In a refreshing shift from tales of pollution and degradation, cities across India, including Kota, Indore, and Coimbatore, are reimagining and revitalizing their waterfronts. This transformation aims to turn once-neglected areas into vibrant public spaces that seamlessly blend business, culture, and recreation.
Kota’s Cultural Heritage Showcase
Kota’s Chambal riverfront, inaugurated in September 2023, stands as a testament to this transformation. The ₹1,400 crore project, developed by the Urban Improvement Trust (UIT), has revitalized a 6-km stretch, featuring 27 theme-based ghats. Notably, Geeta Ghat showcases all 700 verses of the 18 Gita chapters on a marble plaque, contributing to the city’s cultural and spiritual representation.
Anoop Bartaria, the project’s architect, expressed the significance: “The Chambal river had been reduced to a garbage-filled backyard. Now, it has become the city’s beautiful face. This is the first heritage waterfront of its kind in the country representing India’s culture and spiritual traditions.”
Indore’s Riverfront Reconnection
In Indore, a 3.3-km riverfront along the Kahn river, developed by Indore Smart City, has successfully reconnected residents to the river. Digvijay Singh, CEO of Indore Smart City, noted, “There has been at least a 40% increase in property prices in the area” and emphasized the riverfront’s role in fostering community engagement.
Coimbatore’s Vibrant Public Space
Coimbatore has witnessed the transformation of the Valankulam lakefront from a garbage yard to the city’s most vibrant public space. Featuring amphitheatres, exhibition spaces, co-working spaces, restaurants, play areas, cycle tracks, and a viewing pavilion, the lakefront has become a hub for various events and celebrations.
Baskar Srinivasan, general manager of Coimbatore Smart City, highlighted the positive impact: “The redeveloped waterfront has greatly improved the quality of life for residents. The per capita space in the city has increased from 2.17 square metres to 4.9 square metres, achieved by removing massive lakeside encroachments.”
Reviving the Legacy of Riverfronts
India, with its rich history and cultural ties to rivers, is witnessing a revival of its riverfronts. Inspired by projects like the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad, many cities are undertaking redevelopment initiatives under the Smart Cities Mission. The River Cities Alliance (RCA), launched by the government, further emphasizes sustainable river-centric development, with over 100 river cities across India as members.
While these projects aim to create vibrant urban spaces, environmental concerns have been raised. Critics argue that some developments follow a Western model that does not encourage direct interaction with the river, emphasizing the need to balance development with environmental preservation.
Cities and architects involved in these projects assert their commitment to addressing environmental concerns. Green infrastructure, sustainable design practices, and measures like desilting rivers and constructing sewage treatment plants are employed to mitigate potential negative impacts.
As India’s cities embrace the renaissance of their waterfronts, they navigate the delicate balance between urban development and environmental stewardship.