Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hyderabad and Vijayawada* : The tale of two capital cities

Let me put it this way: one capital city has a lake and the other has a river, now which one will fast transform itself into Singaporesque skyline? The fascination of the chief ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for vertically developed glitzy cities, bordered by seas and oceans is really astounding.
So, where is the next Singapore-or-Tokyo-like-capital going to be? In Hyderabad or in Vijayawada or both?  And how many districts will get converted to smart cities - a term that is getting interpreted in different ways for different reasons. This is really reaching cutthroat dimensions – the pace at which both the states trying to outdo the other, incredible indeed!

Of late, this seems to be the major concern, cause and a competitive differentiator for establishing the identity of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides being a lopsided vision, why this obsession with Singapore or Dubai or Tokyo or even Shanghai? Well, these cities may have set global benchmarks in urban living and architecture but where is the need to copy or replicate them? Don't we have any originality of ours? Why can't our political leaders come up with some innovative ideas to develop the capital cities that can bring a unique identity, keeping in mind the history, culture and environment? So, what if Burj Khalifa was built on sea and sand, why should it be re-built on the sandy soils of the river Krishna? Or, why can’t we beautify Sanjivaiah Park to make it greener rather than dot it with concrete structures all around?  These are difficult questions to explore when the notion of development and growth are already defined and confined to the idea of erecting new concrete structures, be it at the cost of environmental risks and other hazards.

Imagine the world's tallest building on the banks of Hussain Sagar and other skyscrapers crowding the poor old Buddha statue...don’t be surprised if he’s replaced with a merlion-like creature for that complete Singaporesque experience! By the way, the Buddha statue is supposed to be the world's tallest monolithic in granite and quite a landmark that never got it’s due. Turns out that some chief ministers of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had their own peculiar vision for Hyderabad - particularly the NTR days when the Buddha Purnima project was taking shape. Then, later, the Necklace Road, a la Marine Drive in Mumbai. And now, the world's tallest tower in the same place. Poor old lake! Forget about environmental implications and all that stuff, anyways the lake is already ruined by idol immersions thanks to the good-enough-number of festivals we have. What about the supporting infrastructure for that tallest tower – power, roads, sewerage and so on.

The fascination for tall buildings as a touristic attraction may hold good. But such structures can come up in other parts of the city as well. Why should they be next to Hussain Sagar? I really wonder what these tall buildings will house in them? Already so many office and shopping spaces are lying unoccupied in prime business areas. Anyways, the theory could be: we will build and they will come...the investors, I mean. Or, tourists? Only time can tell.

Doesn’t this de-focus other key and pressing issues that should have been prioritized? What about other districts that need all the attention? I wish there was some thought and action on balanced vision for all the districts in both the states - post bifurcation. Did someone say why such a hurry with all these huge construction projects, particularly in state capitals? Well, for obvious reasons, that’s not within the scope of this blog!

*At the time of writing this blog Vijayawada is designated to be the capital city of Andhra Pradesh.

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