The Bombay Greenway Project: Urban Renewal Proposal for Mumbai by Abraham John Architects
Today, the city of Mumbai, the hub of India’s financial activity and home to a population of 12.7 million, is precariously poised on the precipice of lopsided development, dangerously slipping into the ravine of degeneration due to insufficient civic infrastructure showing up as filth, squalor, homelessness, bad health and other ills. Alan Abraham and Abraham John of Abraham John Architects have come up with a proposal of adding much needed public space and green lungs to the city by way of a podium garden running continuously over the existing western, central and harbour rail lines over which the vital local trains of Mumbai ply. This project, though different in the fact that the entire length of podium will have to be newly built, resonates the idea of New York's High Line - to the extent of using the existing infrastructural spine to make an elevated connecting green. The High Line’s successful implementation and integration into the civic fabric makes it an idea worth emulating, with contextual adaptations and site-specific revisions.
The TGBP seems to be heavily inspired by Enrique Penalosa's vision of ideal urban living! The ex-Mayor of Bogota, Penalosa believes, "To live in cities we have to create places where we have hundreds of kilometers of green ways, where we can have people and bicycles on the streets. So you can crisscross the city in all directions without cars. It will take us a few hundred years to correct them, but this will change at the moment we realize that what we have today is completely crazy. That’s not the ideal we should have for humans in the future." TGBP claims: “Even in a giant city like Mumbai more than half of the people have daily trips that are less than 5 km long, so it is very possible that, in a couple of decades, we can have 25% of the population using bicylces.”
And of course there is ‘The High Line’ - an elevated greenbelt and public park running through several districts of New York Manhattan which was, interestingly, created on the remains of an old, elevated railroad transporting goods to and from New York’s industrial district, which had gone out of use since 1980 after the takeover of goods transport by road. Though the call for demolishing this elevated railroad was made after it lost its use, activists and members of the High Line neighbourhood lobbied for it to be left untouched and be redeveloped into a public park. Fortunately, this voice found favour with the government which acquired the infrastructure and, through private investments and public participation, the green belt was opened to the public in three sections over a period of time. Today, around six years since the park first opened to public, The High Line is not only a much loved public place for New York’s citizens but also a shining example of successful urban renewal, inspiring similar projects involving re-use of old existing infrastructure in several cities round the world. The Bombay Greenway Project, or TBGP bears many similarities to The High Line project in terms of execution, use and sustainability as well, justifying the comparison between them.
The High Line too, is a space used for public events and performances as well as strolling and hanging around. Here, too, programmes of cultivation involving the neighbourhood citizenry have been initiated and run successfully. ‘Friends of The High Line’, an online portal, does the job of organising the events, maintaining their calendars and putting out information about them with financial support from sponsors and contributions. All these efforts have resulted in making the High Line a lively and pulsating public space, a huge success story in adaptive re-use. The Bombay Greenway too proposes the use of public spaces for street carnivals, fairs, performances, photography and art workshops and other events, in addition to serving as a pedestrian and cycling zone. Urban farming will be encouraged through public participation in cultivating on this belt. It would also provide promenades for leisurely strolls and hanging-out with friends.
The TBGP draft enumerates several more advantages to the city and to the railways in addition to the obvious greening. These include barricading the tracks to prevent people crossing them, reduction in the dispersal of noise generated by trains, effective cooling and air conditioning of trains resulting from reduction of exposure to heat, redesigning and modernising stations to improve services, etc. The proposal includes green measures like rain water harvesting and recycling to supplement water supply to the railway network as well as for watering the green and to tap alternate sources of energy like solar power for the lighting needs. These kind of sustainable measures have been initiated in the case of the High Line as well.
For a huge greenbelt to be introduced into the heart of Mumbai would be impossible to even think of given the unavailability of land, except if it were to be built in on an elevated level as proposed here. It would serve the city wonderfully to have this green built in to each and every suburb. It is just as necessary, if not more than, as the skyscrapers, roads and flyovers being planned to accommodate the city’s ever growing needs. "The Bombay Greenway Project" won the International Urban Planning and Design Competition Velo-city, 2013, Austria and is touted to be the single biggest urban development project undertaken in Mumbai post independence. We, at The Future Of Design hope that it finds the same enthusiastic favour from the government, politicians, developers and citizens as did the High Line for it to be implemented and successfully integrated into the existing urban fabric.
Many questions are raised. Is it possible? Can we dream to have such spaces in Mumbai? Will this proposal pass through all the channels - red, blue, and green? If it gets approved, can the city cope with the construction of this mega-proposal? How many years should be bookmarked for its completion? Do we need alternatives when the transition starts? Besides financial implications, there would be several issues of rehabilitation of the usurped population, in the settlements around the railway tracks. There would be resistance from many quarters, for sure. But above all, this project needs political will! Will it, won't it? Mumbai waits...