The Mumbai Coastal Road to drastically alter the city’s relationship with its most iconic waterfront, a concern of conservationists and some Marine Drive residents. “The beauty of this seafront is that whichever side one stands, you can get an unrestricted view of the sea,” says Atul Kumar of the Nariman Point Churchgate Residents’ Association. “The promenade is also one of the largest open spaces enabling social interaction,” he notes. Every evening lakhs of residents and tourists flock to the arc-shaped boulevard along the Arabian Sea. That makes it imperative that officials take care while altering the sea face, says Kumar. “Especially considering this is a World Heritage Site.”
The BMC will be taking over a kilometre of the 3.5km Marine Drive promenade, close to Girgaum Chowpatty. Officials say they will be building a similar promenade on a cantilever bridge along the new road which will be open to the public. In theory, the area will not lose any waterfront space once the project is done. Still, the shape and dynamics of the existing boulevard may change. For instance, urban planners worry that the much wider road will end up distancing the waterfront promenade from citizens in that particular stretch. A high-speed road of eleven lanes, instead of the current seven lanes, will run between Prince Street Flyover and Police Gymkhana.
“As an urban designer one concern we have is that the road will alienate the waterfront from the city and this somehow needs to be addressed,” says Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI). “The Coastal Road could have been an independent road like a sea link, leaving the promenade as it is.”
“The critical part of the project is going to be how the civic planners deal with the urban design element,” says Joshi. Regular walkers have been alarmed at the sight of the work near Chowpatty—there are no signboards at the site explaining what is going on or showing what the new road and promenade will look like.
Some local residents said they support an infrastructure boost for the western side of the city. “The proposed Coastal Road will provide a convenient access to those heading northwards,” says Nikhil Banker, joint secretary of the Marine Drive residents’ action group, citing the increasing traffic and pollution. “At the same time, it is also important that beauty of Marine Drive is preserved.”
The coast has been central to Mumbai’s distinct character for centuries, notes conservation architect Vikas Dilawari. The city is known for its forts, churches, temple and dargahs abutting the sea, he said, and the historical relationship with water needs to be respected. “Sensitive development is the key,” he says. “Any proposal backed with proper feasibility and environmental studies is welcome but a balance of conservation and development has to be maintained.”