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A project to clean the mighty river showcases its research in the capital

Imagine the pollution-wrought Yamuna river flowing clean and pristine through the Capital city. Imagine it interspersed by a series of hybrid bridges, cultural corridors and public spaces, promoting equality and harmony...

A project to clean the mighty river showcases its research in the capital

Imagine the pollution-wrought Yamuna river flowing clean and pristine through the Capital city. Imagine it interspersed by a series of hybrid bridges, cultural corridors and public spaces, promoting equality and harmony among Delhiites .

Seems like utopia, but it is exactly what is being proposed in the Yamuna River Project that attempts to map out an “expansive, multidisciplinary prescription” to rehabilitate the river.

A collaboration between the University of Virginia, Delhi State and the Centre, the research-based initiative has completed three years and is showcasing the template it has come up with in the National Capital currently.

The University had signed a five-year MoU with the New Delhi Water Authority to tackle pollution in the Yamuna by bringing together environmental sciences, global humanities, engineering, public health, politics, big data and business to provide a sustainable solution.

Its conceptual framework involves reorienting the city towards the Yamuna and building into the entire ecosystem spaces that will serve a variety of functions. These include rejuvenating the floodplain so that the river can return to being a “living system”; using hybrid bridges to connect the urban to the river; and connecting heritage sites along the banks to form a “civic cultural corridor”.

Director of the Yamuna River Project, Inaki Alday, Quesada Professor of Architecture, shares with Business Line some of the findings. Excerpts:

Could you highlight some of the key learnings in the three years that your team has worked on the project?

The work is a continuous learning process that unveils the depth of each component and the intensity of the interrelations between them. One cannot understand the current situation without a deep knowledge of the history of the city during the last centuries and the psychological relationship between the citizens of Delhi and their public spaces; how the development of infrastructures has taken place, where, and how has it been related with the planning and the growth without planning, with all its consequences in social equity and basic services.

The conceptual framework and master plan have several innovative ideas...

As we can see in precedents set with Singapore’s water system, the Emscher River recovery in Germany or the floodable parks in Zaragoza or Pamplona in Spain, innovation is key to confront the size and complexity of the problems. One of the clear needs is to develop new models of intervention that can solve several needs in one single operation, as the hybrid infrastructures that combine bridges, sewage treatment plants, or parks with housing, markets and remediation areas.

The rich heritage of Delhi is an asset for structuring parts of the city, reinforcing pedestrian mobility and quality of life, generating revenue and hosting new programmes and activities that revitalise the monuments and provide essential facilities for population and visitors. As the success of the Delhi metro demonstrates, public mobility is an essential component for social equity, air quality, urban ecology and, also, economic growth.

Could you outline the best way forward for the project?

In the coming months and years, following the duration of the MoU, the project will keep adding experts in different fields, increasing cooperation with Indian partners, and developing research in multiple areas with the objective of offering information and visualising possibilities to inform the public, others working on this issue, and those with the responsibility of making decisions.

There is a long way between conceptualising and implementing a project. In your opinion which is the fastest way of achieving it?

This is a meta-project, that could be characterised as a vision for the city, in which the Yamuna becomes the great commons of the city, and its tributaries a network of green ecological axis in a more just and equitable city. In this regard, the implementation of the vision has to be made through continuous steps aligned with it, and covering the multiple needs of the city.

(This article was published on March 28, 2017)

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