In 1978, as the city of Seoul in South Korea ‘developed’, a 6 km. long river called the Cheonggyecheon was covered up. An 8-lane street was built over it, and an elevated expressway built over the street. The road was called Cheonggye Road, in memory of the late river.
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In 2005 the elevated expressway and the road were broken up and the river restored. It took two years and the equivalent of Rs. 4000 crore for the restoration.
Most developing countries go down the route of adding concrete, tar, steel and plastic to their landscape at a breakneck pace as they become prosperous. Development is somehow confused with raping the environment. South Korea too was one such developing country, and fell prey to this developing country syndrome. It is now part of the first world, and is redefining the term ‘development.
In Namma Bengaluru, we are now engaged in the task of recklessly building elevated roads and flyovers, widening roads, chopping down trees and filling up lakes, all in the name of improving infrastructure
We do not have rivers, but we have covered up a lot of lakes in our greed for land. Majestic bus stand used to be Dharmambudhi Tank, Kanteerava Stadium was Sampangi Tank, City Market was Siddikatte tank, the Football Stadium was Shoolay Tank.
Many of today’s localities were once tanks – Channammanakere Achkattu, Leggere, Abbigere, Konanakunte, Mathikere, Kargunte, Sarakki kere, Tavarekere, Agasanakere, Mavalli. Kere means lake in Kannada, and all localities with names ending with ‘kere’ or ‘gere’ were once lakes, some of them man-made, some natural. In fact it is mostly these areas than get water-logged in the monsoon. How logical is it to live in the middle of a former lake (which is the lowest point in the area, into which water naturally flows from the surrounding space) and then complain when water enters our house during heavy rains? But then, that’s another story.
The damage that we are doing to the city is mostly irreversible, or reversible at an astronomical cost, like the Rs. 700 crore per km. of the Cheonggyecheon river.
The government is worried about businesses moving out of Bangalore, and talks of making the city once again the preferred destination for businesses from all over the world. Most companies that came here in the past did so because of its climate, clean air, greenery, culture and history. We are now destroying the very reason that brought all those companies to Bangalore in the first place. Why would they come to just another hot dusty concrete jungle, when they can go to cheaper ones like Faridabad, Kanpur or any of the hundreds of such towns in India ?
We in Bangalore are at the beginning of the ‘ruin-then-restore’ cycle. We can either learn from those (like Seoul) who have gone ahead of us down this path and changed course recently, or go down the same path and learn from our own bitter and costly experience.
Given our confidence in our ‘glorious 4000 year old cultural heritage and history of scientific achievements’, something tells me that we will not want to learn from the experiences of other countries and will want to chart our own path. So (pardon my cynicism) I think we can brace ourselves for some serious concreting, asphalting, tree-cutting, lake-filling and Bangalore-warming for the next 20 years. ⊕