Glorifying Heritage building, neglecting public realm

Bandra Railway Station

In terms of beauty, Bandra suburban railway station in the Victorian Gothic style , is next only to the world heritage site of Victoria Terminus now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The Bandra heritage station, built in the 19th century, is now restored after more than two years of work , looks impressive and is to be inaugurated by this month end.

It is going to be in the news. But also needs to be in the news is the disastrous work that has been done by another team in the area outside the station which is so pathetic… The project was meant to regenerate the area but after more than two years of work it is in a total mess with traffic congestion, pollution, noise, utter confusion. The media has completely failed to report this assault on the public. No one individual can be blamed because many organisations were involved in the work.

I have talked with a number of architects, bus commuters, bus staff, auto rickshaw drivers, train travellers in the last few months.. All without exception are upset, critical.

Nowhere else in Mumbai people sleep at night in the middle of the road, they sleep all over on the edge of the road, on footover bridges, skywalks, steps of shops etc. but not in the middle of the road. But here outside the Bandra west station a number of people sleep into the night till the morning rush hour in the middle of the road.. This is facilitated by the newly built iron barricades which are a major traffic hindrance, little used by auto rickshaws but they provide a very safe space for the houseless. I have written a lot in support of the houseless elsewhere so obviously am not against the people sleeping here. The point is the utter design and execution failure.

A huge space had become available for the area improvement project with the demolition of some houses opposite the station. So the conditions were ideal. Bu what we have is such an infliction. The chaos now is much bigger. Despite the big space available, buses, which needed top priority, are driven into a narrow space, auto rickshaws impede them all along, there are constant jams, honking.. Instead of regulation we now have confusion, auto rickshaw drivers leave their designated spaces and try to catch rail commuters shouting Khar Danda, Rizvi college, Band Stand and National college. This is exactly the kind of scenario that the improvement project was supposed to prevent

I have used Bandra station for the last fifty years and seen many other stations in the metropolis. Nowhere else is there such chaos . Nowhere are such awful barricades put up, involving all sorts of turn arounds and confusion. Few station areas have such big open space but here it is so badly handled and elsewhere they have handled traffic much better with less space. Even Andheri station, which witnesses much heavier footfalls with suburban , long distance and Metro station users sees much better handling of space, I find.

There is clearly an urgent need to completely dismantle the barricades or find some solution. This is what we have got after more than two years of construction work and inconvenience. . Luckily, Abha Lambah, the Bandra station heritage conservation project architect, has responded to praise for her work by saying `Now we need an urban designed plaza to set the jewel in ‘ . This shows that she is clearly not happy with the work done outside the station or at least wants a better managed environment there.

Already the bus shelter roofs look shabby. One bus shelter is not used at all. Though the bus shelters are fairly large, extremely narrow space is allotted for sitting and for a very few. An amazing lack of understanding of ergonomics. There is no clear signage about bus route numbers. Multiple problems.

Cars were never allowed to be parked in the area before the renovation. Now cars are merrily parked, 24 hours, little used, they get the first priority and disdainfully they carry boards declaring they belong to the railways and government of India. A lot of space is completely wased.

All this is a result of emphasis on heritage buildings , yes, heritage is priceless, but there is total neglect of public realm in our planning and it seldom figures even in serious discussions among architects and planners.

There was earlier a UNESCO-inspired plan for regeneration of the area prepared by Aishwarya Tipnis and her team from New Delhi. That vision is totally lacking in this project.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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