Rethinking Manek Chowk
By Sree Kumar Mumbai | October 22, 2013
On 26th and 27th of September, EMBARQ India along with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) conducted a 2 day workshop on Reimagining Public Places in Historic Walled City of Ahmedabad in the city. GEHL Architects from Copenhagen provided technical support for EMBARQ India in conducting the workshop. The workshop intended to explore the state of public spaces in historic Indian cities and need for reimagining them, through the context of Ahmedabad's historic walled city. The historic city is structured in the form of units of pols (neighborhoods) around shared community places, symbolic of their way of life. Ahmedabad's walled city consists of significant zones with historic character and is dotted with 27 monuments recognised by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). In recognition of the walled city’s outstanding universal heritage values, the State Government and AMC have prioritised conservation. The city is also in the process of applying to the World Heritage Convention - UNESCO for World Heritage city status. On the other hand, the Draft Revised Development Plan 2021 for Ahmedabad was recently published by AUDA. It is critical juncture for discourse on places in order to set their importance in future directions of development. The visioning workshop demonstrated reimagining public places through the case of Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad. Manek Chowk is located close to the main spine of Historic Walled City and historically an important commercial centre in the city. Manek Chowk is an excellent demonstrative example of urban public space developed on traditional city planning principles which thrives as a vibrant anchor community space in contemporary context. Presently, life in the public space is dominated by vehicles and there is a need to reimagine the public spaces in conjunction with sustainable mobility parameters such as pedestrian priority, traffic safety and public health.
Sanjay Sridhar, Strategy Head, Urban Development and Accessibility, welcomed the participants and explained objectives of the workshop and presented the objectives of the workshop. Chief Executive Authority of AUDA introduced the Draft Revised Development Plan 2021 for Ahmedabad and stated that a Local Area Plan and DCR specific to the Walled City need to be prepared within the Development Plan framework. Municipal Commissioner, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation expressed the need for comprehensive approach towards public spaces and appreciated the efforts by EMBARQ in reimagining public spaces in Historic Walled City. Sree Kumar, EMBARQ India along with Henriette Vamberg, GEHL Architects team presented public spaces and public life survey conducted on demonstration case of Manek Chowk. The analysis emphasized on the present domination of vehicular movement and parking leading to deterioration of public life in the square. While changing aspirations of users and demand for better infrastructure are defining the basis for emerging growth directions, the need for people centric approach to design of public spaces is crucial. Following the morning sessions, the participants travelled to walled city area to get a first-hand experience of the on-ground issues.
The second day began with a summary of the previous day by Kushi Shah, Conservation Architect which was followed by Vikas Dilawari, Conservation Architect and Henriette Vamberg, GEHL Architects presenting their experiences of the challenges in implementing people centric development for public spaces in other contexts. The next session was to evolve visioning for Manek Chowk through intense smaller group discussion by dividing the participants in to 3 teams. The concentric vision for the public space addressed Manek Chowk as vibrant commercial, community centre of the walled city of Ahmedabad. The economic functional vibrancy of the Manek chowk can be strengthened by reduced vehicular dominance and enhanced public life and appreciation of heritage. The afternoon session chaired by Prof. E.F.N. Ribeiro focused on institutional systems required for involving various stakeholders in realising the implementation of reimagining Manek Chowk. There was a general consensus among the participants on the need for a special committee to be setup by AMC to look after the implementation. Overall, the workshop arrived at distinct positions in understanding complexity of public spaces in historic cities in Indian context. Considerable inroads were made in arriving at people centric approaches to public places by managing mobility, organizing functional configurations, improving environmental quality and institutional interventions. Rejeet Mathews, EMBARQ India facilitated the visioning exercise and summarised the discussions. Ulrik Nielsen from GEHL Architects, Vijay Anadkat and Neha Mungekar, EMBARQ India also participated in the workshop Madhav Pai, Director, EMBARQ India proposed the vote of thanks and briefed the way forward.