In his wish list are open public spaces in metropolitan Kathmandu, which in addition to its aesthetic outlook, must offer room to breathe. His things-to-do include the city’s dreams of a pedestrian-friendly road, projects that improve the quality of life and enhance economic development and safeguard the Kathmandu Valley’s cultural heritage sites, among many other things.
Two decades in the service, senior planner Devendra Dongol, chief of the Department of Urban Development at Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), is a witness to the urban sprawls that have shaped Kathmandu. His know-how, visions and dreams are matched by an equal force of haphazard constructions, budgetary constraints and improper coordination with stakeholders.
The Week’s Nistha Rayamajhi met Dongol to talk about his current plans and what impedes them, and the way ahead. Excerpts from the conversation:
What are the current challenges of pursuing your projects and plans so far?
Unplanned growth of private houses on small plots has mushroomed in the absence of proper policies that restrict such practice. We need to implement better housing policies for a sustainable urban development. Land is scarce in Kathmandu and a policy should come into place to benefit with optimum results. One instance is to introduce affordable apartments for the lower and middle class people. This will be an inexpensive alternative and discourage them to build houses. We should encourage vertical buildings rather than horizontal growth.
Constraints to achieving this are lack of qualified human resource and limited funding. An important project would incur some 250 million Rupees while KMC can’t even afford 50 million.
How will these challenges be addressed then?
The Kathmandu Valley comprises municipalities, Village Development Committees and government ministries. KMC has no say beyond the metropolitan city area, and even activities within the core city area are managed by government bodies. Without their support, taking up huge projects is unthinkable, and lack of coordination with various authorities and budget constraints impede our plans. We need to work on this.
How do you imagine Kathmandu?
The chaotic concrete jungle that Kathmandu is has left us with scarce open spaces. Urban redevelopment projects needs to be introduced ASAP, plus building codes should be reinforced strictly. One project that I’ve been working on is revamping the narrow lanes and old buildings on the Sohra Khutte to Jaisi Deval route. In case of an earthquake or fire, the locales would face disastrous consequences.
A fire brigade can’t even pass through the area. The idea here is to renovate the old structures by maintaining the traditional façade and widen the lanes. It can be a prototype community that could be replicated in other areas. The traditional courtyard system also needs to breathe new life. There’s some sense as to why it’s there in the first place.
What can communities do to support the projects?
Without community support, urban redevelopment is unthinkable as they have direct roles to play in all the projects initiated by KMC. Our current projects have received positive feedback from the communities so far and our concepts have been convincing. We should learn from cities which have successfully preserved their historical and cultural façades and observe that they were possible only with the support of the communities concerned.
Can you tell us of some successful projects that you’ve been part of?
The Gongabu Bus Terminal or the New Bus Park, as it is popularly known, was a project we initiated 18 years back. It is one of KMC’s productive projects. Back in those days, we only had Ratna Park Bus Terminal which was the base for core-city travel and Purano Bus Park that catered to routes beyond the city. Congestion then became a big issue. Pollution too! Even pedestrians struggled on the sidewalks. It was then that I proposed what is now the New Bus Park, and with its operation, traffic volume then decreased by 60% in the core of the city.
The Bishnumati River Corridor is another project that I initiated four years ago. The newly built roads have opened up new access routes to people, thus lessening traffic congestion. The roads have even improved the local surroundings and have also contributed to the socio-economic development of the residents.
What are your current plans?
The second phase of the Bishumati River Corridor is now underway. It’ll improve the four junctions at Teku, Paropokar, Dallu, and Sohra Khutte. Our consultants are developing the blueprint at the moment. Sohra Khutte will see a new traffic island, and a bridge will be constructed at Dallu.
Another project that we are taking up soon is to restrict vehicles in the Thamel area and build stone-paved roads in core city areas. Constructing underground parking lots in city areas and renovating and expanding the existing parking lots at Ratna Park and Lainchour are also in the pipeline.
The largest underground parking will span from Mahankal Mandir to Shahid Gate, covering an area of 10,500 sq. meters. There will also be a big parking lot at the premises of Social Welfare Council in Lainchour.
Solar street lighting will see its first introduction in a small scale from the Hanuman Dhoka area. KMC’s biggest ambition, however, will be to replicate these ideas on a large scale in other areas of the city.
source: republica,13 April 2012
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