The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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English ideas in city renewal
- Riverfront revamp with culture spine

Preserve the ambience of heritage structures, not just the buildings, and blend new constructions 'sensitively' with the existing urban fabric. Open up the vista and bring people to the river by creating a cultural spine along its banks and through iconic structures like Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the Tate Modern by the Thames'

The BullRing shopping centre in Birmingham, the Paradise Street mixed-use development in Liverpool or the London Eye could well be start-up inspiration for an integrated riverfront development in Calcutta, feels city-based architect and urban designer Partha Ranjan Das.

Having recently studied waterfront initiatives in the UK at the invitation of the British foreign office, Das, commissioned by Writers' Buildings to anchor the riverside rejuvenation programme in town involving the various stakeholders, feels 'relevant elements' from the English experience could easily be woven into our context.

'Birmingham, for instance, has retained its old fabric and dovetailed a retail rendezvous like the BullRing into its overall urban renewal programme by making it a magnet to draw people. The civic authorities have also identified areas shunned by many and turned them into people-friendly zones through meticulous landscaping,' says Das.

He feels there are lessons too in the way Liverpool has restored the old city and improved connectivity with Wirral on the opposite bank of the Mersey. 'We need to do much the same with Howrah. Also, the Paradise Street redevelopment project in the heart of Liverpool, undertaken after a thorough analysis of existing land-use pattern, is a wonderful example of what planned reconfiguration could achieve,' Das points out.

The urban designer, piloting the primary process of data collection and mapping of the 'action strip' identified for redevelopment along the Hooghly, has collated relevant data from UK waterfront rejuvenation models and is preparing a presentation for the next conclave that would carry the programme forward.

A deliberately planned cultural district by the river could soften the river's hard edge, while the 'magnificent ghats' could be used as a strong feature of the designed landscape. Das also suggests bringing a string of new-age offices to the river's edge on both banks so that people are brought to the river.

If London has converted its South Bank gas station into the celebrated Tate Modern art gallery, much the same could be done with a clutch of derelict industrial buildings in Howrah, feels the architect. 'The trade route has now shifted from the river to the National Highways and it makes much more sense for the industries to relocate to the west of Howrah. The riverside structures freed can then be put to adaptive reuse,' he says.

Das has approached the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a symposium with all stakeholders by the river where the UK inputs can be presented. The presentation will prescribe a more 'pro-pedestrian approach', the need to bring down needless barriers and billboards and open up the vista, better connectivity with Howrah, strict urban design guidelines for new buildings in old spaces and greater public participation.

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