City of the future has a past too
In the process of relentless urban growth, we should ensure that Bengaluru’s local heritage does not get wiped out.
It is important to have lofty ideas like World Heritage Day which can evoke awe and pride about our forefathers, leading to an urge to continue their cultural contributions, preserve their physical constructions, and safeguard their artistic achievements. The idea of heritage which belongs to humanity beyond the narrow borders of nationality can be a matter of excitement for all of us. Accordingly, April 18 of every year is celebrated as World Heritage Day.
While we celebrate this unique day, people in India in general and Bengaluru specifically, seem to ignore the heritage in and around us. We tend to forget that there can be no world heritage if all the local heritage gets wiped out. Whatever local heritage is left in our times continues to be further ignored, despite our lip service to the cause.
Nothing that equals Hampi temples, Mysore paintings, Bijapur Gol Gumbaz, Bidar bidriware or Mysuru city quality is in Bengaluru, yet this city is a great attraction to locals and visitors alike. Bengaluru would complete 500 years in another 21 years, a major milestone by any urban standards. Given this, how are we treating the city heritage?
Every city has a past, an invisible foundation upon which it is growing. If flying over Basavanagudi means avoiding the neighbourhood; if widening the road leads to chopping off the face of Ulsoor; and if hosting Global Investors Meet is to ignore local informal sectors – then something is missing in our approach to change. If we delete the physical city of yesterday, the city of future will be on shaky grounds, with the foundation of the city partly cut off.
London and Paris have become great cities, expanding into new areas, without erasing the old areas. Past and present live together. Tradition and modernity co-exist. We can cut trees, fill up tanks and demolish old buildings, but can we delete memories, forget experiences and negate the need for familiarity?
Image of the city
Kevin Lynch gave us a great phrase called Image of the City. From the days of being garden city, Bangalore has gained more than half-a-dozen names, latest being ‘garbage city’. In the process, it no more has a singular image now, adapting to the expectations of people. It has distinct city parts where Cox Town differs from Gandhi Bazaar, Lalbagh appears like heaven compared to Avenue Road and the new gated communities appear as if they are not in Bengaluru. Urban culture in the city is a curious synthesis of the local, national and global identities. We need to believe that ethnic mix and community diversity is the strength of our city and should let them continue. Whitefield and Chamrajpet cannot have same bye-laws. Losing the multiculturalism is a way of irreversibly losing our past traditions.
How are we ensuring the continuity of local identities? Are we realising the urban heritage in our city parts, attending to their traditional characteristics or will modern infrastructure projects wipe them out, creating a new city character?
Beauty of the city
Bengaluru, with no major crafts, forts or monuments, has been an attraction for visitors. M.G. Road and D.V.G. Road became popular not only because one could shop there, they are more than roads in the city map. The more we explore, the deeper we can beauty here. No wonder, T.P. Issar chose to call his book as ‘City Beautiful’.
The innate visual attraction does not happen casually. Holistic development, balanced city parts, sensible buildings, gardens and trees together with appealing streetscapes lead to a notable urban aesthetics. What have we done with Bengaluru today? If another author were to write a book on our city today, would it be titled ‘City Beautiful’?
Growth of the city
Bengaluru, despite all its problems, has great potential, as such needs to evolve further to cater to people, places, culture and economics. How should the future of this great city evolve and should the past be taken forward?
We have said goodbye to bye-laws; development is at best ad hoc with few long-term plans; our political masters make mockery of master plans and rules, and inequity rules the land.
In these days of crisis, should culture, traditions, history and heritage be relegated to text-books? Should we belong to Bengaluru or should the dreams of organisations like INTACH and thousands of citizens die down?
Each generation is obliged to build the city, but does it have the right to build by destroying trees, roads, houses or markets?
Are we developing a city of the future or just destroying a city of the past? It is time we realise that we can retain the past while going into the future.
We the citizens and our decision takers need to be more sensitive.
Heart of the city
Cities have often been compared to a living organism; hence Victor Gruen could write the book ‘Heart of the City’. Just like humans have a mind, a city too has a mind. Individually we monitor our heart and minds, but the city is a collective phenomena. Hence monitoring it is a common cause.
Among the many issues, the bygone days too define the heart of a city. Let us remember – every tree, road, house or market in the city has a beginning hence a history, even if every such beginning is not studied as history by historians and archived by chroniclers. It is important to note all such local history.
Today, Bengaluru is in the grip of urban expansion, real estate control, speculation over investments, short-term political benefits and personal gains as the ultimate objective. It is a city not only dominating the State, letting the region languish, but also in a great hurry to emerge as a World City.
On the occasion of World Heritage Day, it is time to take stock of our local heritage and search for its heart and mind. Then, think what we are doing, individually and collectively, to keep this heritage going.