You have to hand it to our city’s Corporation. It is forever in the process of launching some mega scheme or the other. The last few years saw much noise over the Smart City initiativesand you had consultants literally popping out of every second building in the city. One of the most visible outcomes of this was a very wide footpath on Sir Theyagaroya Road in T Nagar, which narrowed the space for vehicles considerably. Since then not much has been heard, presumably because attention has been diverted owing to the pandemic. But that has not deterred our civic body, which is now busying itself with the Mega Streets project.
This is to make sure that our roadways and streets are obstruction free for a seamless commute by pedestrians, non-motorised vehicles and of course cars, buses, autos and two-wheelers. On the anvil is a plan to invite consultant architects to submit proposals on an area-wise basis. Phase 1 will focus on 110 km of roads in Tondiarpet, Anna Nagar, Velachery, Nungambakkam, Adyar and Mylapore. As part of this grand scheme, Mylapore has been taken up as pilot and the project has been awarded to an architectural firm in Ahmedabad.
While this is in no way a comment on the abilities of the selected entity and we are sure due process has been followed by the civic body, it does come as a surprise that no local firm was considered suitable for executing a project in an area that is viewed as a cultural heartland by many residents of Chennai. Many local architects have over the years developed expertise and knowledge as far as Mylapore is concerned and it is a wonder that the award had to go to someone in Ahmedabad. Handling a space like Mylapore demands being aware of the local idiom and culture and this may be hugely absent when outstation architects are chosen.
A brief interaction with the team did not reveal anything out of the ordinary. There were the usual plans – to clear the space of hawkers, create broad footpaths, parking spaces, repositioning of the hurdles people normally face while walking and regulated shopping zones. Of course, it may still be early days and a plan that is satisfactory to all may eventually surface, for which much will depend on how much weight the local representatives of the architects carry. Will their voices be heard? And in what way is this initiative any different from the Smart City plan? If this project is indeed under the umbrella of that latter scheme, it did not appear so in the consultations that happened.
The consultation process also revealed the fundamental weakness in such discussions. While those called in were all of the same ilk – upper-class, English speaking and forever dreaming of an Acropolis like solution for Mylapore, none of those who eventually will have power to make or mar the project were visible. And in this we include the elected Member of the Legislative Assembly, officials of the civic body, local residents, the temple administrators, representatives of the shops and establishments in the area and above all, the hawkers. If these people do not get to see what is being proposed, to what effect then such consultations?
Over the years, various schemes such as this have been mooted, have been partially executed and then abandoned. The general chaos and sense of co-existence that passes for quality of life in all Indian cities prevails here too. Even if this plan were to succeed, making a showpiece out of Mylapore is not going to have a great impact on the city as a whole. It will be a hollow scheme, as cosmetic as the repeated beach beautification projects we have lived through. Unless the indiscipline and corruption that pervades civic administration in all aspects gets cleaned up across the city, the impact of the mega project will remain micro.