Urban mobility in historic cities –heritage redefined
MASS TRANSPORT AND IMAGINATIVELY DEVISED MOBILITY PLAN IS THE ONLY ANSWER TO EVER INCREASING TRAFFIC JAMS, POLLUTION AND THE DEGRADED CITY LIFE OF THIS, ONCE UPON A TIME, BEAUTIFUL CITY, COMMENTS MUHAMMAD SALEEM BEG
Heritage has often been understood to represent monuments and antiquities. In the recent years, awareness about the contours and long term concerns about heritage has grown giving rise to a fresh understanding that includes many more aspects than just the monuments. In the context of cities, especially old and ancient habitations, it also includes the natural and physical cultural elements. More importantly the whole debate about heritage and its conservation is now about the people, the quality of life in heritage cities. While preserving the organic nature of the cities, the needs and aspirations of the people have to be factored in the development process. The current debate is slowly but surely looking beyond monuments. The rapid urbanization witnessed in recent times has accelerated the pace of change in all aspects of life, particularly in urban environments. A majority of subcontinent cities and towns are exposed to strong extraneous and fast-growing agents of change that disturb the delicate balance that exists between the physical, social, cultural and ecological aspects of these urban settlements.
In order to enable the Indian cities and towns to cope with these changes that threaten to destroy the diverse heritage, UNESCO took the lead and led a campaign resulting in formation of a National Network. The UNESCO led Indian Heritage Cities Network was formally established as a trust in 2009 with five founding trustees. This writer is also one of the five trustees. The trust has been expanding and setting up bench marks for heritage resource based development in different Indian cities and in a matter of a year 22 cities have enrolled as members. Srinagar has also signed in as a member of the Network. The main strength of the trust has been its ability to rope in international partners where heritage conservation has been an essential part of urban planning. The trust is progressively becoming a platform and a solution exchange for mainstreaming heritage conservation in the cities. Best case scenarios in the west, successful experiments in cities placed in similar circumstances as Indian cities, good practices that can be replicated are some of the deliverables coming out of the deliberations and information exchange by or through the mechanisms set up by the Trust.
The Trust has enrolled seven French cities as its international partners. In Oct this year the Network organized a study tour for Mayors of the member Indian cities to these French cities. France is way ahead of other countries in the continent in evolving a successful planning model for city development that ensures preservation of heritage and heritage based development. This writer accompanied the delegation as a UNESCO expert. The visit exposed the mayors to the strategies and planning tools adopted by the French cities for mainstreaming heritage based resources in the development process. Transport and urban mobility is one of the prime concerns in French cities. It has been flagged as the key to restore and uplift the urban experience and improve the quality of city life. Urban mobility is also linked to the air quality and pollution in the cities and therefore reduction of vehicular traffic is an essential part of this program. The Urban planners explained to the delegation how they gave up sole reliance on widening of roads and construction of flyovers as an answer to problems of urban mobility. They have instead been propagating pedestranisation and pushing for mass public transport as a viable and more lasting solution. Their experience with this mode of urban transport has given handsome results and the city councils in France spent session after session to explain how they have been able to achieve phenomenal relief for the cities.
Our internal assessment and discussions revealed that the historic cities like Srinagar, Jaipur, Udaipur, Indore etc can, with firm resolve and effort, introduce these two measures which will have a demonstrative impact with lesser investment in time and money.
Another very interesting and successful example that is now being mentioned in almost all forums is about Bogota, Columbia. This Latin American city has had a similar past like our cities. Its urban managers, planning establishment, city leadership were not very different from cities like Jaipur, Srinagar or Udaipur. Same lax enforcement of laws, pressure of migration, corruption, and unprofessional city management was some of the commonalities with our cities. This city had to grapple with social, economic and political and problems of the kind we have been going through. The traffic jams and the degraded air quality shook the minds and soul of the urban planners and that is when they came up with a well thought out mobility plan in 1990s. The program aimed at restraining vehicle ownerships, improving conditions for walking and biking and enhanced bus transit. The government opened two lines of a planned 22-coridor BRT( bus rapid transit) system, built 200 KMS of a network of bike lanes; expanded numerous side walks , added a 17 KM pedestrian zone; and implemented a number of other measures. Bogota is a much larger city than Srinagar or other Indian heritage city and therefore its problems are proportionately much bigger in volume and size.
Looking at Srinagar, it is perhaps the most critical planning exercise that the Urban Development authorities should initiate with a sense of urgency. Srinagar is craving for decongestion of roads. The residents and visitors are gasping for a breath in the historic urban space. The whole city is progressively becoming a expanded parking lot for ever increasing cars and other vehicles. We need to put in place an efficient public transport system, something like BRT. Our problems are still manageable and we need to give a serious look at the available viable models before it is too late. The impact of pedestranisation of some of the road accesses, biking tracks in civil lines and down town mohallas will be phenomenal. It is high time we initiate a debate on the subject among the civil society and develop consensus that will persuade the State agencies to source expertise for this purpose.. Mass transport and imaginatively devised mobility plan is the only answer to ever increasing traffic jams, pollution and the degraded city life of this, once upon a time, beautiful city.
(The writer is Convener INTACH and former Director General Tourism. Feedback at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 Dec 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 Dec 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 15 Dec 2010 00:00:00 IST
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