01 June 2020

Table of Contents for Project Focus

Interview - Dr. Bimal Patel (HCP Design)

“Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is a pioneering urban project showing Indian cities the way forward”


DR. BIMAL PATEL, DIRECTOR, HCP DESIGN PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT PVT. LTD, AHMEDABAD, has over 25 years of professional, research and teaching experience in architecture, urban design and urban planning. A recipient of several national and international awards, he is also President of CEPT University, Ahmedabad, a leading habitat focused institution. In 1996, Dr. Patel founded Environmental Planning Collaborative, a not-for-profit, planning research and advocacy organisation which works with local governments and other agencies to understand and transform urban design and planning practice in India to make them more effective in improving the quality of life in Indian cities. His research interests are in Land Use Planning, Real Estate Markets, Building Regulations, Land Management and Urban Planning History. Dr. Patel responded to queries from SHRIKANT RAO on the SABARMATI RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT PROJECT


Does the Sabarmati Waterfront Project design derive from any known example of riverfront development across the world?


The Sabarmati Riverfront project design derives from every city that has successfully integrated multi-dimensional goals and socialised its waterfront. For example, the Thames embankment in London that integrated urban infrastructure such as public transport, sewage network and stormwater system etc while creating public spaces and an accessible waterfront. Another recent example is the Korean waterfront in central Seoul that has systematically restored Cheonggyecheon stream and subsequently renewed the downtown by promoting good urban design principles.


What were the main challenges that had to be encountered in bringing forward your vision of design and architecture in the riverfront development? Typically what are the challenges associated with the design-build of such projects, and how is the Sabarmati Project unique in that respect?  


One of the many challenges was addressing people’s apprehensions and dispelling their misconceptions due to lack of clear understanding of the serious dimensions of the project. ‘Focus’ group’ discussions, presentations and a proactive communications strategy has been employed to meaningfully engage and involve the city to appraise them of the project’s many facets, to field their many questions and to address their many apprehensions. Forging a very effective working partnership between politicians, bureaucrats, and private-sector professional and business leaders, vesting decision-making authority in the Board of SRFDCL, using a collaborative and consensual approach and the portraying of the project as a bipartisan civic project were crucial to the successful launch and early progress of the project.


Do you expect the Sabarmati Riverfront Development template to be emulated by other cities with riverfronts? Which are the other Indian cities where similar development could be replicated? Are you working on similar projects elsewhere?


Many see SRFD as a pioneering urban development project, which is already showing Indian cities the way forward. From this perspective, it can be seen as a remarkably foresighted attempt to transform the city and clean up its environment; a socialisation of its private riverfront; an unusually inclusive proposal; or a brilliant way of making growth pay for development. There are regular visitors and delegations from cities all across India wanting to know more about the project. Indian towns and cities are rapidly expanding but their natural assets have been neglected and abused over the years. Each of our cities can steer the growth and upgrade their urban core and assets to improve the lives of its citizens. We are working on similar projects in few other cities and towns such as Himatnagar and Vadodara for rejuvenating their deteriorated waterfront environment to recharge their urban core.


Tell us about the value addition the Sabarmati Riverfront Project has currently brought to the city and to the construction sector in terms of infrastructure development and opportunities? 


The project has been envisioned to be self-financed, using sale of land as a device to implement the project without burdening government coffers. While the major infrastructural components of the project are almost complete, it has already led to increased land values, thus justifying sale of a lesser percentage of land than was originally thought of.  The project’s implementation has also led to gradual revitalisation of the adjoining areas. One notable example in this regard is the commercial heart of Ahmedabad which is situated along the riverfront. It is presently characterised by low-density development with poor utilisation of land. However, the recent plan for the city has also acknowledged the need for redevelopment and is presently consulting for a planned densification of the CBD in order to encourage compact mixed use, transit oriented development with a more walkable, accessible, vibrant and viable built environment.

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