Pondicherry Citizens Action Network (PondyCAN!) has a rather ambitious agenda: to effectuate long-range, integrated regional master planning which will preserve, restore, and enhance this once-beautiful, rapidly despoiled, utterly unique heritage town and its surrounding natural resources, and place them within a small-radius network of symbiotic economic hubs.
Some of our endeavors are far more modest, however. One recent effort involved dissuading the Pondicherry Municipality from constructing a massive concrete market block at the top of the central canal which divides the French and Tamil districts of the historic Boulevard Town.
The Public Works Department had designed and sent-for-bid an architecturally abominable, two-story, air conditioned, concrete structure to house the few dozen ragamuffin vendors who sell fruit, vegetables, flowers, and fish on what is now a patch of tree-shaded dirt ground at the same site. The PWD plan would have accommodated 120 vendors in a bloated footprint extending street-to-street-to-street-to-street, with neither footpaths nor parking areas. It would have visually and physically have choked on of the area’s few remaining open spaces.
Why, you ask, would the government propose such a poorly scaled, expensive, unnecessary structure that would strangle one of central Pondicherry’s most crucial traffic arteries? The key concept is: expensive. The costlier the contract, the bigger the kickbacks from the builder to the politicians and bureaucrats who enabled the project. That’s how public development is done in India. There is often little or no regard for the public welfare or the improvement of the quality of life; there principal and overriding concern is the corrupt enrichment of greedy officials and developers.
Working with architects from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), PondyCAN! made a detailed study of the project and developed a new design for the proposed structure. With the help of our Legislative Assembly Member, we lobbied hard for the new plan, which incorporated open-walled, tiled-roofed, vernacular architecture and systems for recycling, collection of organic waste for composting, public toilets, and other public hygiene improvements. Our plan accommodates 60 vendors, physically separating the fish mongers from the fruit and vegetable sellers and providing segregated veg and non-veg wash facilities.
And we won!
The Government of Pondicherry has just announced that the new Gingee Bazaar, built according to our design, will commence construction next month.
Here are the talking-points with which we took the fight forward:
Project Scope: Small Scale is Best
There is always a desire to construct projects like these on a grand scale. In this case, there are a number of extremely important reasons to build modestly in scope.
The most important reason is the location, set amid two of the most important and easily choked traffic arteries in within the boulevards, Gingee Salai and Ambour Salai. A market with neighborhood scale will not cause congestion, traffic delays, or pedestrian safety issues; a large-scale shopping facility will make access to, and egress from S.V. Patel Salai extremely difficult for buses and other vehicles.
The studies of current usage vary, but the most reliable indications are that between 15 and 30 vendors presently use this location at any given time. We understand that the municipality’s estimates are substantially higher (120 vendors), but we have never seen numbers like this, at any time of the day or any day of the week. Even at a relatively small scale, the proposed project will provide more capacity than is currently being utilized.
The market facilities designed by INTACH, if done on a neighborhood scale, will be a model that can be replicated in other parts of the city.
The canal and its roadways are an important artery for airflow through the city. A smaller scale, single-story project will be in keeping with the appropriate architectural scale for the area and will not obstruct the breeze.
Project Design: a Chance to Replenish Our Architectural Heritage
Pondicherry is celebrated for its distinctive architectural styles, French Colonial and Tamil; and yet our heritage buildings are rapidly disappearing. Tamil style buildings are being destroyed more quickly and being rebuilt more slowly than the Colonials. By making the Gingee Bazaar a small gem of Tamil architecture, we will not only add a point of beauty to our city, but enhance its attractiveness as a tourist destination. It may also encourage owners of Tamil style buildings to preserve and maintain their character, thereby helping Pondicherry to retain its distinctiveness.
We note that in many tourist destinations, from Marrakech to Istanbul to Paris to Tokyo, visiting the attractive local markets is a substantial tourist activity.
Facilities: Public Amenities and Waste Recycling Services
The proposed design has two important features, in addition to the market stalls, which deal with public hygiene: public toilets and a space for the collection of trash generated by the marketplace, segregated into organic waste for composting and inorganic waste for recycling. These facilities will make Gingee Bazaar a model for communities everywhere.
PondyCAN! not only can, we did!