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Chennai has all the ingredients to be a great place to live, naturally

Aparajithan N | Chennai 17 Nov 2012, Vol 3 Issue 46

Chennai is synonymous with its beaches. But not many realize that Chennai is also home to many other water bodies apart from the big Bay. Two rivers and a myriad of lakes and ponds make up Chennai; indeed some parts of the city are built on some of them.

Apart from the water bodies, Chennai is one of the very few cities in the world that boasts of a national reserve forest within its boundary.

A few rolling hillocks and sprawling marshlands with exotic birds add to its natural beauty. Nature has bestowed on the city a grandeur that ranks up there with any location in the world. What has been done with these idyllic locations though is far from ideal.

A case in point is the Chitlapakkam lake shown in the pictures here. The first picture shows a bountiful lake with lush greenery and a small temple gopuram, which presents a picture of an idyllic setting, the kind which we should be promoting more and more.

 
Photos by Aparajithan N
 

However, the reality is far from the first picture shown. The reality is in the second picture which presents the lake as a large dump yard. A road abuts the lake totally oblivious to its presence. What is happening to Chennai?

A drive down Chitlapakkam Main Road gives one an experience of wanting to get out of here at the earliest. What one sees is a large compound wall with a collage of low cost advertisements (graffiti) which actually tries to mask a large dump yard. What is the urban experience one derives out of such dystopia?

Imagine this. A drive down Chitlapakkam Main Road along a neatly preserved water body bordered by a large embankment with colourful and shade giving trees, lots of benches for spending a little time, a neat walkway, and a play area for kids! It is a public space where one could go chill out without paying a single penny. How about this utopia? Is it really utopia or is this imagery within our reach?

What is the significance of preserving such natural spots? Is it only a feel good factor as explained above, is it environmental protection, or does it offer bigger benefits?

The intent of this article is to elucidate the effect of preserving such natural spots on the morale of a community and promote a healthy quality of life. The spread and abundance of natural spots in Chennai affords us the capability to do so.

Having a public place to hang out close to home is the best way to promote a healthy quality of life. Having inherited the compulsion to spread the city to its hinterlands, we need to decentralize the attractions of a city as well.

Hitherto, people in the suburbs of Chennai have been forced to travel in order to find recreation. And this travel has been getting more and more arduous with the traffic scenario.

Walls bearing graffiti such as these block the view of the lake

I recently read a line on the internet which goes like this – “I am stuck in traffic.” To which another responds, “You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.” (!)

The essence of bringing public spaces closer to home is that people need not travel in search of recreation which itself could alleviate part of the traffic conundrum as well.

The environmental benefits of preserving these landmarks need no explanation. But preserving these landmarks environmentally requires a complete change in our attitude towards waste management.

Employing ‘waste to wealth’ techniques - segregating at source, recycling wastes and using bio-digesters to process bio-degradable waste which could help in producing energy – is an absolute necessity.

Unless we create a grave to cradle life cycle for waste, diverting them off landfills will remain an issue, and until then our lakes and water bodies will continue to be used for this purpose.

Below is a picture of the utopia that this article alludes to. Though this is not exactly from a suburban location, it speaks eloquently of the gap in vision in preserving and enjoying Chennai’s water bodies and natural resources.

Potomac Park, Washington DC 

Chennai has all the ingredients to be a great place to live. It need not rank high in the Global City ratings, it need not be an economic powerhouse, or even an IT hub. It has always been a place where people have liked to live.

However, the teeming city has lost its sense of self and a sense of direction in its growth trajectory and what better place to start restoring lost ground than in preserving its natural resources.

Aparajithan N is Principal Architect at AN Projects Design Pvt Ltd, Chennai
 

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