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Bombay Greenway: Turning Spaces into Places in Mumbai

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

by Meghana Injeti

Every year, if Mumbai, the financial and commercial powerhouse of India had to make a list of all the urban struggles it faces, it would comprise annual water logging issues, lack of adequate open public spaces, depleting green cover. Apart from that, there are overcrowded railway stations and trains, east-west city divide, severe road congestion, non-existent cycle tracks, degrading footpaths, and the current dangers of the pandemic, but the city still has potential for evolution and change.

The potential for change is exactly what Anca & Alan Abraham and their team from Abraham John Architects saw, a chance for unique sustainable development projects. The duo spearheads the city level projects via their initiative Bombay Greenway, a not-for-profit urban design & Research platform by Abraham John Architects, exploring a series of transformational architectural, urban planning and place making interventions in Mumbai. The name originated from one of their biggest urban proposals called The Bombay Greenway Project.

The Bombay Greenway Project (TBGP) is designed to be a linear park above the existing railway lines, allowing for improved connectivity and creation of over 1000 acres of public space. The project is intended to be environment friendly, pedestrian and cycle-friendly, sustainable and all-inclusive.

TBGP © Bombay Greenway / Abraham John Architects

The Greenway Project noticed the lack of green and recreational spaces in the city and saw this as an opportunity to create a new narrative for the historically and economically important railway lines.

It all started in 2012 when they had had enough of complaining about the lack of open spaces and poor connectivity in the city and instead co-founded Bombay Greenway. Their motivation to improve the city also lies with the fact that they want their young children to have a better life in this city, clean air to breathe and safe spaces to walk and play.

Why ‘railway lines’ as the focus? It is simple, the railways being the spine of the city, offers the greatest possibility. “The railway in Mumbai is a great connector but also a great divider. Every day 10-12 people die on the railway tracks, because of the nature of the tracks. The trains are often extremely crowded, with no sense of personal space, much like chicken coops. People try to cross the rail tracks, which results in 4000 casualties a year, and there’s also a severe waterlogging issue during the rainy season”, says Alan Abraham.

There are many projects currently under construction, focused on motorised transport, with no forethought about the optimum efficiency or real needs. The government is spending over 200,000 crores on these infrastructure development projects which will benefit only a fraction of the population. The cost of construction for the entire greenway would be approximately equivalent to that of a 114km long six-lane flyover. Yet, unlike the above mentioned public projects, it will be a non-motorised greenway designed for ALL, offering open public spaces that Mumbai currently lacks, minimising traffic and helping the city reduce its carbon footprint and with retail spaces as an added revenue opportunity for the railways. An added positive outcome being that there is no environmental deforestation which takes place, i.e., it requires no tree felling, no land reclamation or any acquisition at all because all the land already belongs to the railways.

The Bombay Greenway Concept © Bombay Greenway / Abraham John Architects

The Greenway would be estimated to handle at least about 75 lakhs (or 7.5 million) people daily, a number that is more than the population of many smaller developed countries.

“On the Greenway, people can walk from Andheri to Churchgate or run the marathon from Borivali to Churchgate or cycle comfortably without getting into a road accident or inhaling pollutants”, says Alan. The project is a connector that allows people to cross east to west, north to south wherever you are in the city. Anca further added the possibilities of “green modes of transportation like bike-sharing facilities and a linear park accessible to the Entire City at its local station, is a much-needed solution for an overcrowded city like ours”.

They’ve also designed a water collecting and harvesting system which will not only help 1000 acres of the linear greenway to conserve potentially about 750 crore litres of water for their own use but will also help in reducing the heat load of the trains allowing for an easy & effective air conditioning inside the trains as well, and further, it will also assist and support other surrounding businesses.

The greenway would encourage social interaction, public engagement, carry the major service lines (electrical lines, gas lines, water supply and communication lines), and so much more!

Benefiting the City and the Environment © Bombay Greenway / Abraham John Architects

Besides TBGP, the BOMBAY GREENWAY team has developed many other proposals for the city including 600 acres of Central Parks both North & South in the City, a complete Coastal zonal plan, an East-West Pedestrian corridor from Haji Ali to Jacob Circle, a complete revamp of the Andheri Flyover & re-routing and improving the under-construction Metros & Coastal Road among other proposals.

Currently, they have just detailed out, The Juhu Beach Project, a project that can potentially help us enjoy the beach a lot better. They’ve recently released a new, simple one-minute project video featuring cutting down traffic, and creating 3 acres of brand-new public space The Juhu Beach Project.

Existing Juhu Beach

Existing Juhu Beach © Bombay Greenway / Abraham John Architects

The Juhu Beach Project Phase 01 © Bombay Greenway / Abraham John Architects

They have also designed a new connector in Bandra, between Carter Road & Joggers’ Park at Otters’ Club which is in the process of being implemented post-monsoon. Their project design on a Pedestrian & Cycling track lying from Juhu to Dadar has also been given a go-ahead by the BMC and they will soon start revamping the Khar Station and other railway stations that serve thousands of commuters daily!

A quintessential place for Alan and Anca would be a city that’s sustainable, where cars are not really needed because places are well connected, where the city gives its citizens comfort. They believe there would be a trickle-down effect depending on the decisions taken. When personal cars aren’t owned because everything is localised and for longer distances, people would use the cab services or alternative transportation modes available and then there wouldn’t be a need for massive parking areas, and all that space could be utilised for other public projects.

Acknowledging the concerns of urban planning in the current pandemic scenario, Alan mentioned and rightly so, “In a city of 20 million people with just about 1sqm of open space/person - neighborhoods matter, more so now during a pandemic. They have an immediate and lasting impact on health and wellbeing. We need to ensure the way we design our urban environments recognizes and prioritises peoples’ needs”.

Countries are using the Coronavirus crisis to re-evaluate their relationship with automobiles and re-imagine post-pandemic public spaces. We simply cannot afford to go back to "business as usual", as there is already an alarming pattern of correlation between high air pollution and high mortality rates for Covid-19. “We should NOT rely on motorized transit modes that do so much damage to air quality. The need of the hour is mobility with distancing. Socially, distancing is also required. This means that Bombay must quickly and effectively find space for its citizens to survive. The idea of creating new public spaces while at the same time ameliorating transport without burdening the quality of life is something that we at Bombay Greenway have been championing since the last decade”, say Alan and Anca.

The duo believes in their initiative’s motto, ‘turning spaces into places in Mumbai’ which sounds simple but in actuality requires a massive amount of work because spaces only get their meaning when people inhabit or utilise them, conveying a sense of meaning or function.

Lastly, Alan wanted to appeal to the city to consider and rectify certain loopholes and delays in the process of development. The fact that government agencies are disconnected, for example, from the locally-run BMC to the Centrally-run Railways to the State-run MMRDA; this divide hinders and slows down the communication and the impact of any project.

They believe people can be the real change makers if they take ownership of their public spaces and make governments work in a positive direction beneficial to all.

Follow their work on Instagram: @thealanabraham

#changemakers in place-making series

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