job that messed me up.

So, like I was saying, I went with some people to check out a temporary facility (at RMZ Ecospace) for the business process teams at my org. It was the first time I was on the outer ring road between Airport & Sarjapur Road. I am sure this is old news to you guys, but the place was sprouting Tech Parks like Bangalore in the boom days. Oh right, that's about now.

Mostly ofcourse soul numbing, lifeless corporate park type places - a lot of glass boxes thrown together, a Coffee Day in the lobby so you think the place is buzzing, an overlarge nylon tent that is the food court. No desire or ability to create an urban context, a sense of place. Just high walls with of cheap-labour security guards to create a ghetto of the icard-dangling-on-ribbon blessed.

Street grid, mixed use, pedestrian friendly, transit friendly, avenues for sport & recreation, places of culture - you must be talking in ancient egyptian hieroglyphic. Sorry, can't undershtand. Perhaps if you spoke slowly and loudly........

This ofcourse is classic case of market failure. And hardly unexpected. The reason that Bangalore is such a great town, besides the weather, is one small acronym - BDA. All the good neighbourhoods in Bangalore - IndiraNagar, Koramangala, Jayanagar, Malleswaram etc were created as planned developments by the BDA (or its predecessor). They cut up the land into parks, roads, civic amenity sites and plots. A certain inherent flexibility in the land use zoning that Bangalore has had, allowed areas to change over time, starting off as sparsely populated suburbs and transforming to higher density housing, retail and commercial centres. Koramangala over the last 10 years is a highly accelerated example of this. Ofcourse the British laid the foundation, but they brought their marvellous understand of urban planning to Bombay. Look what we have done with her since.

Now, with Bean Town becoming Boom Town, and the BDA having becoming somewhat defunct since the Arkavathy layout setback, private developers are buying chunks of land and developing them without an understanding of how the parts stitch together to form a whole, the necessity of civic amenities like schools, theatres, parks, playgrounds that give richness to the life of the inhabitants and ultimately add to the value of the place. If the market was able to do this efficiently, Ulhasnagar would have been the Colaba & Bandra of Bombay. Right now it is somewhere between its armpit and its arsehole and the High Court would love to demolish the lot if the bloody politician got out of the way.

Granted, the state can screw up - look at Nariman Point. Ofcourse some of you are saying Nariman Point aint half bad. Which means that with a public/muncipal institution designed plan, even the failures are sins of omissions (they could have done so much more) than of derision (what f@#k did I just step into!).
And occasionally private players can do an OK job - DLF built pretty much all of south Delhi - South Ex, GK etc. But they had a large canvas to play with and were town planning authority by default. You look at Lutyen's Delhi, then look again at Greater Kailash and wonder at the failure of imagination. You think even a duffer could have done better.

So I want to be real proud about our 10% GDP growth rate and all the Indians it is lifting out of poverty, but I worry that it is destroying the one city in this country I can live in. I haven't tried Kolkata, and I think I might like it, but there's pretty much nothing else.
One of the best things that happened to Bangalore was the Real Estate crash of '99-2000, sort of coinciding/triggerred off by the dotcom burst. Lot of crap builders building crap buildings went under and out of this rubble, the ones left over - Prestige, Brigade etc had some sense of aesthetics and pride in the idea of Bangalore. And then Krishna, blessed be he, came to power and revitalized the BDA and they distributed so many thousands of plots which was more than they had done in the previous two decades.

So, bottom line - I need the bubble to burst and I want SM Krishna back in power. And I want the BDA to design every new area that is developed - once they have carved it up to draw the outlines of the larger picture, the private guys can come in, buy plots and build their stuff. It will all come together beautifully. That is how they do it in the civilized countries of Europe, and I deserve no less.

1 comment:

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