Notes on the Steel Flyover connecting the Airport to the City Centre in Bengaluru

There were a bunch of news articles today on the Karnataka cabinet approving the construction of a steel bridge (more accurately, a steel flyover) connecting the Bengaluru airport to the centre of the city. Reports of this project can be found in the Times of India, The Hindu, Bangalore Mirror, and Livemint. It’s important to point out what’s being given up. According to the Times of India article, the project will claim 812 trees, portions of heritage buildings such as the Baalabrooie Guest House, and public institutions such as the Planetarium.

My quick opinion is that we’re going to be dealing with the consequences of these losses for years. Perhaps the flyover itself may be well-designed, but the price in terms of what’s being given up is just too high. The city centre needs those trees. Replanting five times as many trees in outlying areas does not negate the local ecosystem effects. It’s a bit like saying we’ll compensate for melting glaciers in the Himalayas by somehow increasing the amount of ice in the Antarctic. Even if that were possible, such a move won’t help rivers in the Gangetic plain from dying due to lack of glaciers. The city centre also needs heritage spaces as well as public educational centres such as the Planetarium. The Planetarium in particular is an important social space, affordable, educational, and a locus for many of the city’s science enthusiasts.

There is news on social media of some petitions being made against the flyover. I’ll update details as soon as I get to know more.

There is a point to note for people studying urbanisation though, on how certain inflections in a city’s history can trigger immensely complex trajectories of change. The past decade has seen a drastic reworking of Bengaluru’s landscape thanks to the opening of a new airport in the north. There were contestations on where the airport needed to be located and its eventual location (35 kilometres from the city centre, near Devanahalli) was not accepted by everyone.

Nevertheless, its presence in the north has reworked the spatial dynamics of the city considerably. This is particularly so along Bellary Road which serves as the primary route for most Bengaluru residents to access the airport. From the construction of flyovers to the opening of tech parks to the rapid rise of new neighbourhoods (often without infrastructure like water pipelines or drains), this part of Bengaluru looks nothing like what it did even five years ago.

This particular example of the steel flyover though, shows how deep the influence of something like an airport can be. Many of the places being given up for the flyover are in what’s considered the centre of the city. A lot of the traffic that passes through here does not go to the airport. Some of these neighbourhoods have existed for ages, developing their own internal dynamics and socioeconomic rhythms. Yet, the need to connect the central business district with a distant airport trumps all these factors.

Such a plan hints at a hackneyed way of looking at a city, in terms of only centres, outlying nodes, and infrastructure built in empty or inconsequential spaces in between. This method of visualising a city is proving to be obsolete. Unfortunately, it will take time for these notions to change and we’ll have to endure the costs of that.

 

(This is a modified version of a Facebook post).

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