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The City of Chandigarh - II
|by Ashish Nangia|
Urban Planning, Evolution and Modern-day Issues
The end of an Utopia?
Chandigarh was planned by Le Corbusier as a CIAM (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne) city. The CIAM was a group of architects and urban planners who formulated rules for an ideal city for the modern age in the so-called Athens Charter. In brief, the CIAM city divided human functions into work, living and leisure, and the city in its strict zoning of functions was to reflect this division of human life into cycles.
In its egalitarianism, the CIAM city responded well to the needs of a new capital city of modern India and dovetailed neatly with the founding principles liberty and equality of the new republic. Chandigarh answered to two agendas: CIAM on the one hand and the new India on the other, and was supposed to represent the best of both.
In its wide avenues and streets, its green spaces running right through the heart of the city, its socialist bent to housing design, Chandigarh was right from the start very different from existing Indian city cores. That this difference existed not only on paper but also in reality was apparent from a visit to the city – its stark emptiness and apparently over-scaled spaces were reminiscent more of a ghost town than a living, breathing organism.
Reinforcing class inequality? – The Chandigarh Master Plan
Secondly, Le Corbusier was a great architect, but his intrinsically instinctive approach seemed to be less conducive to practical urbanism. This translated into a flawed appreciation of how cities develop, and the real estate issues that go hand in hand. Thus, while Chandigarh was supposed to develop evenly along its three phases of development, the reality is that there is a hierarchy in the city plan, which runs from north to south, and in this hierarchy the northern sectors are more privileged than the rest, with lesser densities, more infrastructure, and better upkeep. It is no wonder that they are the living places of the city’s elite – the politicians and bureaucrats, and the wealthiest and oldest families of city. There is hierarchical development in every city – but that there is one in Chandigarh as well, a city which had as its main goals the suppression of class struggle – is a measure of the limitations of planning on basic human instinct.
The plan gives very little concession to political reality. While Le Corbusier mired Chandigarh in an idealistic world – no development around the city for 16 kilometers to preserve its ‘green’ character – the fact is that the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab have profited from the city by developing, promoting and finally selling townships of their own – Panchkula and Mohali. Till date, these towns, though having a sizable population of their own, do not have sufficient infrastructure to support it – and thus it is Chandigarh which now supports a daytime population much larger than what it was originally meant for. Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali are now rapidly taking on the characteristics of a metropolis, and combining together to create a much larger city than the original 47 sectors of Chandigarh. This fact has no reflection in the Chandigarh plan, which still talks about Chandigarh as an isolated island, oblivious to all external development.
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