Historic cities with the passage of time undergo changes and transformation to upkeep their vitality and functionality. Generally, these grow and expand around an activity area and because of their amorphous nature function as mono-centric cities, with concentration of major city functions and activities around these centers.
Srinagar has, throughout history, remained a more or less mono-centric city. Initially Mahraj Gunj, a thriving market place functioned as Central Business District (CBD) for the whole, city and a nerve center for Kashmir valley.
It lost its charm, economic vitality, and core function with the introduction of modern means of transportation and need for growing specialized essentials of city development, tourism, trade and commerce. Being a part of the historically evolved core, it had winding and narrow roads not fit for modern means of transportation coupled with excessive congestion, lack of space to accommodate expansion. As a result it lost its significance as CBD. Resultantly, an alternative CBD sprang up at Lal Chowk and in its vicinity.
Emergence of the CBD in Lal Chowk has had great impact on Mahraj Gunj through substantial decline and degeneration of core activities, depopulation, aggravated obsolescence, dilapidation, and neglect of vacant abandoned properties. But it made Srinagar a more sprawled city through dispersal, suburbanization and fringe development. This whole process took and is taking place in a more complex and interrelated manner.
Present day CBD has developed and evolved as an alternative to the requirement of the then Srinagar and its adjoining regions. However, present day Lal Chowk, what it appears today was not the same. It has evolved and transformed with the passage of time. Except single carriageway central spine commonly known as Moulana Azad Road and Residency Road, it metamorphosed, evolved and expanded adjacent congested core areas of Saria Bala, Koker Bazar, Miasuma, Shedgunj, Abi Guzar, etc. More or less these areas responded to the growing needs of the CBD and became a vibrant part of the emergent functional domain of Lal Chowk, as a nerve center of the city.
Lal Chowk as CBD inhabited once regional bus terminal for the whole valley at erstwhile KMD adda, SRTC yard at Lala Rukh Hotel, near Partap Park and present TRC office; 8 matador stands operating for intra-city transport; relocated administrative complexes of lower court complex, State Motor Garages, Engineering Complex; and Partap Park, Pologround, TRC sports center, and Kashmir Golf Course were merely as open lands.
However, successive governments have made significant contribution in reshaping and remodeling it into a functional and working CBD. Though the efforts made have been more or less fragmented but these have reinforced Lal Chowk to be what it is today. In the process a series of development efforts were made including both decentralization, beautification, refurbishing, and land mark creation to reshape the present CBD.
It included development of Partap Park as central green, polo ground, TRC sport center as major playing facility for National and International competitions, upgrade of Ghanta Ghar, creation of car parking areas, development of river bund, landscaping of river Jhelum, development of Maulana Azad Road dual carriage way six lane traffic, development Kashmir Golf Club, construction flyovers, street lighting, replacement of worn out electric poles, development Chunti Kul area in and around Lal Chowk area. All these and many more successive development measures have virtually reshaped and remodeled the CBD and left for us a more functional nerve center than it existed before to delve upon and make it more efficient and well organized in times to come.
Despite many efforts made by successive governments Srinagar city CBD has been subject to excessive concentration of core city activities. Being a single major activity node, Srinagar is over dependent on it for specialized needs. Consequently, it is saturated with traffic jams, wide spread informal sector, over hanging supply lines, declining green, poor services, lack of pedestrian facilities, missing cycle tracks, conversion of land uses in and around it, multiplying and adding the woes. Trickle down impact of Sunday market is such that its spill over impact is seen in the form of informal sector expansion in its immediate vicinity and functioning beyond week days in scattered manner. Also in the main CBD plantation cover is almost nonexistent. There is no adherence to façade control, and it is generating aesthetic and visual astigmatism, adversely affecting its tourist image.
In addition, urbanization in JK UT has accelerated during last four decades. On the one hand suburbanization /sprawl has radically sped up and the other hand CBD –inner core area is transforming and getting more saturated.
Since present CBD of Srinagar is a functioning commercial, administrative and historical center of the city and for the valley, reels through a myriad of urban issues e.g. congestion, slow mobility, conflicting land uses, road-side encroachments, on street parking, rainwater flooding, loss of heritage, poor services, missing evening and late night life etc.
This has and is adversely undermining its vitality and significance along with highly exacerbated quality of life of the resident population. Keeping in view all this, it warrants reimagining and revamping of CBD as a rejuvenated commercial and historical center.
Reimaging Lal Chowk as CBD- Srinagar
The reimagining and reshaping needs to consolidate the essentials of the past with adjustment of urban uses and spaces to infuse full life in each element through revamping. The overall refurbishment of CBD as a nerve center is in itself a great challenge for planning, design as well as for execution.
It has to aim at bestowing elegance to the center by creating a blend so that people visiting city center shall capture the glimpse of both old features with the new and transformed cityscape. Pedestrianized areas, lighting strips, luminaries, sit outs, water channels, play area, shopping streets etc. shall all create an alternative landscaping elements to make it, as a happening place. Preservation and retaining of earlier elements /patterns of earliest eras shall not be shy out to ensure visible reference to history of CBD.
Under Srinagar Smart City Mission, Lal Chowk area is at the heart of redevelopment plan. The redevelopment of the Central Business District of Srinagar covering Residency Road, M A Road, Jhelum River Front, and the interconnections including Polo View, Regal, Jehangir Chowk, Chunthi Kul have been taken up for makeover. For revamping of the Lal Chowk, a massive works program is underway in the area.
It has to be borne in mind that revamping of old areas is always a messy assignment because it disturbs normal city functions, activities and affects trade and commerce. The work being in progress on many fronts, Lal Chowk presents a dug up appearance; undoubtedly causing inconvenience to one and all. However, revamping is a timely affair but is bound to improve the image of the area. Some of the salient features of the redevelopment program under smart city mission are as:
· Development of entire road stretch from Tourist Centre to Budshah Bridge under the Smart City Project with focus on segregated mobility for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. It will include automated traffic signaling system supported by high resolution CCTVs for streamlining and managing the traffic.
· Remodeling and redevelopment of concrete park adjacent to Ganta Ghar, Lal Chowk.
· Redevelopment of Residency Road with well-designed sidewalks and a uniform carriageway to improve image of this area.
· Installation of underground cables for communication and electricity to improve visual appearance.
· Comprehensive underground drainage system for Residency and Maulana Azad road with dedicated sewerage lines to avoid urban floods during high precipitation.
· Underground electricity and communication lines through underground ducts
· Well-designed development of road junctions.
· Uniformity in road carriage way.
· Properly designed/organised spaces for parallel on street parking.
· Development of footpaths as per IRC standards to make them continuous and accessible.
· Proper street lighting for vehicular and pedestrian movement.
· Large number of bus bays, green spaces, sitting spaces, recreational spaces.
Srinagar as a whole, and Lal Chowk in particular, with implementation of Smart City Mission is all set for overhauling and makeover under project with an expenditure of Rs.1000 crores.
Caution and Precaution
Though grown over the period of time, present day CBD of Srinagar is artfully woven urban fabric combining past and present in its landscape. It has remnants of many eras and greater care has to be taken in that regard. Care has also to be taken due to its special importance as a project, built in historical environment where entire city unfolds as a space to travelers who visit and admire it.
Thus, it also acts as a representative of the whole city. Overall revamping of the city center involves multi faceted development and is very sensitive, needing system transformation of the older areas; as such a balance has to be struck between ideal and real in carrying out such works. Any solution shall cautiously focus on efficient, and compact development.
It shall involve a process of imbuing in it a new life and vitality. All redevelopment works for physical development shall aim at purgation of imbalances and bringing back things to life in terms of functionality, economic growth and transformation of the urban environment through deliberate efforts of large scale adjustments. It shall nonetheless, with all precautions, enhance all the facets of CBD with economic and physical development as prime motive.
From the cursory appraisal of the project the fundamental aspect in reimagining /revamping of the CBD plan is creation of well-defined area for vehicular, cyclists and pedestrian traffic. A well-defined space for pedestrians and cyclists is also a dire need, however, it shall not be improved upon at the cost of requirements of vehicular needs.
Towards a new synthesis
Lal Chowk, as part of the CBD is in a flux and shall evolve continuously as part of the urban development phenomenon. It would require to imagine and reimagine various facets from time to time. Changes and transformation being a congruent process of city cores, is vital for establishing the fact that with the passage of time, requirements may change which would necessitate continual restructuring. Thus, change being intrinsically related to the wellbeing of the city center, it has to be dealt through collectively management and development. This process will continue till it continues to dominate the cityscape.
Hammid Ahmad Wani, professional town planner
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.