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Riverfront = Wall

February 15, 2013

According to the latest news, consultancy firms in Ahmedabad (and elsewhere) are burning midnight oil designing river fronts, a new obsession with bureaucracy and polity.

The first thing a chief minister, when comes to power, does is declare an ambitious riverfront development project. It makes good sense economically, politically and culturally. Waterbodies have lost their original place in city’s life. Modernising cities need urban spaces tailored for new civic and cultural purposes. An answer to urban flooding, disuse, slums, sewage,  unauthorised development and urban decay at the same time. Addressing land prices, connectivity issues in cities, old infrastructure and outdated uses. It happens to be an engineering solution so it does not challenge power equations, inherent cultures or existing social structure. The population negatively affected by a development like this is generally smaller in proportion and perception. It does, propose to alter the topography and hydrology depending on the case. But not as much as the Dam upstream.

A big project has advantages in terms of decision making, execution, visibility and target population. Funding, if found, is large. More and more big budgets are being approved for lake and riverfront projects. In Kuala Lumpur, the cost will be 5 million $, in US, it will be between 2 and 20 million US$, and in India, from 1 cr (0.2 million – Nanded) to 600 cr (120 million – Lucknow & Ahmedabad). In terms of design, things are simpler if not easier than other projects of same scale.

Case of Sabarmati Riverfront, Ahmedabad

The most hotly debated of all Indian waterfronts has it rather simple. It’s a wall. Lex Luthor would love it, it creates land. All in government love it because land = money. Contractors love it because it has a simple, intentionally standardised profile. Engineers find it easy to supervise and implement. Original (legal) residents get a better edge, improved property value, and in some cases, a new house. Citizens (mostly) like it because it creates a new place to walk, run marathons, cycle, fly kites, and take guests to – without parking problems and in presence of water. All others fall in love with it because it makes the city look neat, modern, and progressive.

Many also find it easy to like because they understand it. If you say “make a wall in the river, and fill up soil behind it – that is your riverfront”, voila, the listener will have no difficulty nodding. And this, makes it replicable. And applicable to other contexts. So it’s a game changer.

Critics of SRFD design, please understand this much: The power of a single, simple idea is unparalleled  And the triumph of this project is not it’s design. It’s the proverbial bird in hand. IT’S BEEN DONE. And everyone is rushing to join the party. Very soon, there will be many more (and hopefully more articulated) walls.

Three cheers to a once in 50 years project: Another wall in the city.

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