Even as the Union government is keen on creating an iconic hub at Kala Ghoda in south Mumbai on the lines of Times Square in New York, several experts, while welcoming the concept, gave a thumbs down to the location chosen for the hub.
Their arguments against Kala Ghoda as the chosen site are that not only would it ruin the character of the quaint artsy crescent-shaped heritage precinct, but it will also put a considerable strain on the infrastructure in the area, with people thronging to one end of the city to experience the attraction. Besides, giving Kala Ghoda the Manhattan makeover will have several stumbling blocks with stringent heritage norms preventing large boards and signage.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director at the Urban Design Research Institute, said, “Having one such site in Mumbai with a lot of colour and vibrancy as a tourist attraction is a good idea. The problem is with the selection of the site. Times Square is different from Kala Ghoda in the sense that it is a part of the newer development of New York and does not have a heritage fabric to it, unlike Kala Ghoda. It is not advisable to lose something in order to gain something else.”
He said the concept would be better implemented in areas that already have a lively, bustling street-life. “For example, Linking Road will probably be much better suited for this concept. It has exactly the same spirit as Times Square. There are several shops and restaurants, and the buildings along Linking Road don’t have any character in particular, unlike those around Kala Ghoda. Other suitable places are Lokhandwala, Colaba Causeway and the area around Thane station,” Joshi added.
The Union government has envisioned a grand plan for the Kala Ghoda square to be implemented with the Maharashtra tourism department in phases with Rs 5 crore sanctioned for the first phase.
The plan involves erecting large billboards for advertisements and videos, high-resolution cameras to transmit live images of people in the area on the screen and live internet streaming. The government will also pave the pedestrian area with stone slabs, create an amphitheatre-like atmosphere by constructing steps for visitors to sit on and encourage street performances. Film and cartoon characters will mill around the area offering photo opportunities for visitors.
Abha Narain Lambah, conservation architect, said though she appreciated the Union government’s initiative, but this sort of beautification with flashy billboards and neon signs was more suited for a place like the Bandra-Kurla Complex. “If the Union government wants to do anything for Kala Ghoda, then it should provide funds for activities such as illumination of the heritage buildings at night. A Times Square-like attraction will be more suited for the Bandra-Kurla Complex, which is a business district. It will add to the character and identity of that location and won’t even interfere with the city’s heritage ethos.”
Lambah, a founder trustee of the Kala Ghoda Association, said the Union government’s plan for the area would be a complete antithesis of everything that the association had been doing to conserve the heritage belt and enhance its allure. “Flashy billboards and signage will hide the elegant buildings and it will be in contravention to heritage norms that prevent hoardings and billboards in such areas,” she added.
Another urban planner, who works with a state government organisation, said authorities should first come up with a policy to curtail vehicular traffic and streamline parking before coming up with such ambitious plans that would strain the crumbling infrastructure further. “There is already an issue of traffic in the area, with several offices located close by. There is also haphazard and double parking on the streets around Kala Ghoda. The Union government’s plan will worsen the situation, especially if they aim to pedestrianise the area like the Times Square. The government should first adopt a policy to reduce vehicular congestion, improve public transport and create parking places,” she said.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) B K Upadhyay said the traffic police had not yet received any communication on such a proposal. “There is not much open space in Kala Ghoda to stop vehicular traffic if large number of people gather in the place, as the approach roads at Kala Ghoda are minimal, due to several commercial offices and courts,” said Upadhyay. “I will only be able to comment once I see the proposal,” he added.