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The Ring Road Paradigm

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.

Biodynamic layouts
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 development.

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



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