Shock Absorbers of the city

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empathetic approach towards Town Planning Mechanisms

The current development needs have resulted in the climate crisis being on the verge of being irreversible damage. The shock absorbers of the city ref l ect an empathetic approach towards the Town Planning mechanism where the natural systems are respected along with preserving the openness of the vacant spaces.

project vision
To imagine a vision for future greenbelt development that is preserves the quality of openness of vacant spaces and is indeterministic.

To demonstrate a condition where the urban green infrastructure allows in preserving the characteristics of the vacant spaces.
Ahmedabad's Greenbelt

The Concept of garden city and green belt of Ebenezer Howard was popularly applauded as a utopic radical idea but failed to deliver expected results when realized. In Ahmedabad, industrialization was at its peak and so was the migration of people to the city. The city kept growing without much planning and direction. Hence, the idea of a greenbelt seemed a suitable option for controlling Ahmedabad's urban sprawl, accommodate a growing economy, and as green lungs for the city amidst the industries. The development plans were laid out however they were myopic in terms of future needs, growth of urban boundaries with increasing population. Not to mention the preferences of the elites to move beyond the western boundaries in the suburbs and the desperate needs of the urban majority. 

Vacant site with development coming up
cricket - weekend activities 
Temporary tarpaulin homes 

The lack of policies for protecting the greenbelt, inconsistent policy framework which is always under amendments as per the need of the time and ongoing compensation battles, and erratic decisions of the Development Plans for Ahmedabad. As a result, the city sprawled haphazardly, beyond the limits of the city, encroachments happened in the land which was vacant for years before it was nullified. The making of the greenbelt was rather short compared to the unmaking of the greenbelt. During the time, India was still in the process of making and implementing city administration and development plans which lacked experience and foresight. 

Jivraj park Greenbelt, Ahmedabad
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As a result of this vacancy, the city found a space for activities and things that were difficult to do in the dense neighbourhood. With the lack of open spaces, these became the relieving point for the people to use these spaces without any objections by landowners. If the TP schemes are implemented these spaces would be lost to the same type of dense development. Hence, these open spaces act as shock absorbers for the city when it doesn’t have space in the city. Loss of these spaces will result in its loss of multiplicity and different identities of this space for the people.

Development Pressure on the Greenbelt 
Total area of the Jivraj park Greenbelt - 20ha (2,07,866sq.m)
Area of lake - 1.5ha (15,325 sq.m)
Area of public space around lake - 3 ha (30,745 sq.m)
Area of built proposed - 16.9 ha (1,69,450 sq.m)
Area of roads - 3.8 ha (38,420 sq.m)
Total area of government plots - 7.5 ha 
Total area of Government owned land =  11.3 ha (1,13,042 sq. m) 
Urban Lake condition

190.8 sq.km

464 sq.km

YEAR

1999

630 lakes 

YEAR 2015

122 lakes 

Ahmedabad's water bodies are vanishing day by day. Some are a result of climate change others a consequence of systematic exclusion of water bodies in the city. The problem here is that is always seen as a piece of land for urban development and a value to these lands are assigned. This has worked against the conservation practice and that's how a lake is killed. There are many ways to def ine a lake in India. According to National Plan for Conservation for Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA), a water body having a minimum depth of three meters, spread over more than 10 hectares, and having no or very little aquatic vegetation, is considered as a lake. However, there is no clear which def ination include the urban lakes in the city and that increases its risk of disappearing of these lakes. Currently this doesn't include the urban lakes within city limits and there is an urgency to protect and restore these lakes.

Lake with Boundary  and development creeping in the surrounding. Decreasing surface water.
Desperate need to keep people out of a 'public space' even though they have no shelter.

On an average Ahmedabad receives 800mm - 900mm of rainfall during the rainy season of Monsoon from the months of June to October. These lakes can collect rain water through connecting the storm water drainage of the neighbourhood. It can rejuvenate and restore the lakes aound the city which would otherwise go waste. A mechanism is to be put in place which can protect the lakes from development but also help them restore their natural condition. These are great ecological shock absorbers. 

Manifesto
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Situation

 

Greenbelt was made as part of a paradigm shift in order to control urban sprawl in the early 1930s. The lack of policies for protecting the greenbelt, inconsistent policy framework which is always under amendments as per the need of the time and ongoing compensation battles, and erratic decisions into the invaluable vacancy across the city.

It acted as a temporary market, pasture, playground, parking, storage and also a place for anything that is not needed in the city, ironically both people and things. These vacancies provide an opportunity for a place of abode for the communities who have no choice elsewhere.

 

Position

 

Shock Absorbers as an invaluable resource

Greenbelt failed as a mechanism at a planning level but it gave rise to uncertain, loosely held spaces due to contestations and ownership conflicts that are invaluable land resources as vacancies. This failure unfolded lands that act as shock absorbers for the city where the city could not take pressures of housing problems, open green spaces which was the intent of greenbelt and day to day activities like being a playground, home for animals, as a guide to driving lessons, a storage facility for construction equipment and so on. The absence of these spaces will result in the loss of multiplicity that these activities brought together and the city will need to develop infrastructure to provide for such activities to take place elsewhere.

 

Accommodating the excluded

These vacancies are under a threat of ongoing development highly exclusionary, rigid and overly determining. The non-normative spaces are being replaced by normative spaces. The nature of these developments as a public space is quite linear and inclusive of only a few sections of the society. These non-normative spaces have reflected the stories of people who have been using them for decades, gradually becoming a part of their identities. These vacant lots are sites where the regulations are loose, and they often become places that are claimed by the marginalised communities or result in marginalised spaces.

 

Multiplicity counters Capitalism

These faces are being lost to the faceless development that is taking place over these vacant lands. These faceless visions are of those who can already afford them. Capitalism has given rise to the ‘crisis of abundance’ of such spaces that has resulted in the luxury of choice of normative spaces. Moreover, the public spaces owned by the state too offer a certain degree of exclusivity. Since most of them are gated and charge nominal fees, they exhibit the authority’s dire need to protect these gardens from a section of the very people for whom they are made.

 

We need to stop creating a singular, clean set of identities but to celebrate its multiplicity. “When things are made clear and defined, we forget”, Walter Hood. This holds true to the development that is coming up in these vacant lands.

 

Intent

 

“Great things can happen when we exist in each other’s world” - Walter Hood

 

Transient character empowers the idea of adaptability

Given that the new development is inevitable, how can we create an open system through which vacant spaces can demonstrate/exhibit as an alternative to faceless and gated public spaces?

A place that is transient and allows ‘conflict and dissonance’ for its growth can result in a place in the constant making - a dynamic form.

 

'Public' made 'Visible’

We need to capture these characteristics of vacancies that offer alternative urban commons in the city reflecting its multiplicity before it's taken over by faceless developments. Let them be democratic public spaces! - not in the legal sense, but as a tactile experience. Let us be empathetic where different sections of society can coexist and learn and interact with each other. Let us make visible, the invisible people and their living stories, through these public spaces.

 

The intervention in these spaces needs to be minimal which does not alter the nature of publicness and maintains the openness and uncertainty of the vacant lands. The need not be imposing but rather allows these multiplicities to exist and lets the identity of people who use them unfold.

 

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they are created by and for everybody.” - Jane Jacobs

// Shock absorbers as invaluable resource- ecological and social 

// Protection of Urban Lakes
// Multiplicity of uses
// Transient character allows the idea of adaptability

Strategy
To reimagine the development of greenbelt vacant land through urban wetland infrastructure that preserved the characteristics of openness of vacant lands. The public urban commons will offer non-exclusive spaces along the infrastructure that are indeterministic, providing space for future shocks.
With integrating it with the urban lake, it provides a framework for ecological remediation and restoration of lakes which are not protected currently.

Context

Built

Accessibility

Wetland and Public space

2.1 DEVELOPMENT DIRECTION according to the contextual needs of the wetland.

1. WETLAND as a means to preserve the vacancy through a large urban green infrastructure and to reimagine the distribution of public space.

1.1 OPEN SPACES due to urban green infrastructure and in between the development
 

2. ACCESSIBILITY to demonstrate different condition w.r.t the wetland and storm water drainage.
 

Through the agency of Landscape and ecology, the project implements a wetland system integrated with the urban lake Malav Talav on the site to create a subtle permanent green infrastructure that can result in open spaces. The characteristics of openness of the vacant spaces are captured through these indeterministic liner continuous open spaces along the wetland and secondary pockets of open spaces in between the buildings.

Site runoff and Wetland Conf i guration

The indications of the geometry of the wetland and development are taken from the site. The contours on the site and the presence of the lake guided the geometry of the wetland which after intervening give rise to small pockets in between the wetlands and seasonal recharge ponds that the spaces in between, remain open. These pockets are created around the lowest points of the wetland. It results in different conditions that will remain open and restrict the development in the surroundings. There’s a lack of big open spaces that are public, in the city and these open spaces can help anticipate the future shocks of the city.

Area of wetland - 1.8 ha (18,683 sq.m)
Area of seasonal recharge ponds - 1 ha (10,098 sq.m)
Area of open public space - 5.5 ha (55,663 sq.m)
Area of Built - 2 ha (20,790 sq.m)
Area of streets - 1.3 ha (13,121 sq.m)
In-between Open space - 8.4 ha 

With a permanent water infrastructure placed on the site, it allows for open spaces to remain open. Through this agency the openness of the vacant spaces are preserved as a accessible public space. With reconfiguration of Town Planning Scheme, and the same amount of Public land used, the resultant is empathetic and sensitive towards the natural systems. This strategy allows remediation and protection of Urban Lakes in the city that are under threat of vanishing. The big open spaces in the city will be the relieving points against the dense neighbourhood.  With this area of building footprint is also reduced to promote vertical development and have more open spaces on the ground. 

Built Strategy
The buildings are oriented towards the wetland as the main public space. The streets are aligned along the contour so the natural f low of surface run off can be enhanced.
Modif i cation of natural undulation
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Considering the natural gradual contours and enhancing and protecting the surroundings, the contours are modi f i ed to accommodate wetland, enhance storm water drainage and create undesirable condition for development.
Wetland and seasonal recharge pond (for storm water treatment)

Constructed wetland treat sewage water that to the amount that is safe, using mainly subsurface vertical f l ow of water. The wetland have precautionary overf l ow of water. The edges have a continuous green open space as porous public space. The undulations created to create these different edge conditions have uplands that stay dry throughout the year that can accommodate the permanent activities. Marshes restrict permanent development to be built and the seasonal recharge ponds which turn to maidan (playground) during summers and f ills up during monsoons.

The Wetland and the recharge points results into certain  conf i guration of land that is made available for development. Due to its proximity to the recharge ponds or the wetlands and not enough space for construction it remains empty. This gives people an opportunity to use and appropriate the space as they desire.
Marshlands are the edges along the wetland and the built. They act as transition spaces between a recharge pond or a wetland to a land. Since, the land is f i lled with water and quite muddy, they remain as open spaces. These become an ecotone for different species to interact and enhance the ecological diversity of the space.
Wetland and seasonal recharge pond (for storm water treatment)
The uplands along the wetlands are not only as a precautionary measure to control overflowing but it act as an open maidan (playground). These spaces are continuous and accessible from the surrounding. They remain dry most of the year which make it useable for all year round for different activities, large gatherings or as appropriated by the people.
 
Uplands might have marshes along the edge of the wetland from keeping people from directly access the wetland. These can be used where there is a risk of toxic water or contaminated water being released in the wetland. The pathways act as a continuous walkway around the site. The undulation act as a way to break down the spaces, restrict access and guide people to usable spaces without the use of walls or fences.
Urban Lake edge
Removing the concrete edge around the lake and walls to make it a natural edge. The public space is continuous and porous without any physical barrier. The vegetation on the edge is planted strategically to restrict people accessing the place at specific locations. The lake is connected to wetland system through a channel that goes underground in case of a street passing.
The lake edge is made natural with hydrophytes to revive the ecosystem of the lake. Integrating it with the wetland is a way to remediate and protect these urban lakes from further encroachment. Friendly connection to the water is introduced along the lake edge with minimal interaction by touch and the edge is made higher as a flat land so the flat land can give space for activities of certain kind and scale to take place.
Future expansion 
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The greenbelt has only remained vacant on the west side of Ahmedabad. Town planning schemes are being made for future developments. The approach of shock absorbers can be propagated to different locations from the site of JIvaraj Park. These sites have potential to remain open as a ecological shock absorber and also preserve open spaces as public spaces. 

With this approach, not only the open spaces are preserved that are inclusive to the city and its need but also help us prepare for different shocks that future might await us. Over the years, people will connect to these spaces with their own experiences which will result in multiple identities of the future.  With a regulation in place to treat and restore the urban lakes in the city, it can offer great ecological benef i ts to the city by restoring our natural system which will not only act as a way to address the water crisis of the future but also bring back biological diversity to the city. The spaces created by the geometry of the spaces restrict the expansion of development and preserves the openness for many more years to come. This was the intention of proposing the green belt. The permanence of the green urban infrastructure can help us see how we see our development process which needs to be a little more empathetic to ecology and people who rely on the usage of such spaces.