When we eat our words

Remember our post and debate on the Indraprastha Park? Well, we decided to actually visit the park, and, you know, see for ourselves whether our fancy theories and top-down discussions hold any merit.

They don’t.

We went around 4 in the afternoon, and it was blazing hot, but there was no dearth of people. Mostly young (and middle aged, and young and middle aged) couples under bushes and behind trees, but also some uncle-types and school boys all hanging out together.

The reason why we don’t see any cars, cycles, etc. parked out front is because the park has a very nice and convenient parking lot, which was pretty much full when we visited.

It also has a designated canteen area, with lots of stalls and seating.

The Park is surprisingly peaceful, even with the Ring Road right next door.

The park is surprisingly peaceful, being next to both the Ring Road and the railway line. And the west edge is absolutely brilliant, simply falling down to the railway line some 3-4 metres below.

The railway line, from the western edge of the Park.

We also finally went to the white marble Shanti Stupa, the one which you can see gleaming in the sun from the Ring Road. It was actually being cleaned, necessary to maintain its shine, I guess. (The park also had plenty of malis and security guards, so maintenance is definitely not an issue.) And well, it’s a real stupa, and not a fake one, like I stupidly thought it would be because it’s not ancient.

The modern Stupa, complete with a universal access ramp.

It’s definitely authentic, complete with other Buddhist signage and inscriptions out back. And we were very, very lucky to see a young Budhist monk, in ceremonial orange and yellow robes, pay his respects to the stupa and the other monks living behind it. It was surreal, almost unbelievable that we were still in Delhi.

Prefabricated (?) houses for the Buddhist monks, behind the Stupa
The amazing stone work and textures in the Japanese-style "zen garden", sadly inaccessible.

So, were we completely wrong? Is the IP Park a sensible and perfect-as-it-is land use decision?

The Park is very nice, and so what if it doesn’t have a specific function? It seems to function quite well as a public park. This challenges most of what we’ve learnt in our Theory of Settlements class, and otherwise. Is it again a case of “technocrats” theorizing without understanding the ground conditions? But what we’ve learnt does make sense: of course good public spaces need to be easily accessible and have relevant functions. Perhaps Indrapratha Park is an exception, but I have a feeling we’re missing something here. Maybe it’s more accessible than we think, and it has another entrance, or maybe there are some offices nearby because of which we saw so many office people. Either way, there’s no questioning the publicness of the Park.

So, we eat humble pie (and our words).

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Of breathing spaces and public places

From Lucy Peck’s absolutely brilliant DELHI: A Thousand Years of Building (2005):

There are numerous problems associated with Delhi that do not appear to have ready solutions. Some of the causes are easy to identify: it is widely understood, for instance, that low-density development causes traffic congestion. In the case of Delhi the situation is exacerbated by the lowest densities occurring in the ring that encircles the commercial heart of the city, while higher densities occur further out.

This phenomenon was recently termed (very aptly, I think) “the inverted suburb” by our Design studio faculty Dr. Leon Morenas. It definitely adds to -in fact, is one of the main reasons for- Delhi’s traffic problems, but I think I agree with Varun when he says that the solution can not be to increase the built in Lutyens Delhi. Can you imagine the city without this green centre as breathing space? Of course, there are other issues, such as how these green spaces are mostly private and also never used as such in our climate, but the point is that they also act as necessary lungs for the city. And how awesome is the fact that (according to the Masterplan 2021) Delhi is one of the greenest cities in the world?

The green lungs

Also from the same book:

Another easily identifiable problem is the astonishing amount of unused or ill-used land in the city centre, including a suprising amount of decayed industrial land that lies empty. Among many startling inept land use decisions must be counted the new Indraprastha Park between the Ring Road and the main north-south railway line near the Yamuna, which is inaccessible by foot from any residential neighbourhood apart from Sarai Kale Khan- surely a prerequisite for an urban park!

This park is very close to college, and this is another thing which I’ve always wondered about- who uses it? I never see any people about, though I confess I’ve never been inside, and only seen it from the road. Of course pedestrians can’t use it -crossing that stretch of the Ring Road is near impossible- and I don’t even see any cycles or cars outside it, so we can’t even say that non-pedestrians use it. Neither have I ever seen any hawkers or ice-cream walas (who unfailingly congregate around used public places).

The large public park(s?), bound by the railway line and the ring Road.

This just begs the question: What were they thinking? Actually, they probably had pretty good intentions, of providing Delhi with a very well designed and landscaped public park, but how could they not have thought of something as basic as accessibility?

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Update (28/09/2011), by Rohan Patankar

The Indraprastha Park opened in 2004 over a saturated landfill site. Hence, its location was not determined by its pedestrian linkages at all. I guess the intention was to give the city a green lung and a visually pleasant open stretch. (BTW, I absolutely love the Jaali detail on the boundary wall of the park, will try getting a picture soon). About the desertedness, I have seen lots of school buses and cars parked on weekend mornings, but surely, its complete potential hasn’t been realized. Partly because of inaccessibility, and partly because of its bleh function. If the need and use of the open space, could be identified (maybe, themed) more specifically, it would pull people out of their neighborhood parks, for stronger reasons, repeatedly.

So, what do you guys think? How can this Park be made more successful? What other intervention would have made more sense or been better suited to the site? Which public function (that the city lacks) could have been accommodated here?