Reclaiming Land for Public Spaces!

photo credit: BOMBMAN

The idea of   reclamation has been an area of debate for a long time. The judiciary’s verdict in the 1990’s against reclamation in Mumbai has turned into a kind of a bible. There is no question about the fact that reclamation hurts environment and doesn’t offer the same kind of ecological functionality as a natural forest. But so does urbanization – Today’s urban world contributes to environmental degradation in one-way or another. Therefore, it is important for us to develop in a more structured and organized manner so as to mitigate the negative effects of progress.

There have been prominent examples of reclamations around the world. Famous instances include Washington, D.C. which was built on land that was once swamp; Back Bay in Boston, Massachusetts; and the polders of the Netherlands. The southern Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau and the city-state of Singapore are also well-known for land reclamation. Large-scale land reclamation has been undertaken in different parts of Singapore since the 1960s. The entire East Coast Park in Singapore was built on reclaimed land and includes a man-made beach. By 1990, the total land area of Singapore was 633km square from 581.5km. There was an increase of 51.5 km square through reclamation, which made up 8.9% the total land area. Malaysia has reclaimed about 1,214 hectares of its coast

Monaco and the British territory of Gibraltar are also expanding due to land reclamation. In the recent times, man made islands have been another way of land reclamation. Kansai International Airport in Osaka and Hong Kong International Airport are instances of such a technique. The Palm Islands and The World close to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates are other examples of artificial islands.

When there are such outstanding examples of reclamation around the world, it is appropriate for India to look seriously at reclamation as a tool in improving urban centres. I believe reclamation is a way to shape public urban spaces which cannot be created within the existing fabric of dense cities. One cannot have a common coastal protection act across the length and breadth of the country. While it is critical to protect the coasts of less developed areas, one cannot use the same strategy for intensely developed areas lie Mumbai or Chennai.

I have time and again proposed water front promenades and green public concourses with reclamation along the coast of Mumbai. The Western Waterfront Development proposal is a scheme that attempts to rejuvenate the urban environment of Mumbai. The city with its continually ghastly-unplanned developmental pattern has devoured open spaces, thus affecting the citizenry’s quality of life. The waterfront proposal is an endeavor to bring the architects, the developers, environmentalists and the citizens of Mumbai to collaborate in an idea that touches the future of the city and the everyday life of its civic community.

What is now miles of under utilized and neglected waterfront area is envisioned as a new and vibrant community space, blessed and intertwined with a dramatic ribbon of sea front parks, walkways and waterfront esplanades. This new open space system was conceived as an integral part of Mumbai’s urban renewal program. The waterfront proposed experiences ranging from broad, sweeping greenswards and parks along a naturalized shoreline to large interpretive parks. Further, series of intimate social and active spaces for play; gatherings and events enrich the park experience. It has been conceived of as common ground for a new and diverse community integrating Mumbai’s cultural heritage narratives woven throughout in the language and traditions of 21st century recreation. When completed, these parks will finally link city’s downtown centre to its suburbia and, ultimately, reintroduce the citizens to their city’s once revered oceanfront.

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