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Chandigarh The City Beautiful

Discussion in 'North India' started by Siddharth, Aug 17, 2015.

  1. Siddharth

    Siddharth New Member

    In this write-up I wish to share my thoughts about Chandigarh – The city in which I grew up. This city is a the greatest creation of French Architect Le Carbousiur and a model of Nahruvian socialism. But it has also been criticised for its unorthodox design. Chandigarh is UNESCO World heritage city. It’s been Asia’s second best planned city (First was Beirut in Lebanon. I think now Chandigarh has taken its place after the fighting and bombardment in Beirut.) It has the highest per capita income for any city in India. And highest number of Banks per capita and also highest number of private cars car capita. But surprisingly it still lacks the traffic jams which other Indian cities are so accustomed to. And most importantly it has the highest volume of open spaces per capita than any other city. We are all proud to be the residents of the celebrated city of Chandigarh and over the years we have accepted the city as a near perfect model of town planning, even though it is not so, when critically examined taking several viewpoints into consideration. This city is a city which has a heavy maintenance cost and caters to few people in comparison to its size. But we are lucky that funds have never been a problem for Chandigarh. Because it gets funds from three sources – Its capital of Punjab, so Punjab govt. Gives funds. Its capital of Haryana, so Haryana govt. Gives funds. And more over its a Union Territory, so the central govt. Also gives funds. Infect it has so much funds that the administration is not sure how to spend it. I have seen that the cement loops on the edges of the roads, which were painted black & white one year, have been repainted as white & Yellow the next year. So the city is highly maintained and kept clean and green.
    When we see the city lights at twilight from the nearby Shivalik mountains – the view is mesmerizing. Beautiful perfect rectangular blocks of colorful lights, form a beautiful design. The city Master Plan divided the city into individual sectors. The Sector was envisaged as the primary building block for the grid plan of the city and it was expected to be a self-sufficient pedestrian unit. This unit was interconnected with other such units on the east-west through the shopping streets and on the north- south through the generous greens. When put together on the master plan, the city appeared like a brilliant tapestry of interconnected residential sectors and clearly demarcated zones of work and recreation. The Capitol Complex- the symbol of our democracy, was majestically placed at its head in the north, against the back drop of the hills.
    But not all found it to be too practical. Lets listen to the reality in the words of Charles Correa, one of our country’s most prominent architect and urban planner,” …Nothing could be further from the truth. Each sector was actually an isolated world, cut off from its neighbors’ from all four sides by the V3 roads, and by the high brick walls that run along its periphery… The V 4’s divide the sector further in four insulated parts. The result is a city of separate rooms, lacking the interaction and the synergy that we love about cities…….”
    About the overall plan, he has explained,”…When the Master Plan actually got translated to ground, it was revealed that the distances were unwalkable and the entire city out of scale...”
    Though we may not have thought of our city as a city of separate rooms, not talking/interacting with each other, we are actually quite familiar with what Charles Correa has described. The lack of life visible on the streets of Chandigarh and the issue of a monotonous and repetitive environment that we have almost accepted as unavoidable, is a direct impact of this regimental division of spaces. The size of the sector should have probably been smaller to achieve better pedestrian access to its different parts. Even the single-sided shopping streets running between sectors, supposedly connecting them, are interrupted by regular cuts and forks on ground and we have seen that it makes for a pretty chaotic experience. Moreover, these shopping streets are in no way comparable to our traditional Indian bazaar streets that are full of vibrant activity.

    Also there are question raised on Public Transport model for city. Low density Sectors when organized in a grid make public transport totally impractical. Essentially public transport requires a corridor of high-density demand to be economically viable. When designing the model city for a developing nation like India, this omission by Corbusier does not seem at all justified. Inefficient Public Transport has necessitated ownership of large number of private vehicles by the residents and the result is for all of us to see. There is unforeseen clogging of traffic on the city’s roads and also an alarming increase in the rate of accidents. The highly defined network of 7V’s of Corbusier has actually become a drawback in finding a long-term solution of public transport, that is also a major challenge for our city today.
    Compared to the density and complexity of many good urban Streets, the V2’s and V3’s actually appear to be still-unfinished projects. Even the Jan Marg, with a land width of 100 m, was expected to be a ceremonial axis leading from the City Center to the Capitol. But sadly, as of today, it has no quality of a great street. The Jan Marg is yet to see a real parade or a carnival till date.

    Chandigarh has the largest amount of open space per person for any city and this earns our city its green and beautiful image. If we take a second look at these very vast open spaces, we may realize that many remain under-utilized, like huge pockets of the Leisure Valley remain unused, there are undesignated open spaces inside a large number of sectors and on either side of the roads, and so on.
    Unintegrated and undesignated open spaces are not just a maintenance nightmare but also act as easy breeding grounds for anti-social elements. Security being a real concern, high fortified boundary walls of private residences has become another easily identifiable feature of the city, while taking the residents further away from each other. Even today, the city continues to depend on Center Government for 25% of its expenses.
    Today we see that at some places the road side vendors with their makeshift tea stalls, erected out of uprooted concrete kerbstones, serve as important and sometimes the only focal points, for public activity.
    All of these adds up to make the current image of our city.
    Culturally, the people of this region are known to be open hearted, with a flair for celebrations, visible in their exuberant and boisterous lifestyle. If a city is expected to reflect the lifestyle and culture of its people then, Chandigarh still has some way to go.
    But if we take a tour of the city we will see that every single bit of open space in this city has been maintained well and kept green. So even though the open spaces seem underutilized they are well maintained and give a sense of openness and freedom.

    Now we come to a very important part of Corbusier’s contribution to Chandigarh and also the world of architecture- the Capitol complex.
    Nehru wanted our Capitol to be- a place of the people, and dedicate the three main edifices of democracy- the Secretariat, the High Court and the Assembly, as national monuments to the people of our newly independent country. In the same spirit, Corbusier created these buildings with a befitting imagery and placed them in a people’s plaza, set against the iconic view of hills…the plaza to be used for ceremonial parades, and community functions, similar to Lutyens’ grand avenue in New Delhi.
    Architecturally, the master of Modernism, through these three buildings of the Capitol at Chandigarh, demonstrated to the world, the highest expressionistic power of exposed concrete. Such was the spell, his architectural style and language cast on the world of architecture, that it took an entire generation to shake it off.
    Sadly, the Capitol and its world famous modernist monuments figure nowhere in the active conscience of the city today. They remain safely locked behind barbed wires in one remote corner, talked about with much ado, to be visited and decoded under the suggested guidance of an expert. The truth is that in its present form the Capitol is neither inviting nor inspiring. One reason is its remoteness from the life of the town and second its vastness and lack of enclosure that makes it unusable in harsh blaze of the north-Indian sun. I do believe that with time, the capital complex may take on a festive look. Besides being located in corner, its security enclosure is the remnant of the past violent years of Punjab militancy. More supple changes have already begun, like the relocation of the main bus stand and creation of IT Park.

    The very basis of Corbusier’s planning, that of a harsh segregation of functions suited the Industrial society of Europe, and was contrary to the established Indian ways of living. In the Pre-Industrial society of India, some sort of a small scale commercial activity always found its place within the multi-generation family homes of people. Rigid distinction of living & work spaces discouraged and hampered this established module. Due to these strict zoning regulations with little provision of flexibility, Chandigarh today is finding it hard to absorb its new growth in a positive way.
    In fact, the very decision to design a low density, high maintenance, administrative city cut off from the world, for a poor developing country is questionable. Contrary to the need of the nation and the design brief, this could have been conceptualized as a growth engine for the region, a focal point and nodal city to ignite multiple townships around it.

    Change is the nature of the real life. Chandigarh didn’t continued to be a low density administrative city, despite the peripheral control act in place. New townships, dependent upon city’s infrastructure continue to emerge in the neighborhood and Chandigarh today is a regional hub for a host of activities. Chandigarh got the IT Park against the provisions of the master plan; the many changes in the industrial policy saw new urban landmarks developed by private builders in the Industrial Areas, that went on to become a major challenge to the existence of the original City Center, Sector-17.
    So despite the consistent efforts by the administration, Chandigarh today is a different city on a different path, from what Corbusier and Nehru imagined. Now should this 65 year young city choose to try and stay, as much as possible, to preserve and conserve the character defined by its mentor?…(but it is highly questionable that a young city can be frozen in time and chances are that it may end up being true to neither its own requirements ,nor to its mentor)… Or are we ready to see a Chandigarh coming on its own, responding to the need of the day by choosing to accept a new vision and identity involving major changes in its town planning, while building upon its glorious foundations.
    Le Corbusier, himself at an important point in his life acknowledged this need when he said- “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong.”

    Should we be thinking about bringing flexibility in the over-structured sectors, making them porous and even selectively introducing mixed land use and high density corridors? Imagine the urban activity in the movement spines of our city, if they were to be redesigned to create a social infrastructure of interaction and activity…What if the entire sector-17 could be re-imagined with a brand new set of bye-laws, as per today’s competitive commercial scene.
    If the Plaza at Capitol complex was designed to have cafeterias, children’s rides, cultural activities, celebration of national festivals, sound and light shows and adequate public amenities... If the White House, Buckingham Palace and Rashtrapati Bhavan could be open to people, why should our Capitol remain locked behind barbed wires? So I certainly look forward to it.
    While the spotlight is on Chandigarh as it submits its Smart City application, we should utilize the opportunity to delve a little deeper and reassess our vision and direction as a city. Smart cities can definitely not exist without human values, pride of identity and a vision for future.
    So by design Chandigarh is a very high maintenance city and it is good for a fewer class of people who like more secluded, reserved and ghetto style of leaving. That’s why it has suited to those classes of people and it a sort after destination for retired army officers, civil servants and judges, who value such lifestyle. Now when some is born and brought up in Chandigarh his/her approach to city and community living is very different. I for example, find it difficult to live comfortably in any other city in India if I relocate from Chandigarh. We are not used to those teeming crowds and so restricted individual spaces. And the dust and dirt of Indian cities and their over powering sounds and smells. The unorganized chaos and the litter and the beggars and sheer lack of basic civil amenities.
    So it’s very true that the design of Chandigarh is not suited for a city which is intended to be a regional growth engine. But it does provide an island of urban solitude were a person can enjoy a more secluded lifestyle. And needless to say a lot of people in India do appreciate it. Otherwise there will not be so much desire among a section of people to own an individual bungalow or a row house in Chandigarh. There is always a very high demand for houses in the city and those who have stayed in Chandigarh seldom leave. And not only that, the sister cities of Mohali and Panchkula also copied the same sector concept in there city planning and they both flourished. True! This type of city planning does take up more space and maintenance and it’s different than traditional Indian city planning, But it’s this approach that make it so unique. And I know from personal experience that Chandigarh provides a very good quality of living. And those which grow up in Chandigarh do have a memorable childhood. So I believe that the city will change but it will always retain its original character as envisioned by Le Corbusier. This is because there are many people who do love this lifestyle that this sort of city planning provides. The quality of life that Chandigarh provides to a family, no other city in India can provide. I have been seeing a lot of cities around the world and the more I see, the more I began appreciate my own city - Chandigarh. It was indeed a very bold decision to implement such an unorthodox city plan, in those early years of independence. But because those visionaries did it in those days, that’s why we Indians are today enjoying this gem of a city. I love Chandigarh and I am fortunate to have grown in this city. If It is God’s desire, I will also grow old here..
    BadBoy likes this.

  2. BadBoy

    BadBoy Active Member

    Though I have never visited chandigarh but heard a lot about the place.It is a very well developed city, probably the best in India.
    I wish soon all cities be transformed in to chandigarh style, hopefully the government will take some steps towards that direction

    Sent from my GT-S6102 using Tapatalk 2

  3. Shanaya

    Shanaya New Member

    Having lived in Chandigarh has certainly been a bliss! Those perfect layouts, a perfectly planned city, holding architectural heritage, a lake(Sukhna Lake), a world renowned Engineering and a Medical college and a Law college , an international as well as a domestic airport providing connectivity all around the world,a beautiful scenic beauty being situated at the foothills of a mountain range, a perfect place to hangout with absolutely no fear, has a touch of kashmir, with tadka of punjabis and the spice of haryana, making it one of the most desireable for any Indian. :)
    ChaiNashta likes this.