Great Cities Don't Exclude Their Citizens

Architect Ramu Katakam says Bengaluru must develop in synergy with its people

Published: 20th October 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th October 2015 06:00 AM   |  A+A-


QUEEN’S ROAD:Ramu Katakam finds it ironic that the biggest symbol of democracy in Bengaluru, the Vidhana Soudha, has imperial proportions and looks anything but accessible to the citizens it is meant to serve. It is an idea the barricades surrounding it reinforce. “But that is how governance is observed in India. As a symbol of almost absolute power,” he says.

But if at least now, the stretch from the General Post Office to Cubbon Park is made traffic-free, citizens would have a reason to rejoice, he says. He also hopes that the stretch from Lalbagh to Cubbon Park can be cultivated as a green belt without more concrete structures eating into it. Katakam has been observing the changes that have transformed Bengaluru from a people-friendly, welcoming city into a concrete-bound monolith, and he finds himself getting increasingly frustrated with the idea of progress that does not include the people it is meant for.

Katakam’s work spans four decades and includes community housing, hospitality spaces, a golf club in Srinagar, the Khirkee Gallery in Delhi, a Vipassana centre on the banks of Lake Nagarjuna and of course, Dilli Haat, a crafts bazaar in Delhi. He says, “Dilli Haat is a perfect example of a public space because it allows congregation, cultural exchange, recreation and exposure to arts and crafts. But sadly, no other city has tried to replicate the model.”

CITY1.jpgOver the years, Katakam has also commented with some regret on the way urban architecture in Bengaluru has been mimicking skylines alien to the ethos of the city. He has issues with the way “pale copies of the Empire State Building with Renaissance murals and elevators” are becoming our idea of grandeur.

He notices the absence of public spaces in Bengaluru and cites the example of Brigade Road, where there is little space for people to walk and an unreal world of neon hoardings dominates. He asks, “Why can’t we make that street people-friendly at least by making it totally free of parking and letting pedestrians use it? The pavements could have food kiosks. People would enjoy spending time here.”

His point being that public spaces are not just grand buildings and towering structures. They can be streets, bazaars and avenues too. Over the years, many architects have expressed concern about the way playgrounds, parks, lakes and streets with old architecture have been usurped in the name of development. Katakam says, “There is a marked disconnect between the development of the city and its people. Who is this development helping? Are citizens allowed to participate in it?”

He also observes a disconnect between the Singaporean model of development that Indian metros seem so eager to adopt, with total disregard for local ethos, culture and history. “Just by having the Metro here, we cannot become Singapore,” he says, expressing disappointment that even the Seed Capital Area (SCA) Master Plan for Andhra Pradesh’s capital Amaravathi has been entrusted to Singapore’s urban planners. “There is a dearth of vision in the way our cities are developed,” he rues. A city must belong to its people to be truly great, he says and cites the example of Charles Correa who chose to live in Mumbai of all Indian cities because despite the hardships it presents, it also includes its citizens and serves their needs. 


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