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Waterfronts minus backyard water

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Time is fast running out and we can no longer continue to ignore India’s river systems crying for our attention, warns  R A Rajeev, Principal Secretary, Environment, Government of Maharashtra

The modern world is known for rapid urbanisation of its population over the 20th century. As per a UN World  Urbanization Prospects report, the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 percent (220 million) in 1900 to 29 percent (732 million) in 1950 to 49 percent (3.2 billion) in 2005. The report projected that the figure is likely to rise to 60 percent (4.9 billion) by 2030. Cities have become main centres of economic, industrial and social activities of majority of human population. Sustainable development of cities is, thus, critical to the development of people and, in turn, the nations.

Global Waterscapes
Great ancient civilisations of the world are known to have developed and prospered along either rivers or sea shores. They are known to revere the  waterbodies and have depended largely on them for their trade or day-to- day livelihood.

Even today, great cities are situated either on coasts or along a river. Sydney, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Cape Town, Barcelona or Rio are all on the coast side; whereas London (Thames), Berlin (Elbe), Rome (Tiber), Glasgow (Clyde) and Amsterdam (Amstel) are by the side of famous rivers. New York has both as it is situated at the mouth of  river Hudson. These cities have managed their waterfronts very nicely, have created public spaces by the bank  and have managed to bring people towards the waterfront to either have a nice walk or cycle or jog. As people living in these cities started to value these public spaces and assets of their cities, it also helped keep the waterbodies clean and pollution free.

Paris is another city which is best endowed with river banks. For years together it ignored its great asset and turned its back on the lifeblood flowing through it. However, things are changing now as Paris celebrates ‘les Berges de Seine’, and reacquaints itself with the banks of its river. They call it time ‘to change your view’ about the Parisian connection with its waterways. The ‘Berges de Paris’ project aims at transforming the waterfront. They are creating new bike trails, new two-km-long pedestrian walkway, new floating gardens, a new pedestrian bridge and a  Rollerblade trail.

In Amsterdam, this year is the 400th anniversary of the Canal Ring, the semicircle of concentric waterways that   allowed the Dutch capital to expand gracefully into its olden age. St Petersburg, in Russia, is another great example  of grand architecture getting developed on a network of canals. Peter the Great turned a swamp in northwest Russia into the most glittering city in Europe. The marshland was drained through a network of canals.

R-A-Rajeev

R A Rajeev,
Principal Secretary Environment, Government of Maharashtra

The Singapore River along with Kallang River was highly polluted due to population growth, rapid urbanisation, industrial development and uncontrolled discharge of garbage and polluted waste water. By 1960s, these rivers were essentially sewers and extremely polluted. In February 1977, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said,“It should be a way of life to keep the water clean, to keep every stream, every culvert, every rivulet free from  unnecessary pollution. In 10 years, let us have fishing in the Singapore River and fishing in the Kallang River. It can be done.”

Water bodies as lifeline
Stories about the restoration of various water bodies across the globe have also been the stories of boost in the prospects of cities along their banks and people and transport and trade…

The master plan for river clean-up was drawn, executed and completed in 1987 under the leadership of Permanent Secretary of Environment, Lee Ek Tieng, who later became the Head of the Civil Service in Singapore. He and his nine other team members were awarded gold medal by the Prime Minister for the efforts they had taken in cleaning up the river.

Where there’s a will…
Singapore’s example of cleaning two badly polluted rivers goes on to prove what a deep political commitment, clear vision and effective implementation by a dedicated team can achieve

Singapore’s example proves what a deep political commitment, clear vision and effective implementation by a dedicated team can achieve in a short span of time. Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper celebrates the  eponymous river with one of the most unusual city tours anywhere. The architects of Chicago Architecture Foundation, working as guides, offer fresh perspective on the soaring architecture of Chicago.

Glasgow is the latest example of a city which is on its way to reinventing its relationship with its waterfront. The shipbuilders of the Clyde River created the vessels that helped the British Empire transform the world. However,  later history has been a history of decline. Of late, the city has started revitalising its riverfront by creating bike trails, pedestrian walkways and pedestrian bridges. The developments like the Glasgow Science Centre and the Riverside Museum have added great attractions to people to get drawn towards the riverfront.

Indian Riversides – Neglected
In India, almost all famous and lively cities are either by riverside or seaside. Delhi and Agra (Yamuna), Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna (the Ganges) are fine examples of old cities which developed and prospered in the past by riversides.They have been great tourist attractions for the history they possess. However, everywhere the rivers have got highly polluted by the liquid and solid wastes, which people discharge daily in these rivers. No more  the waterfronts have remained serene and beautiful. One cannot have a nice walk or spend time by their side  as people use them as dustbins and toilets. Everywhere the authorities have failed in either maintaining or  creating public spaces by their sides. As a result people have turned their back towards these waterfronts, which at one point of time were their main attractions. The twin cities of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad have been neglecting  their riverfronts and uncontrolled developments are taking place at a faster pace.

The same is the case with Mumbai, which is situated by seashore. Mumbai, still known for its Marine Drive developed during British period, has not been able to maintain its seafront pollution free. A typical smell of Mumbai,  which every new visitor feels and to which every ‘Mumbaikar’ is immune to, is the smell of seawater mixed with sewage. The city has not been able to treat even one per cent of its sewage to the secondary and tertiary levels  when it could be released in sea water. Slums situated on the shore line aggravate the problem even more. The Mithi River at present is nothing better than a sewer flowing through it.

Other cities in MMR also are situated by sea or creek or riversides. All these waterbodies are either being neglected or encroached upon or being used to release industrial effluents and sewage water and wastes in them. If we take up pollution-free waterfront development on priority, most of our problems related to environment including coastal zone violations,encroachments, lack of public spaces and inefficient use of land can be efficiently handled. It can also  improve the quality of life of common citizens drastically.

Ahmedabad is another excellent example of how the city has rediscovered its relationship with the Sabarmati River.  The city has not only been able to develop the waterfront and create public spaces around its bank, but also  has been able to recover all its cost towards this infrastructure development by monetising the land bank, which it has reclaimed in the process. It is one of the best examples of sustainable urban renewal initiatives.

revivingTime to Time to Act Now
Time is fast running out for cities in our country as their population pressure is increasing day by day, as a result of which open spaces are getting encroached upon. No more we can keep our back towards these waterfronts. Increasing pollution of water bodies is not only a danger to the aquatic life inside it but also to the quality of life of  people living around those. There is an urgent need for all stakeholders of these cities – be it policy makers or  urban planners, city managers or citizens – to forget their differences and come together to redefine their relationship with the waterfronts and turn our attention towards these waterfronts which are sources of vitality and life.Act Now Time is fast running out for cities in our country as their population pressure is increasing day by day, as a result of which open spaces are getting encroached upon. No more we can keep our back towards these  waterfronts. Increasing pollution of water bodies is not only a danger to the aquatic life inside it but also to the quality of life of people living around those. There is an urgent need for all stakeholders of these cities – be it policy makers or urban planners, city managers or citizens – to forget their differences and come together to redefine their relationship with the waterfronts and turn our attention towards these waterfronts which are sources of vitality and life.

Reviving the ties
Ahmedabad is another excellent example of how the city has rediscovered its relationship with the Sabarmati River. It is one of the best examples of sustainable urban renewal initiatives

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