Easing The Urban Clutter - An Alternate Perspective
They would make their way back from work, down the elevators, into the teeming streets, maneuvering through a million vehicles, and people, block after block of dull yet shiny buildings, envelopes of concrete stacked along the roads, through narrow lanes and dingy bylanes and in through one of the numerous doors in their long, noisy corridor.
The reverberation of the city must be shed by any number of things they may decide to do by the window, now that they are finally home.
But it must be by the window.
What makes the window (more of an encroached balcony) so special, is what it frames - an expanse of light and air, completely disparate from the concrete chaos they just maneuvered.
The window, defining the living room, offers the view of a completely different world. One that is free of the chaos of the city, of its filth, decay, and inadequacies. It offers the four residents of this modest 2 BHK in Santa Cruz, a personal piece of luxury. One, not many, even in the more affluent parts of the suburban city, can boast of-of tranquility and visual respite.To be more precise, the setting offers a degree of dormancy of urban landscape, against a background of an incredibly dynamic city.
The Santa Cruz bus depot, placid during most of the day, comes alive ever so slightly in the morning and night, trickling into wee hours. No intrusion of activity is betrayed because of the sheer volume of space that the depot occupies. With an extremely small proportion of the facility comprised of built structures, the depot could be considered a large open area, albeit inaccessible. While the depot does nothing to elevate its position to a public space, it does offer a crucial reprieve from the dense urban jungle. In spite of row after row of buildings, of houses stacked up and duplicated mercilessly, one might chance upon the slightest possibility of a break. Of a welcome deviation to ease the claustrophobia of the city.
Such insular chunks of land and activity, appear all over the city, in the form of service infrastructure that happily exists alongside residential buildings or commercial zones. These ‘oases' of dormancy, occur quite often in the thick of textbook urban density and chaos, break the monotony of the built and the dynamic, and inadvertently offer a welcome contrast to the bustling, and sometimes, the overwhelming life of the city.
Many such anecdotes, of unintended yet apt overlaps of housing societies with public infrastructure like transport hubs, communication centers, power distribution facilities, water pumping facilities, can be readily fished out of young conversations. Might these anecdotes then be making a case for a model of development, where high FSI residential zones co-exist with land-use zones of Public Amenities, Utilities, Transport, and Communication.
That is not to say that these urban overlaps or urban oases, as we have referred to them as, are in any way an appropriate substitute for large open greens and public spaces. However, in the face of increasing burden on the land resource and the seemingly insatiable lust for commercially viable land on the part of the establishment as well as the economic stakeholders of the city, such an assembly of urban spaces may offer a palatable solution to the problem of increasingly claustrophobic cities.
While prioritization of land for public use may have been easier to imagine in a semi-socialist, pre-liberalised Bombay, where large chunks of land were under the control of the administration or industry, it is extremely difficult today to apportion land for the purpose of dormancy due to the ferociously capitalist nature of Mumbai.
In the absence of public open spaces to let precincts breathe, such a development scheme may offer a minimum commitment to a quality of life, closer to what the city of Mumbai has always promised.
It may be time, to ask some fundamental questions about the presence of public utilities and infrastructure around our cities -
Can they play a role, not limited by their obvious function? Do they offer an alternative to No-Development Zones or open greens where they may not be economically viable?
Can the pragmatic distribution of these utilities around the city serve to decongest the urban clutter of our cities?