- Delineation, transformation assessment and intervention initiatives for ‘Grey zones’ of Kolkata, India   click here to open paper content1163 kb
by    Mitra, Tapas & Mitra, Sheuli | tmitra.mitra@gmail.com   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
This paper focuses on the aspects of dynamics of change in older
residential areas of Kolkata, India, which do not necessarily qualify as
‘heritage districts’ and presents a rapid appraisal tool to initiate
processes of developing design intervention strategies.
One way of understanding a city is about understanding its residential
neighbourhoods. In the city of Kolkata, India, many of these neighbourhoods
are heavy with architectural artefacts, but are more importantly,
consistently made up of structures of the ordinary. Every neighbourhood is
unique and is part of personal and collective memories of its residents and
it is thus necessary to understand the visual and physical realities which
situate a neighbourhood in the territory of its urban myth which this paper
attempts to do.

In Kolkata, like most other cities of the world, there are existing
mechanisms of prioritising the conservation of significant heritage areas
within a complex urban development scenario. But heritage zoning is centred
on individual buildings or precincts and does not necessarily connect with
the issues of overall urban conservation. However, there are large parts
within the city which qualify as what may be termed as ‘grey zones’ by
virtue of not having buildings or precincts which call for significant
interventions in terms of restoration and/or conservation, but are none the
less, urban cores, where the overall built form retains a flavour of the
past and can in no way be confused with the anonymous new development of
the remaining city. These areas function relatively anonymously and face
the routine problems of congestion, defacement and real estate acquisition.
The ‘defence mechanisms’ and adaptability of these grey areas are
inadequate in being able to neither live up to these demands and
onslaughts, nor change in totality to blend with the new fabric of the
city, hence becoming dilapidated and decadent.

This paper focuses on the aspects of the dynamics of change in such
identified old residential areas in Kolkata, where issues of liveability
and management of depleting resources in the changing scenario form the
crux of the debate with conservation of the built heritage as an additional

The study methodology (of the present work) of looking at the city as a
continuum and an assemblage of fragments which call for integrative urban
design intervention processes takes off from a core premise of the Collage
City (Koetter and Rowe,1978). It also situates itself in the genre of the
perception school which finds its more contemporary and contextual
expression in Beyond the Neighborhood Unit (Baer and Banerjee, 1984).

In this study, ‘grey zone’ patches in the city are mapped and a methodology
of assessing these patches in spatial, socio-cultural and perceptual terms
is presented. In the absence of base maps and difficulties in mapping old
city areas, projects of urban rejuvenation cannot be appropriately
undertaken and it is thus necessary, to find ways of rapid appraisal, which
can initiate project identification. Rapid assessment of all the premises
of the neighbourhood in terms of their physical and socio-economic
attributes, by better empowered Ward Committees followed by the preparation
of a comprehensive development blueprint based on the community’s needs,
would help in addressing tangible and intangible issues of the
neighbourhood as a whole and prevent piecemeal developments on individual

The result of this study would suggest the emergence of a distinct type of
city fabric, which necessitates immediate action towards identification of
specific intervention measures in terms of legislation and implementation.
The study also explores possibilities of extending the methodology to other
metropolitan cities of India. The paper would eventually present a Rapid
Appraisal Template for assessing tangible and intangible attributes of
neighbourhoods which would initiate processes of developing design
intervention strategies.
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