Most Mumbaikars do the South-for-Work and North-Back-Home routine in no time at all and avoid a road sweeper every day. But almost every congested Mumbaikar will tell you that he has paused more than once to admire the beauty of Victorian Gothic and Art Deco masterpieces in the Fort area.
The area got its name from a fortress that the British built in the 17th century to protect the city from intruders. The fort was demolished in the 1860s, but the name remained.
According to the Urban Design Research Institute's Fort Management Plan, the demarcation of the fort district is based on the historical expansion of the originally fortified city. The area enclosed in this way is literally the "fort area". "
However, it is said that after the fortifications were removed, the borders were expanded and new public buildings were built in the "integral part of the district" area, which should physically and visually strengthen the original settlement.
"These buildings (Crawford Market, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Metro Cinema) are not only uniform in terms of architecture and urban planning, but also an essential part of the visual appearance of the Fort district when viewed from the north or south."
The area is rich in colonial history, art and architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018.
Restoration in progress
In May of this year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) started the fort restoration project. The biggest challenges before the BMC were uneven footpaths, unplanned billboards, overgrown trees, bus stops, sales stands and illegal street vendors that blocked the view of the historic buildings.
The redevelopment of the corporate district, the art district, the Oval Maidan, the Heritage Mile, the Civic Nodes, the tourist district and the banking district is part of the plan. The BMC will refresh footpaths, redesign bus stops and clutter streets. It is also planned to call in an arborist to cut trees.
In a first step, the BMC will focus on the Heritage Mile, the 900 m long route from M.G. Road from Flora Fountain to Regal. This part of the project has a March 2020 deadline that the company is unlikely to meet.
M. G. The street was chosen because it consists of an ensemble of neo-Gothic and Art Deco architecture: the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahlaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum), the Esplanade Mansion, Mumbai University and even residential buildings ,
The project is replicated across the entire Fort area and deserves the UNESCO Art Deco District award.
When the BMC conceptualized the project, however, its offers found no buyers. In January 2020, the company signed a £ 7.51 million contractor who will continue to maintain the district for three years after the project is completed.
As part of the pilot project, street lights, signage, trees, bus stops and billboards will be changed in the region. For example, bus stops are being replaced by historical lookalikes made of transparent and tempered glass, while advertising boards from restaurants and company offices are being standardized.
Overgrown trees are cut back to a uniform height to allow a clear view of the cultural heritage structures. The use of in-situ concrete makes pedestrian paths more pedestrian-friendly [the concrete is poured on site and cast in place. The other method uses pre-cast concrete, wherein concrete blocks are created in a closed environment, transported to site and kept in place],
Other work includes changing the appearance of trash cans, tree grids, benches, and flower beds, removing tampering, and attaching notice boards to historic buildings. Footpaths are also designed to be wheelchair accessible.
“About 70% of the work on preparing the footpath outside of the National Gallery of Modern Art is done. While we were working on this footpath, we realigned several stands and had to re-establish their electrical connections, ”said a BMC Heritage Cell official.
Channels under the footpath will ensure that it will no longer be excavated for utilities in the future, the official said. The footpath in front of the University of Mumbai will continue to be covered with basalt stone.
The new design of the bus stops is minimalistic and ensures that there are no horizontal hoardings at the top. Instead, the advertising is placed vertically at eye level of the person standing at the bus stop without obstructing the view of the buildings. “We also did a comprehensive exercise to identify redundant signage and masts that can be used to break up the mile. The ward office was asked to respond immediately. Some of these signs or masts have been here for decades, although they serve no purpose, ”said the official.
The street lamps in the area, he said, light up the street but not the footpath. "For this reason, we want two-way street lamps to promote pedestrian traffic."
Standardizing shop signs may not be a breeze for the BMC. Several meetings with shop, shop and restaurant owners in the region are organized.
The BMC has yet to write to shopkeepers in the region to ask them to standardize their signs. “We will have meetings with shopkeepers to tell them about the project. They have to stick to a certain sign size, but we can allow them to keep their lettering and colors, ”said Ashutosh Salil, deputy community commissioner who is responsible for the project. “The rule applies to every one of them. Hopefully we don't have to apply the law, ”he said.
The BMC has yet to conclude an agreement with an arborist. The company's tree is in talks with someone to cut down the trees and maintain them for several years.
The other roadblock the project may encounter is realignment of the airports and removal of unlicensed passengers. Only licensed street vendors are allowed to work on the route, and they must keep the allocated space in a single file, a step that may conflict.
The BMC therefore hopes to complete the work by May as the March deadline is not met.
Conservationists appreciate the project, but are concerned about the slow pace of work. "This is a good project if it is implemented properly, but it is progressing slowly," said Rajan Jaykar, Convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.
"There are standardized signs on D.N. Road in Fort, but not on M.G. Street. M.G. The street has been neglected, even though historic buildings such as the Esplanade Mansion were in place," said Rajan.
The BMC should also try to relocate street vendors and put up lighted plaques with information about each listed building, he said.
It is unclear whether the BMC can do all of this given the tight deadline, although the city will be richer in restoration.