The intrinsic correlation of life style and living patterns govern the habitable physical environment. The human activities follow patterns, which become format for physical environment. Activities defining relationships between individuals and groups display patterns of associations. This characterizes the settlement patterns giving form to settlements at varying scales in a given society. Thus the culture of a society and the settlement patterns are complementarities, which provide richness in a particular civilization. History of settlement patterns can be summed up on these lines and it is effective of these two aspects. The incongruity in either can affect the social well being of the community concerned and its environment within the settlement. If there is a mismatch between the patterns of associations and its built environment the conflicts develop and there is resultant strife in quality of life of the society. For this reason it is evident that the well being of any society is primarily dependent on the habitable environment and is directly proportional to it. “The city is a related collection of primary groups and purposive associations: the first, like family and neighbourhood, are common to all communities, while the second are especially characteristic of city life. These varied groups support themselves through economic organizations that are likewise of more or less of corporate, or at least publicly regulated character; and they are all housed in permanent structures, within a limited area. The essential physical means of a city’s existence are a fixed site, the durable shelter the permanent facilities for assembly, interchange, and storage; the essential social means are the social division of labour, which serves not merely the economic life but cultural processes.”1

The current events in Ahmadabad leading to extended strife compels us to review this interdependency between the patterns of Association and built environment to investigate the mismatch that has grown with the increasing congestion and the unplanned growth of the traditional town into a metropolis of today. History of evolving Ahmadabad has passed through several stages of its growth, starting from a traditional merchant town on the trade route - to a sultanate capital - to a wealthy industrial town - to a trade and commercial city - to a state capital in the region - to the present overgrown congested urban ‘Mega City’. At each of its stages of growth it has added extra population claiming additional living environment around commercial activities, which has grown like unrelated accretion, which forces itself as a part of the ‘city’. City demands associations in a structured relationship, which induces civility. These accretions have no bearing on the existing framework of the city in the manner of its emergence and hence psychologically or pattern-wise it has no association with the existing city dismissing any scope for developing ‘civility’ in its inhabitants. These chunks of population, in fact grows terrible hatred for the city, as they constantly live in an environment that highlights the striking difference between that which ‘belongs’ to the city and they who ‘don’t belong’ to the city in spite of being there as a berated entity. Perhaps at the outset this is the prime reason for the destruction in city, which in their minds is only a burden of misery and contradiction of living, and for that reason a target for destruction when frustration overrides all other senses.

In Ahmadabad the historic walled was the “seat of imperial power”2 The city had dominant population of Hindus and Muslims who enjoyed different status. The Muslims being closer to the Ruling Power enjoyed a status of imperial connection while Hindus, mainly merchant class held the control of tread and commerce and wealth, which indirectly enriched the Imperial Power. For this reason the rulers always managed a balance in co-existence maintaining the identity of both which was strongly manifest in Ahmadabad’s ‘pol’ settlements. This ‘pol’ had an insular environment reflecting the sense of security in co-existence and also a strong character of community identity. It is very interesting to infer though that the historic city until the 20th century was a walled city, which was ecologically, and architecturally a collective form with its inherent diversity. Even in those days the quarrels and strife were not unknown but it was always limited, basically a human aberration solved with mutual sense of well being to all as merchants used to have their own security staff, which controlled such quarrels in no time and sense of justice established by intervention of community guilds, in mutual interest. “Ahmadabad (along with Hyderabad, Lucknow and Delhi) is fortunate in having a historic core, a four centuries old core which should allow reflection on past and a perspective on the future. It is pity that not only has the value of this historic core been dimmed through negligence, but also the core itself has been allowed to become a menace. Economic stagnation, urban decay and constant threat of communal conflicts in the walled city have created a hydra-headed monster which poised to strike metropolis as a whole.”3 She further recommends restoration of the old city for which “there should be no lack of support, financial and professional, from either the centre or from international agencies. The plans cannot merely be town-planning job. They must be people centred economic and social plans which at the same time ensure the conservation of the built environment, which is a heritage” 4.

“In the transformation of environment, architecture has a peculiar part to play. This arises not merely because building constitute such a large part of man’s daily surroundings; but because architecture reflects and focuses such vide variety of social facts: the character and resources of natural environment, the state of the industrial arts and empirical tradition and experimental knowledge that go into their application, the process of social organization and association, and the beliefs and world-outlooks of the whole society. In an age of social disintegration and unrelated specialism, architecture looses most of its essential character.”5

There have been a constant history of strife in Ahmadabad between the communities and these are ready to ignite for any little provocation out of a trivial incidence or engineered, but so far it always began from the old city areas, which are virtually labelled as the flash zones. But thus far the new Ahmadabad areas were never affected, this time the rioting began on eastern part of the city and that brings us back to the earlier point, which I have made about the conditions of settlements. “The modern urban cores in India have not evolved out of the ancient city centres, but have emerged, more often than not, de novo, in new areas.”6 The newer areas are signified by deprivation in all sense. These areas developed as a result of intense congestion, economic deprivation and blight as an adjunct to the historic city. The population also is the migrant groups from rural areas in Saurashtra, Rajasthan and far eastern states looking for livelihood opportunities. “The problems of battering life and environment are not separate ones, It is at bottom an experimental problem, that of starting a re- adaptation.” 7 But this has never been an attempt in planning of the growth of the city like Ahmadabad and as a result there is a large population residing in slums, which is also “an outward expression of physical impoverishment:” 8 and there has been no attempt to attack this central economic problem. The area of planning the growth in our cities has been completely left as a drawing board exercise and it only concerns with zoning without suggestions for developing community plans. This is amply reflected in the cities, which simply are allowed to grow in size in a complete disregard to the resultant life it offers. In Ahmadabad, the areas around the inner city initially started growing like ‘suburbs’ after the cantonment was set up by the British Agency. The areas developing after the 70s in the manner of squalor showed no regard to the danger it can pause to the entire city. The lessons of old city of Ahmadabad, which were rightly perceived and even highlighted by Patrick Geddes in his Report on Ahmadabad are unfortunately overlooked. The size of the community, its management by an indigenous group, the provision of satisfying the social and associational needs of the people at the settlement level for emotional bond and easiness in circulation (approachability within settlement) constituted the domain of communities where mutual sharing, agreement in common goals and a sense of well-being of the collective became the fundamental objective of settlement plans. Where do we see these concerns reflected in the mushrooming growth of the city today? The city to day is an endless spread where people of diverse background are pushed into an area where the might set the right and vested interests govern the condition of the scores of inhabitants who are trying to secure a place to survive for a livelihood. These populations have no amenities to support them. Even basic necessities are not present and individual families have to struggle for survival in scarcity. It is survival and life reduced to the basic minimum and in that struggle there is no community bondage prevailing in their day-to-day life, no sharing and no common agreement supporting a common existence. When the settlement grows beyond limits, it results into a faceless existence and the quality perhaps as an irreducible minimum! “A community that does not plan and build the necessary structures for common life will remain under a perpetual weight and handicap; its buildings may tower against the skies, but its actual social stature may be smaller. We need, in every part of the city, units in which cooperative behaviour can take the place of mass regulations, mass decisions, mass actions, imposed by ever remoter leaders and administrators. Small groups: small communities: institutions framed to the human scale are essential to purposive behaviour in modern society. Very stupidly we have overlooked the way in which large scale limits the opportunities all along the line: not merely by the friction of space, or burden of vast mechanical and administrative overhead, but also by diminishing opportunities. Thus as Raymond Unwin has pointed out that twenty small communities would not merely be more adequately governed, probably, than one city of one million: it would for example, give an opportunity for twenty mayors or city managers against one in the big centre. This rule holds in every other part of the society. With our overgrown cities, is it any wonder that we easily become the victims of propaganda machines, routine’s, and dictators? ”8 this is exactly the predicament of Ahmadabad today.

  • 1. (Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities, A Harvest Book, pp.480)
  • 2. Old cities and New Predicament, A Study of Hyderabad: Ratna Naidu, Sage Publications, 1990
  • 3. -ibid-
  • 4. -ibid-
  • 5. Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities, A Harvest Book, pp.480
  • 6. Ratna Naidu, Old cities and New Predicament, A Study of Hyderabad: Sage Publications, 1990
  • 7. Patrick Geddes as quoted by Lewis Mumford, ibid, pp.402
  • 8. Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities, A Harvest Book, pp.476