Transforming Sabarmati and its riverbanks into a vibrant and vital focus for Ahmedabad City.
The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project began as an urban renewal project to significantly improve the spatial structure and habitat conditions of the river and adjoining areas. This project aims to transform Ahmedabad’s historic yet neglected river into a vibrant and vital focus for the city.
The development project encompasses both banks of the Sabarmati for a 10.5 kms. stretch, creating approximately 200 hectares of reclaimed land. The project includes water management systems to minimize flooding in traditionally flood-prone areas and to clean up the Sabarmati with new sewage treatment infrastructure; and building retaining walls, which will protect the low-lying areas near the riverbanks from flooding.
A key element of the project is a new linear two-level promenade. The lower promenade with a minimum width of 10 meters will be just above the water level, providing uninterrupted pedestrian access to the water. The upper promenade will host a variety of public buildings, cultural and educational institutions, public parks and plazas and a few areas for commercial development, while new traffic infrastructure will connect the riverfront to the city.
The project aspires to create a unique identity for Ahmedabad by creating a unique skyline for the city. Being a landmark project with far reaching impacts, it is the backbone for rejuvenating inner city neighbourhoods adjacent to the riverfront project, thereby spurring future developments within the city.
The project, being one of the biggest public works project in the country had manifold dimensions and a varied team. Project managers, engineers, urban planners and designers, 3-D visualizers, an artist and government officials worked together to make the project a reality. I was a part of the urban planning and design team for the project HCP Design and Project Management Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, because of which I was involved with conceptual planning and urban design of precincts; and was also involved with creating the public engagement strategy for the project.
Using storyboards for envisioning the future growth of the riverfront
We started using storyboards as a medium to explain the future development of the Sabarmati Riverfront project. Using tracing paper, these storyboards were made to initially understand how to conceptually represent the development of land adjacent to the Sabarmati River; and to create urban design precincts. These representations include the zoning system for the project depending on the area’s proximity to the riverfront; and change in urban character as we moved along the length of the riverfront.
The influence of the riverfront development would diminish with increasing distance from the Sabarmati River. The riverfront's influence could be demarcated into 4 zones based on its extent of influence and private property issues. The 1st zone, which is the lower promenade would used for walking and recreating; and 2nd zone, which is the upper promenade, which will host a variety of uses including commercial, residential, institutional, parks, etc.). The land included in the 1st and 2nd zone belong to the State of Gujarat. The 3rd zone comprised land adjacent to the reclaimed land; but with a mix of private and public property with future development influenced by the riverfront. The 4th zone comprised private properties and was least affected by the riverfront development. The character of areas and communities also changed as we move along the river. Therefore, by taking into consideration these factors, urban design precincts could be planned.
It was also a tricky issue to demarcate the boundary of the precincts due to increased development potential and property prices by being part of the precinct. Therefore, physical boundaries such as railway lines, highways, etc. were used to demarcate the boundaries of the precincts. In this manner, to ensure planned growth and development of areas adjacent to the riverfront and to ascertain that development is seamless between the Riverfront land and these neighbouring areas, 18 precincts were identified for which urban design precinct plans were made.
After demarcating 18 riverfront precincts, their detailed urban design plans and guidelines were made. The aim of the precinct plans was to revitalizing the heart of Ahmedabad and leads the city’s future growth. I had designed three conceptual urban design precinct plans – the Lal Darwaja Heritage Precinct, the Cultural Mile and the Khanpur Mile. While preparing these plans, the existing situation of the neighbouring areas was analysed. This was followed by proposing strategies such as street design, location of plazas, parks, and much more. Lastly, 3D renderings were made to visually represent the interventions done in the precincts.
Different team members had designed different conceptual precinct presentations; and I had designed the 1st prototype of the precinct plan booklet, which could be used as a repository of information regarding the precinct, as well as could be used for public consultation purposes.
Public engagement strategy for the Sabarmati Riverfront
The Riverfront project began in 1998, followed by several revisions of the master plan to accommodate different stakeholder interests. After preparation of each master plan, stakeholder consultations were held with primary stakeholders. However, secondary stakeholders were not involved in the decision-making process and the system to convey project information to the residents of the city did not exist. Attempts were made earlier to build an information system, but remained unsuccessful due to political constraints.
The Riverfront Communications is a project to address these challenges, to understand public perception of the project (by city-wise public interviews and office presentations to NGOs and other citizens’ representatives), with a goal to create an effective system for information dissemination, addressing questions and grievances and building an accountability system between the residents of the city and its political and planning leaders.
As part of the communications project, we invited several stakeholder groups to our company office every Saturday to talk about the project and understand their views and perceptions about it. We also went to 10 different areas in the city and conducted interviews with citizens too know their perception about the project. We realised from this study that most people did not know how the project was proceeding, what was ‘in it’ for them, the fact that tax money was not spent to fund the project, etc. They had no way of knowing anything, and because of the opacity of the government towards this project, people seemed to have lost interest in its proceedings.
Keeping in mind the findings, I developed a public engagement strategy and designed precinct booklets, a brochure and the Sabarmati Riverfront project website to disseminate information.
In the first phase of the project, information could be disseminated using this media as well by posters, radio shows, exhibitions and events on the Riverfront sample stretch. The second phase of the project would deal with involve of citizens in the development process so that they could gradually take ownership of the project.
Keywords: Urban design, precincts, public consultation, stakeholder consultation, contextual design, public engagement, accountability, rejeneration, rejuvenation, sewage treatment, retaining walls, promenade, Ahmedabad, Sabarmati River, people-centric design, Urban planning