The Logical Indian community congratulates this city described variously as a Picasso painting, City of Gardens, and City Beautiful, for winning another laurel!! It has been described as one of the most perfect cities in the world to live in by none other than BBC! So the residents of India’s greenest and most prosperous city has yet another reason to cheer–,”Chandigarh is the only successful perfect city in the world.” concludes Jonathan Glancey, an author writing for BBC.
After a survey of various cities from the dawn of history, Glancey opines that unlike a number of cities whose plans remained on paper, or which crumbled to ruins soon after their construction, Chandigarh has stood the test of the time. It goes to the credit of Chandigarh that it had the honour of being compared to cities like Akhenaten’s Amarna, Venetian Republic’s Palmanova, Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri, Russia’s St Petersburg, Brasilia, and Sir Christopher Wren’s design for a new Renaissance-style City of London, following the Great Fire of 1666 (not actualized). “Ideal towns lack the layers of history and culture of organic cities”, according to the author of the article.
Chandigarh, unlike a number of ideal cities which remained on paper, has succeeded against the grain to become the world’s surviving ideal city. After all, it boasts of striking monumental architecture, self-contained neighbourhoods, greenery and a perfect blend of tradition and modernity. It has been able to withstand the growing population and infrastructural pressures remarkably well.
Chandigarh was born as a by-product of India’s Partition in 1947, a time when our country was facing its worst nightmares of communal riots. There was a dividing line through the Punjab region and the old capital of Lahore became a part of Pakistan. A new capital for this land of five rivers was the need of the hour. It was to be the model of a modern city doling out the promise of peace, democracy and a new social order without the bitter divisions of the recently obtained Independence and Partition. It had to be the symbol of the nation’s recovery from the recent nightmares of history.
The paramount question was who would be commissioned to plan this new regional capital for India. Initially, Albert Mayer from New York, who was already advising Jawaharlal Nehru, was approached. Unfortunately, in 1950 his assistant Matthew Nowicki was killed. The rising value of US$ led an Indian delegation to the renowned Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. After initial hesitation, Corbusier agreed to plan Chandigarh and its principal buildings – after all, he also dreamt of planning an ideal city.
It is true indeed that Corbusier was the brain behind the master plan of Chandigarh, but no city can survive unless its people take an active interest in its maintenance. It goes to the credit of its residents that this city was able to not only accommodate the originally intended 5 lakh people but also the present population of around 12 lakh.
With increasing population there is enhanced pressure on all the civic amenities to stand up to the new challenges, which they were quite good at, courtesy strict traffic management, green cover and regular checks on industrial emission. Chandigarh supplies 13-15 hours of water and electricity to almost 99% of its households. According to a ‘State of environment report’ released last year, Chandigarh has the highest human development index and quality of life amongst all Indian cities.
Of course, any city needs re-planning at regular intervals keeping in view the growing population needs. The Chandigarh Master Plan 2013 recommends mix land use in southern sectors while not allowing tall building in the north. 25,000 flats are being constructed to accommodate slum dwellers so as to make it a slum-free city.
Meanwhile, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patromoine, the Paris gallery and archive housed in the Palais du Chaillot has put on exhibition including photographs of life in Chandigarh. It has been done fifty years after the demise of le Corbusier in 1965.
We hope that the residents and visitors of Chandigarh will find the exhibition exhilarating and celebratory! We also wish that Chandigarh may continue to live up to the newest epithet that it has earned for itself in the years to come.