The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Decongest drive in Dalhousie dream
- urban revitalisation of city centre

Well-designed street furniture, evening concerts at unutilised churches and the Town Hall, brightly illuminated heritage buildings, arts and cultural festivals using the historical ensemble of buildings and historic settings. Non-polluting battery buses, food courts, multi-layered shopping and a structured heritage walk through the rejuvenated central business district and along the waterfront. Utopia' Not quite.

For the first time, leading architects and urban planners of the city, not to mention faculty from the architecture stream of top institutions, put their heads together in a novel two-day design workshop for the urban revitalisation of Dalhousie Square.

An initiative of NGOs Arch (Action Research in Conservation of Heritage) and Spread (Society for Promotion of Research and Education in Architecture and Design), the interactive workshop held at the Town Hall (April 5-6) was aimed at creating “a better-designed, managed and enhanced city centre”. The workshop was supported by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and PWD.

Shrinking space, parking chaos and vehicular pollution threatening heritage structures were among the major issues identified by the architects and planners, which need to be addressed on a war footing. “The need of the hour is to decongest the area, create and reclaim space,” said Arch secretary Manish Chakraborti. The principal consensus route towards this goal was minimising entry of vehicles in the core heritage area as much as possible, besides relocating the minibus terminus.

Senior architects Prabir Mitra and Dulal Mukherjee differed on the extent to which vehicular movement should be regulated in Dalhousie Square. But, both were unanimous on the need to create maximum space for pedestrians. “By controlling traffic flow and adding points of interest through conservative surgery, we can create a joi de vivre in the business district, which now becomes completely dead after dark,” said Mukherjee. Mitra stressed on the need for “organised intervention” within the existing fabric to identify pockets of unused spaces and relocate food vendors to those areas.

The first step towards minimising visual pollution in the area is the relocation of Telephone Bhavan, “the worst urban aberration”, agreed all the architects. “It’s an eyesore which obstructs the classical axis connecting Writers’ Buildings and the Governor’s House. This wonderful spine should be freed and the land reclaimed, used for festivals,” said Mitra. The ‘think-tank’ pledged a concerted push towards ‘heritage zone’ status for the entire area, constituting the administrative and institutional district around Laldighi, the commercial and banking district behind Writers’ Buildings and the riverfront quarter.

“A comprehensive development policy for the riverfront, with special focus on adaptive reuse of the Strand warehouses, is a must,” said Mitra. Architect and planner Abhijit Sen felt the river should be opened up to the city and pedestrian traffic segregated from the Circular Railway “without sacrificing visual linkage”.

The core group will meet again in May to freeze the urban design framework, before making a presentation to the government, property-owners and the corporate sector in June. “This will help us form the Dalhousie Square Association, which could be the driving engine for implementation and management of the resuscitation programme,” observed Ashish Acharjee, secretary, Spread.

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