Mindless Monopoly of Chennai City's Masterplan

Opinions Dated:  Jan. 18, 2016
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Chennai City's Master Plan

Chennai’s masterplan for its development is older than the name Chennai itself. Drafted in the year 1976, it was revised only once since then. Here’s a take on why there has to be serious reconsiderations to it.

Let’s talk about Monopoly.
Charles Darrow’s board-game take on property dealership that has everything right from avenues to railroads, bank to its very own prison; a fight to win monopoly over an entire city; a game that guarantees to tear apart even the closest of friends on a game night.

Contrary to popular belief, Monopoly is more than just a board game. The rules are rooted deep in the Georgian Principle of single taxes. It was originally patented as The Landlord’s Game by Elizabeth Maggie to explain the economic benefits of such a system. What Monopoly could also teach us is, how not to build our cities.

So you roll the dice, move forward and land on a space. You buy the land and start to develop areas by building hotels and houses. The other players would have no say in what you do with the land. Fair enough for a game? Yes. But for a city? Maybe not. Architect Biju Kuriakose, of ArchitectureRED, explains why.

When a development comes up next to your property, you should have the complete knowledge of how it would affect you; the kind of traffic that would hit your street; the kind of people you’re inviting into your space, so on and so forth. There should be somebody in the neighborhood, possibly the elected representatives, who could facilitate negotiations with the developer. This isn’t all that farfetched an idea, as you would think it to be. Many cities outside India have similar organizations, New York City for example. Another would be that neighborhood associations maintain many of the parks in our very own city. Only here, they work in isolation, without the power to create any other significant changes.

Another grossly misconstrued notion, very similar to the game, is the idea of revenue generation. Revenue isn’t generated only from building hotels and houses, gated communities and malls. Open spaces though at first would seem like a waste of an investor’s money, could actually be good long term investments and could go a long way to boost land and property values. A classic example is the effect The Highline had on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. When an abandoned railway track in Manhattan got converted to a beautiful linear park the real estate values of the surroundings sky rocketed. And the cherry on the cake, the project was conceptualized by Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of a neighbourhood through which the railway track ran.

There definitely needs to be a more holistic and sensible approach to money making. Such outlandish overtly capitalist outlooks of the people have made smaller attempts by organizations like ITDP and some architects in the city go unnoticed. If you ever notice your sidewalks fixed, with bays or probably a deserted track (intended for cyclist) then you should know it was a conscious effort of some people who knew better than to work the city like a game of Monopoly.

When ArchitectureRED took up the re-design of some of Besant Nagar streets, the architects received opposition from a few within the community for various reasons. The architects then organized a small discussion with the people at the end of which they all came out in full support of the design. This just goes to show the huge gap that exists between implementation of a project and people’s acceptance of it.

And that doesn’t even skim the surface of this issue. Let’s say, you start out to head somewhere, you decide to go back to a spot you just crossed. So what would you have to do? Go round till you cross it again. There is technically only one legitimate route from one space to another. Now you think I’m talking about the game right?

Mindless master plan

Well think again.

Old Mahabalipuram Road will soon have a similar story to tell. It has huge roads, lined with large concrete structures that completely lack any sense of community living, much to the dismay of many architects in the city. The rest of us don’t particularly care about community living. But what we do care about is traffic. So wouldn’t we care when, planners project that soon you’ll have to travel across an entire length, like hypothetically speaking, about 100 meters, to find the nearest possible detour onto the parallel street, just like you would have to on a monopoly board.

Things are going out of hand and it’s time to pause and take a look. According to an article published in The Hindu (by A.Srivatsan on 6th June 2013), Chennai is set to grow from 176 sq.km to either 420 sq.km or 800 sq.km. That’s nearly five times its current size. The panic that’s seizing architects and urban designers in the city is very evident from Architect Pramod Balakrishnan’s Facebook status greeting everyone one morning:

Development Plan

“Many conversations on the Masterplan for Chennai. The sad part is we never ever had one. We had a pathetic unprofessional one which itself is a decade or more delayed. The city still grows unleashed. The lack of planning and infrastructure will soon hit us all and the city will collapse in itself. The tragedy of our Indian cities”

Peter J Park, in an article in The New Indian Express (by C.Shivakumar on 18th Dec 2013), suggests a transit oriented approach to city. He further elaborates that cities are now planned around cars and vehicles and not around people. Broadening roads, building flyovers, will soon lead to ghost cities with barely any life outside of homes and speeding cars.

Development Plan, History

Cities have to be planned for life and people within; planned to be able to simply breathe without being breathed down upon by the towering masses of concrete. Life in a city is more to than houses, hotels, banks and railroads. That’s simply a gross simplification acceptable only for game for 6, not for a city of over 4 million players. If we don’t come together and educate ourselves, Chennai will soon become the three dimensional rendition of the Monopoly board, with barely any streets and ghost developments.

Let’s just say that all our land is mortgaged and we’re close to declaring bankruptcy and losing the game all together.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of zingyhomes.com

This Article is part of Agam Sei Volume: 01 Issue: 10.

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