The Ring Road
By Aparna Datta
Just as you thought that the cacophony and congestion of
the high streets of Bangalore was more than you could bear,
a smart turn takes you onto the Outer Ring Road. A mood swing
comes with the gear shift, the pace and rhythm of your vehicle
adapts smoothly to the tarred surface, your vision expands
along with the six-lane drive. A spaghetti loop flyover offers
a wide-angled perspective of the cities within. Encircling
Bangalore as it does, the Outer Ring Road somehow brings cohesion
to the urban sprawl, dissolving the sharp divide that existed
earlier. Barely two years since the entire stretch of 62 km
was thrown open, the Outer Ring Road has altered the idea
of Bangalore, redefined the cityscape and reconfigured the
prospects in realty.
The ‘Pet’, the ‘Town’,
the PSU Colony
Bangalore has spread way beyond Kempe Gowda’s original
boundary, yet vestiges of Bangalore’s past life as handloom
Mecca remain in neighbourhoods like Chikpet and Balepet. People
lived and worked in close quarters in the ‘pettah’,
and it was enough to have road space that allowed a horse-drawn
jutka to pass through. In time, ‘City’ institutions
developed, the City Market and Victoria Hospital were established,
in what essentially remains a low-rise settlement.
With the creation of the Bangalore Civil and Military Station
in 1809 came the ‘Cantonment’ and a whole new
era. The Garden City emerged, and alongside the tanks, now
called lakes, were given their due space in the city’s
urban geography. The ‘Towns’, equipped with schools,
hospitals, clubs and parade ground that were part of civilian
life at the time, along with the Bungalows, brought a distinctive
character to the city. If the City had Lalbagh, Cantonment
got Cubbon Park. In the new extensions of Malleswaram and
Basavangudi urban planning was applied consciously for the
first time, yet the areas were crafted in an easy, laid-back
style that suited the city’s temper.
The Cantonment co-existed with the City right up to 1949,
when the two municipalities were unified under the Bangalore
City Corporation. Although the setting up of Public Sector
Units during the 1950s and 1960s greatly added to Bangalore’s
housing stock through more residential colonies, they essentially
existed as enclaves. The City, the Cantonment and the PSU
colonies continued to lead separate lives.
It takes a Layout
The segregation mutated with the development of new layouts,
starting with Jayanagar in 1974. The Bangalore Development
Authority, established in 1976, provided the impetus and a
whole new phase of ‘plotted’ residential development
took place, with the ‘BDA Layout’ becoming part
of city parlance, along with the ubiquitous ‘Cross’
and ‘Main’ like in no other city in India. Through
the 1980s, as Indiranagar, then Koramangala drew in more residents
‘BDA Layout’ became shorthand for a desirable
residential area. Designated areas for civic amenities, especially
the parks and the BDA Complexes, enhanced the levels of convenience.
The Outer Ring Road was initially conceived as part of an
Outline Development Plan some 30 years ago. The BDA took up
the execution, but the road finally was completed only in
2002, after several litigations had stymied the progress.
In fact, the layouts adjacent to the Road – Banashankari,
J.P. Nagar, BTM and HSR in the southern belt, and HRBR, HBR,
OMBR and East of NGEF on the North-East curve, took shape
well before the road was completed. These became the domain
of the middle-class, where the ‘stakeholder’ through
the local Resident’s Association got a role in the management
of the locality.
In 1998, the BDA in association with city-based NGOs implemented
the Integrated Urban Environment Improvement Project (IUEIP)
in the HRBR–East of NGEF stretch that focused on Solid
Waste Management and Management of Open Spaces, development
of a detailed Geographic Information System (GIS) and framework
for community management of civic services.
A Ring Road state of mind
The south and east arc of the Outer Ring Road also links up
with the IT Corridor with easy access to Electronics City
and Whitefield. Another offshoot is Sarjapur Road, a sector
where international schools have put down roots alongside
IT companies, exhibiting the most recent and dynamic avatar
of Bangalore – the globalized information age city.
Private developers were quick to spot the potential in this
area and have created some architectural landmarks that take
residential buildings to new heights.
Encompassing as it does both BDA layouts and developments
by private promoters, with much vacant land still up for grabs,
the landscape along the Outer Ring Road is visually uneven,
with stark differences between the low-density residential
areas, corporate high-rises and petty shops and establishments
that have sprung up beside the incomplete service roads. Land
prices have skyrocketed in recent months, with transactions
fast and furious in these parts. Sustainable development is
the need of the hour.
The IUEIP provides some indicators for a planned, consultative
process in the management of urban habitats. Rapid private
developer-led growth, with an accent on high-end specifications
and amenities that require intensive maintenance in terms
of energy and water, needs to be tempered with a more eco-friendly
approach, with sustainable use of resources.
Biodynamic Agriculture, an evolved form of organic farming
pioneered by Austrian scientist and philosopher Dr Rudolf
Steiner in 1924, provides a ready metaphor. As an ethical
alternative to conventional farming methods, an ideal biodynamic
farm is a self-sufficient unit, a closed ecosystem that produces
its own compost, seeds and livestock. It operates within the
larger context of the local community and the rhythms and
relationship of nature and the cosmos. The ISKCON farm at
Mahadevpura near Srirangapatna, where a rocky wasteland has
metamorphosed into a lush green paradise in a space of ten
years, is a vivid demonstration of biodynamic processes.
The concept of a layout as an urban ecosystem offers great
inspiration, as it focuses sharply on elements that would
optimize environmental management. Landscaping that allows
better drainage and green spaces, use of eco-friendly building
materials, piped cooking gas, incorporation of rainwater harvesting
methods, solid waste management, perhaps even effluent treatment
of waste water and bio-reactors to supplement energy requirements,
use of solar power, electric shuttle buses within the layout
– there’s a wealth of options in organic infrastructure
The Rail-Road paradigm
Much as the commissioning of the Outer Ring Road was a defining
moment in the evolution of Bangalore, the fact is that the
Road, initially conceived as a by-pass for trucks that earlier
trundled through the heart of city, now slices through residential
layouts, without provision for footpaths, pedestrian crossings
and cycle lanes. In effect, the problem of trucks moving through
the city remains, now in a roundabout manner! The Peripheral
Ring Road could perhaps alleviate this problem.
A rail-based mass transit system needs to be implemented
without further delay, designed so as to integrate with the
Outer Ring Road as well as the arterial roads in the city.
The proposed alignments of the Bangalore Metro currently under
consideration cater primarily to the high-density central
district of the City and the Cantonment, but leave out the
BDA layouts along the Ring Road, where BMTC services are thin
on the ground. Consequently, the number of cars and two-wheelers
will keep increasing along with occupation in the new layouts,
although city roads are already saturated.
As Union Minister of State for Planning Mr M V Rajashekaran
suggested at the recent workshop “Towards Sustainable
Cities in India” organized by the Bangalore-based Centre
for Sustainable Development, the Metro Rail should ideally
extend to the International Airport, Electronic City and International
Tech Park. It makes sense to link newer extensions where there
is more scope for property development and consequently betterment
charges and property tax. This way, the overall land values
and tax collection will improve in a balanced manner, rather
than putting more stress on the central areas. A more ambitious
and forward-looking route plan could give a further thrust
to real estate development, as it is proven that mass transit
systems enhance land values along the alignment.
Between the Outer Ring Road and the Metro Rail alignments,
Bangalore realty certainly has long-term momentum.
Tailpiece: Perhaps the Centre for Sustainable Development
could institute an annual Award for the most sustainable real
estate projects in Bangalore. Nothing like competition and
recognition to spur innovation and action!
© Aparna Datta, 2004
Published in Deccan Herald