Where the highway often resembles the cratered surface of the moon, where the land-use allocation along main arterial roads is more madness than method, where the designing of roads and road junctions is erroneous, where the sectored approach for commercial land-use is antiquated, where there is no pedestrian plaza or cultural corridor in sight, where urban design guidelines are non-existent…
Welcome to New Town Rajarhat, all of 12,000 acres and growing daily
But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s showpiece satellite township is certainly not unfolding along scripted lines. Or was there a script at all'
The housing minister’s hyperbolic assertions notwithstanding, a large section of architects and urban planners in the city is convinced the eventual urban fabric Rajarhat will deliver would not be representative of a progressive new town in modern India.
“There doesn’t seem to be any well-defined masterplan. Even the extent of land available is not clearly known. Acquisition of land is piecemeal and so is the development,” observes practising and teaching architect Mukul Mitra.
He feels the government “seems to have lost its perspective” on New Town. A common consternation voiced by experts across the board is that the planners failed to understand the natural tendency for commercial growth along high-volume traffic movement, and that the residential properties along the major arterial roads will soon be converted to commercial use. So, the sectored approach of allocating commercial land-use in Rajarhat could be disastrous.
“They have designed a central business district (CBD) and sub-CBDs as concentrated pockets of commercial activities. The impact of these concentrated commercial activities will affect the areas around them and, gradually, the ground floors of the properties will be converted into shops and offices,” stresses architect and urban designer Partha Ranjan Das.
|WHY A BUS TERMINUS NEXT TO A HOUSING COMPLEX'
There can be no better example of illogical land-use allocation along main arterial roads than the bus terminus set to come up next to the Bengal-DCL housing project. The glaring example of “insensitive land-use allocation”, could “completely ruin the environment”, a fear shared by senior architect and town planner Prabir Mitra.
“Yes, that’s perhaps not the right location for a bus terminus,” says Mitra, who led the team that blueprinted the first-flush masterplan for the township Action Area I.
S.K. Roy, principal consultant and a director on the board of nodal agency Hidco, however, contends that the bus terminus on the prime corner plot is a “temporary one” and would be “shifted” once the permanent terminus, being designed by Dulal Mukherjee and Associates, comes up.
Prabir Mitra and his design team had spelt out broad guidelines on land-use allocation and shaped a development control regulation with the concept of a “green corridor” besides inputs on landscaping, street furniture, open space management… “We had drafted an initial proposal, but what the township will finally look like is really not in our control,” admits Mitra.
The final picture is far too foggy and that’s what bothers the city architect-planners’ fraternity, which feels things are happening in Rajarhat without real planning control.
Take the separate plots allotted to different companies to develop their individual commercial projects. An urban design guideline for the entire area could have earmarked the possible envelopes for different buildings with a common, inter-linked open space between them. “It’s a great opportunity lost,” lament experts.
Landscaping too has been neglected and whether the green corridor initially proposed will materialise is anybody’s guess. “Open spaces can be used as effective buffers between two incompatible land-uses. For example, a patch of green between the bus terminus and the adjoining residential complex,” a young practising architect points out.
WALK THE TALK
Some real-estate developers rolling out projects in New Town are apprehensive about the support infrastructure happening in time to prop up their properties. “The imagination of the whole doesn’t seem to be there and the pieces of the jigsaw are growing organically, with a disturbing sense of disorder rather than order,” observes a realtor with building blocks in Rajarhat.
Despite big-ticket players like Unitech, DLF and Shapoorji Pallonji investing a fortune to create their own micro-environments in their respective gated domains, the great Rajarhat dream could turn into an urban nightmare due to the visible lack of integrated planning.
For instance, there is no comprehensive plan for the pedestrians, and hence the chance to create a Champs-Elysees (Paris), or a Neuhauser Street (Munich) is forfeited forever. Nor is there the concept of a defined cultural district, like The Academy of Fine Arts-Nandan complex in Calcutta.
Hidco, however, insists pedestrian movement has been accounted for in the masterplan. “Land has been reserved at various intersection points for creating pedestrian plazas in future and we will decide on the design detail as the township grows. Our planning advisory committee meets every month to work on such issues,” contends principal consultant Roy.
It is also feared that since there are no dedicated places for bus stops, buses will usurp right of way at bus stops. “The road junctions have not been designed at all. The impact of poor intersection design will be felt once the town starts functioning,” warns Das.
|WHY NO PLAN FOR PEDESTRIAN MOVEMENT'
There’s of course the argument that the absence of a plan has both advantages and disadvantages. Planners often stand accused of developing something which is easy for them to implement, administer and manage. In doing so, they ignore the qualities that make a culturally vibrant city.
“If a city fails to attract people on the streets, then it’s ‘a complete failure in planning’, which is likely to happen in Rajarhat,” cautions Das.
Mitra, who designed Bengal Ambuja’s Utsa in Action Area I, admits the place looks like a “ghost town” now. He, however, is hopeful things will change for the better once more people move in and demand creates supply.
For the time being, though, the chewed-up main arterial highway, once Brand Bengal’s calling card to woo the Wipros, is the telling trailer of a sad story begging to be told.
Centre for Built Environment (CBE), a city-based think tank which recently pointed out that underground soil movement was the reason for the hastily-constructed road caving in repeatedly, sees a basic flaw in New Town.
“It’s the location itself. The entire Rajarhat area is a drainage basin and an ecologically fragile zone. Unless the planners factor this in and are sensitive in their solutions, the township is headed for an ecological disaster,” warns architect-planner Unmesh Kirtikar of CBE.
And you thought all was right with Rajarhat'