City Soul Under Attack

      Source : IMPHAL FREE PRESS

      Imphal's three most important and historic shopping streets, Thangal
Bazar, Paona Bazar and BT Road are today virtually cut off from each other,
thanks to the construction of a flyover literally stretching all the way
above the BT Road. The situation is unlikely to improve for at least the
next two years, the timeline set by the government for the completion of
construction. If government deadlines in the past are anything to go by, two
years can stretch on an on till kingdom comes. All this would have been
considered a small price to pay if the logic of a flyover over BT Road was
convincing proof for good city planning or enlightened vision. We have
always been a critic of the choice of the flyover location. One, it will
deface the historic BT Road, an area that could have been developed into
Imphal's focal point, not just as a shopping centre but also as a Mall, with
a sense of space around, where people could come out for a walk in the
evenings or just sit around and unwind the pressures of city life that
payloads on all city dwellers each day. These pressures aren't so
intolerable as of today, but mark our words, in another decade or so the
city will grow on us and that will be the time we begin missing the openness
of the Kangjeibung and the straight, wide-road stretch of the BT Road.
Unfortunately for us, that will be the time we see only the dirty underbelly
of a flyover when we search for a glimpse of the stars spangled night sky we
all take so much for granted today. The Mall is such a beautiful concept.
Every well-planned city, New Delhi, Paris, Washington DC. has it; every
British planned hill station, Darjeeling, Shimla, Naini Tal, Macleod's Ganj.
has it. And here we are frittering away an ideal site for such a city
centre, with a long history as its identity.

      Two, even if we were to limit our criticism within the idioms of the
Modernist Movement in architecture that advocates creating as much utility
area as possible from all available space, we still think a flyover over BT
Road is bad planning. From practical experience, all of us who have seen
other cities with many flyovers like Guwahati or New Delhi, know very well
that the most aesthetically pleasing flyovers are the ones that skirt around
the city and the ugliest ones are those that cut through the city amongst
its buildings. Compare the Chandmari and the Ganeshguri flyovers in
Guwahati, or the ISBT and the Defence Colony flyovers in New Delhi to get a
feel of the comparison we a trying to make. The BT Road flyover is going to
belong to the Ganeshguri and Defence Colony category, and even if it manages
to ease the traffic volume it will introduce a general claustrophobic
atmosphere that Imphal has not known since.

      We do agree there is a traffic bottleneck along the BT Road but this
is because so far it has been developed as practically the only link between
the Lamphel/Langol office blocks and the part of Imphal on the east of the
Nambul divide. The government has been making no serious effort to develop
the other roads bridging the divide. As for instance, regulating traffic
flows towards the lanes and by-lanes in the Thangmeiband area, could have
made the need for a flyover not so very urgent. Again, we do feel, with
little or perhaps no extra expenditure, instead of a flyover, a tunnel
passage burrowing under the Nambul and the busy Khwairamband area would have
been a much better solution to the traffic bottlenecks. Such an alternative
would have saved the defacing of the BT Road area. It would have also been
more in keeping with the Modernist approach to city architecture. In
architecture however, and especially in considering the BT Road question, we
are more inclined towards the Postmodernists who emphasize on the soul and
spirit of architectural works rather than only the creation of utility
space. We are not suggesting the preservation of the BT Road as an
archeological site by freezing all growth. We are only advocating that its
inevitable metamorphoses must not kill its historicity, its spirit, its
life. That ought to have been the challenge before our city planning and