Shock Absorbers of the city
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
“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