Most of the urban developments ideally anchor on one central idea of a public space and that can be ecological or economical driven around which then subsequent developments spin off, setting the rhythm of what may arrive. Mumbai is devoid of such centrally thought out single anchor and thus it gives you multiple, scattered and non-cohensive entities in urban forms. Sabarmati River Front Development is in sharp contrast in what is happening or rather not happening in Mumbai’s urban development mumbo-jumbo. I had the opportunity to learn about Dr. Bimal Patel’s Sabarmati River Front work in Mumbai during World Architecture Day. It is socially relevant and inclusive which is evident in several examples he showed of completed work and what he envisages in time to come.
River Sabarmati is important to the city’s urban ecology and has been long acknowledged that appropriate development of the riverfront can turn the river into a major asset; improving the quality of environment, ecology and life in Ahmedabad.
The Environmental Planning Collaborative (EPC) was commissioned to prepare a comprehensive feasibility study to develop a 9 km stretch of the city’s riverfront. EPC provided development management services to Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL) until 2002. During this period its mandate was to direct and monitor all the preparatory work. Since then HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. (HCPDPM) headed by Bimal Patel has been responsible for the project’s urban, master plan and architectural design.
Public spaces cannot be privatized. Public spaces cannot be exclusive. Mumbai, with certain convoluted system, managed to do both, pretty ruthlessly.
Thus, Sabarmati River Front Project due to its very nature and aspiration remains multi-dimensional public asset which will not only create thriving citizen-centric networks of parks, promenades, bazaars, cultural hub but also work as a structure that will ecologically enhance the city and its people’s relationship to the river. It is one of the most robust urban renewal project that India is witnessing, keeping context and local culture intact without walking all over it.
The ongoing process of the project is premised on these following steps methodically. Firstly, it is to reclaim land, cleaning up existing contamination to the river and then on to build flood protection wall and laying grid of sewage interceptors that will prevent any further contamination. The sewage lines will carry untreated mass to augmented treatment plant and slum dwellers have been relocated to built communities of modest housing.
Next, the project provided 11.5 km long pedestrian promenade at the edge along the banks of the river. The promenade is very well connected to proposed streets with wide sidewalks inclusives of bicycle paths which both encourage walking and cycling, basic of basic amenities which have been stripped away from Mumbai residents.
Ongoing and future work includes promise of culture centre, museums, sports facilities, trade fair grounds and open air markets. All of this will enhance Ahmedabad’s local living conditions for residents and experience of tourists. The simple joy of being able to walk along the river bank, to sit in a garden and enjoy the serene beauty of the river is now a reality through Sabarmati River Front. The project is currently ongoing, but several parts of the projects are open and being used by the public and the reclaimed space is home to events such as the kite festival.
Transformation through urban renewal in a cohesive manner is possible and only way forward if we were to avoid fragmentation and isolated growth spurts and communities can thrive and benefit from inspirational project like Sabarmati River Front and that is the lesson Mumbai cannot turn oblivion to.
Client: Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Ltd., Ahmedabad
Site Area: 200 hectares
Year of completion: 1997 – Ongoing
Images: HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd.