On April 29th, the Auroville Planning Group, a subgroup of the Auroville Planning and Development Council, presented its ‘directions for interpreting the Galaxy'.
It was a lazy Saturday morning. Outside temperatures were hitting 38° C. Inside the conference room of the Town Hall, an audience carefully listened to the presentation of the Planning Group (PG). It was the result of six months of intensive work by PG members Toni, Gundolf, Peter Anderschitz, Lata, Prashant, and Suhasini, with feed- back from Helmut, Gilles and Sheril.
Many people had come, representing widely diverging viewpoints: members of Auroville's Future, the Dreamcatchers [see Auroville Today April 2006] the Green Group and individuals with an interest in developing the city. ‘Who is responsible for the future of Auroville?' was the question printed on the back of a mirror handed out during a Dreamcatchers' exhibition some weeks ago. Below that, the answer was given: ‘Please turn over'. The large attendance testified to the interest of the common Aurovilian in their future city.
The PG's presentation was marked by its sober focus on ground realities in conjunction with the ideals of the Galaxy plan. “We don't want to sacrifice one for the other,” explained Suhasini, one of the PG's presenters. “We only propose, based on the existing development and the socio-economic and environmental realities, to make some adjustments in the Master Plan.”
The bioregional development
The presentation went from identifying developments in the bioregion that will affect Auroville in the near future, to the planning issues of Auroville itself. Regarding the bioregion, the PG said that within the next 10 years there will be sweeping developments.
New railway lines are being planned, one of which will cross Auroville with possibly a railway station at Gorimedu and at the Pondicherry University in Kalapet. The 1,074 km long Buckingham Channel, a waterway for goods transport which runs from Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh to Marakkanam north of Pondicherry , may be extended to Ousteri Lake . The Pondicherry airport runway will soon be lengthened. And we can expect an increasing suburban and industrial development from Pondicherry , Koot Road and along the East Coast Road . Where is Auroville in all this? An island under siege. “The action we propose,” said Suhasini, “is that Auroville requests participation or representation in inter-state and local planning bodies, and that, together with the villages of this area, we create joint development programmes.”
As a case in point the PG showed the road development in the area. Auroville is located between two major roads, the East Coast Road along the coast and the National Highway from Tindivanam to Pondicherry . These roads are interconnected by two link roads, one north and one south of Auroville city area. But as every Aurovilian experiences daily, the road through Auroville itself is also being used as a link road. This usage, warned the PG, will increase now that a few months ago a new road has been built which links the village of Edayanchavadi to Kootroad. That road was the result of a spontaneous village initiative in which Auroville had no say. “We can only have a say if we become part of local development bodies, together with the villages around us, and so become a regional force to reckon with” said Suhasini. Such a local body could represent the area effectively. It could also deal with other joint concerns such as the availability and extraction of ground water. For Auroville is situated on top of the watershed of several local villages, and joint water-management plans will be required – Auroville cannot plan its water extraction and usage in isolation.
Challenges for the Auroville area
Superimposing Auroville's Master Plan on the existing situation, the PG noted some problems and suggested solutions.
One major challenge is to find solutions for the connected villages of Kottakarai and Bharatipuram. Kottakarai is situated in the Industrial Zone and in the Greenbelt ; Bharatipuram is located in both the Industrial and International Zone and in the park between these zones. Since the International Zone, by its very function, will attract visitors from outside, it can be expected that the residents of these villages will seek to benefit from the visitors and start shops similar to those in Kuilapalayam and Edayanchavdi.
A second major challenge is the 1.2 kilometre long Line of Force, a future high-density, high impact building planned over the Aurodam canyon. Here the PG pointed to two problems. The first is that Aurodam is a major watershed area which not only benefits Auroville but also several villages ‘downstream'. Two-thirds of the water that feeds the Irumbai lake and surrounding areas comes from the Aurodam canyon. Auroville needs to exert extreme caution in managing this shared watershed.
The second is the vicinity of the village of Edayanchavady . “If high density comes into contact with lower economic levels, slum development is the natural result. This can be seen in many cities in India . Auroville cannot allow a rich ‘spiritual' society to develop alongside an impoverished typical Indian slum area,” stated Suhasini.
Lastly, the PG mentioned that the existing panchayat roads, which border about 1/3rd of the city area, have not been taken into account by the makers of the Master Plan. “Is it realistic that Auroville duplicate roads to control the users or should we simply adapt the Master Plan taking into account existing roads?” asked the PG.
Possible solutions for the zones
The PG proposed some interesting solutions.
One was to expand the Industrial Zone so as to fully include the villages of Kottakarai and Bharatipuram. This would result in a mixed land use of the Industrial Zone, with interspersed industrial and residential areas. The Industrial Zone would thus also contribute to a healthy development and a controlled growth of the villages. Instead of looking at the villages as an impediment, they would be integrated in Auroville's development.
A second proposal was to include the parks north and south of the International Zone within that Zone and expand the Zone to include the Aurodam area. This proposal would solve the problems connected with the Line of Force, as the International Zone is planned as a low-rise, low impact zone. The parks, instead of being only buffers that separate one zone from the other, could be used as green spaces connected to the national pavilions.
But what about the Residential Zone? The proposals from the PG would diminish its size. “We believe that by reworking the density patterns of the residential zone and by moving part of the population to the residential areas of the Industrial Zone, the target population of 50,000 people can achieved,” said Suhasini.
Future road patterns
Regarding the outer ring road, the PG proposed to make use of the panchayat road as the outer ring road wherever it exists. If possible, this road could be moved southwards below the Botanical Garden to prevent it separating the city from the green belt. The nature and routing of the outer ring road on the other side of the city requires further study.
Inside the city, the PG proposed that radial roads, the links between the Crown and the outer ring road, should only be created when required according to density and land usage patterns, and not be fixed at 12 as specified in the Master Plan.
Regarding access to the city, the PG suggested that the planned access roads be restudied. “We do not see how Auroville can convince the authorities to cancel the existing panchayat road, so we might as well make optimum use of it,” stated Suhasini. The PG also proposed that the routing of the future railway line north of Pondicherry airport be closely studied, for a road is planned to run next to it which may offer access to Auroville's International and Residential Zones. Lastly, the PG observed that a few cycle and pedestrian tracks should be built from within the city to the beach, as well as around the Matrimandir.
“What we are offering are impressions at this moment,” concluded Suhasini on behalf of the team. “Much has to be studied, but before starting any further work, we need to know if these ideas are acceptable. To whom can we propose changes and amendments to the Master Plan, and who is the final authority?” The questions kept hanging in the air while Luigi from Auroville's Future announced that he would make a presentation on the same topic one week later.