Thursday, October 21, 2010

Holy Road

I have been meaning to write this for a while.  The thought occurred when on a late evening last month I was with a friend of mine in Dwarka.  After  block after block of suburban multi-storey grey housing, evenly distributed alongside wide motor ways we arrived at the market. A wide right-of-way  with three storey arcade-like building lining the edge of wide open tarmac parking. Two mirror facades, facing each other, abuzz with the even shopping of the office-goer.
We got of our car, on the left  and stepped out. Having taken directions to reach the Sector 6 market. Asked , only to be told this was Sector 10. Where was Sector 6 market then? It was fairly simple the directions – out of the gate, left, straight, left and then right,  Sector  6 market – but where was it? Asked  again? Only to be told, its across the road, the mirror facade facing us was Sector 6.
Like a lot of modern and post modern development of urbanism, the road seems to have come first. And seems to take precedence in the organisation of the idea of the city.
In the simple construction of the early city, the road was the path that lead to destinations, markets on the left and right of roads were the same place. I’m not sure I am making a strong argument here, but there is one. The image is of unconnected islands of habitation, connected to arteries of human transportation, with no sense of place or identity.

About a month ago I was reviewing a design project of a first year student, intervening at the AIIMS flyover area. Everything that could have been altered had been, but the road. The road remained as it was, unchanged, unaltered, with all nature of intervention around it attempting the navigate the 200-odd meter diameter cavity that it punches between four very important densely populated regions.
In the mind of the student ( and I believe in the minds of many!), the road is a given, the highest in an order of hierarchies that determine the nature of the urban environment. And the city finds in shape and purpose on the two sides of this unending strip of tarmac.

This is the great dream of the modern city, the motor-car city.The road first and then all else! The city as product of the means of getting there!  The car the landmark, the holy road the “place”.

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