Old-New City

_DSC0174Written for UFP application

One of the issues that really concerned me in the recent past is the estrangement of the older cities from the success of new urban developments. This is pervasive in all Indian cities, and Hyderabad is yet another example of abject apathy of the government, and its lack of will to integrate it with the rest of the city. There is no doubt old cities are complex entities to which change cannot be brought about easily and without mighty challenges. However, their complete abandon by not just local planning authorities but even the civic authorities is disconcerting. The older cities have a rigorous underlying order by which they function, at the same time they are apparently chaotic in their appearance. The semblance of order that makes them efficient can be attributed to the people that adapt and work within them. The chaos is the result of organizational changes in the built environment to accommodate the increasing needs of the people far exceeding its capacity.

There are two major projects that come under the old city of Hyderabad. The first one is the Charminar Pedestrianisation Project that was initiated in the year 1999 because the movement of vehicles around it was said to have been causing structural damage. It was floated in the year 2000 at the cost of Rs.139 crore, but even after 16 years, it is nowhere close to completion. A month ago the minister for urban development visited the site and declared that the CPP will be completed in the next 6 months but since then nothing substantial has happened. The second major project is the Musi River Cleaning project that was proposed in 2005 to be completed within 30 months funded partly by center and state. Briefly after the installation of rubber dam, sewage treatment plant, laying grass, the project was discontinued and renewed subsequently but has missed several deadlines. The latest proposal is to redevelop Musi River inspired by the Sabarmati River Front in Gujarat, despite the fact that it is a non-perennial river. It can be easily argued that either of the proposals come under the purview of heritage and ecology, in spite of the little progress made qualitatively on ground, than because of their relative location in old city.

Hyderabad outgrew from the old walled city to the new city gradually, whereas the now extended city developed way too rapidly in the last 5 years, and has remained the sole focus of development authorities. A relentless construction activity is under way fast changing the natural landscape and urban form. The rocks formations that are peculiar to the geomorphological activity dating billion years ago haven’t been spared from the levelers and spouted buildings upon buildings in the recent past. New roads, flyovers, malls, hotels, offices and residential towers constructed at an ever increasing speed are neither democratic nor inclusive. This new economic center for the city is not without its own set of urban issues as a result of indiscriminate planning. Neither is it the only part of the city that deserves sole focus in terms of physical or economic planning. It is rather the allocation of resources that will create interdependency amongst different parts of the city that reduces the need for self-sufficiency, increasing accessibility to different people, and help to keep it undivided.

In the recent debates about urban inequality, the role of old cities is hardly ever addressed. If the first step is to understand the functioning of the old city and its human adaptability, the next step is to recognize that effective measures and resource allocation will not just bring economic benefit but also improve the quality of life. It is ironic that Hyderabad cannot by itself attract investments without tapping into the cultural heritage of the city. Yet a visit to the old city is a tell-tale of the neglect by state authorities to provide the basic facility and services to the people; instead, the city police are investing in the installation of 4000 cameras for mass surveillance. It is important that we do not forget to integrate old cities with their new counterpart to take our cities a step closer to being equal, and inclusive.