In the 2,000 years of its existence, Delhi has seen many makeovers. Post-1911, the British laid out New Delhi outside the Mughal Shahjahanabad. With his stately sandstone structures and tree-lined avenues, British architect Edwin Lutyens created the imperial Delhi.
Post-Independence, the 1982 Asian Games brought in a few flyovers and five-star hotels and stadia to the national capital that was often referred to as an "overgrown village".
Now, the Commonwealth Games are giving Delhi another makeover. This time, however, the pitch is different. Sleek signages, public art installations, landscaping, escalators for overhead bridges and subways, information panels and kiosks and giant LED screens to guide people — the authorities have, for once, gone beyond the basics. Delhi is transforming itself from an "overgrown village" to an international city.
"From 1982 to now, there is a change in the imagination of what a good city should be. We are no longer creating things for its use value only. We are seeing to it that it adds to the quality of the city, making it look pleasant, and keeping pace with cities across the globe," said K.T. Ravindran, chairman Delhi Urban Arts Commission.
Emulating the best
The authorities are busy replicating the best civic practices from across the globe. "The idea to install billboards and LED screens comes from Las Vegas. Tehbazari kiosks idea comes from cabin shops in Bangkok's night bazaars; waterless toilets from New York and Washington," said an MCD official.
Delhi's makeover is no longer about just urban planning. Urban design is the new mantra. "The aim of the urban design is based on the premise that one will not only see, but feel the surroundings, too," Ravindran said.
"It was decided that the landscaping would have to merge with the surroundings. Also, pedestrians were the deciding factor while reconstructing those stretches," said Anand Tiwari, spokesman NDMC.
"The streetscaping being carried out in the New Delhi area is an example of that. The lion-heads, the colour of the sandstone used for laying walkways, the green buffer zone are reflective of translating the experience of being in that place," said K.T. Ravindran.
Sportsmen to Delhiites
While the Asian Games focussed on facilities for sportspersons, in the Commonwealth Games, people are the focus. "In 1982, Delhi's priority was to create sports facilities, connecting the Games village at Siri Fort to the venues, and facilitating the movement of athletes and officials. There were no foreign consultants involved," said P.R. Mehta, former president of Council of Architecture. "But for the Commonwealth Games, all the sports facilities and the improvement work have the involvement of foreign consultants. Public movement is an important consideration and many facilities, such as renovating the walkways, construction of foot-over bridges and subways, are being provided for this only," he added.
To ensure that Delhi doesn't become a concrete jungle, the civic agencies are carrying out extensive greening of their areas. "Environment and heritage conservation are two important factors in all Games-related projects. For instance, streetscaping is linked to the environment. Earlier, no space was left around the base of the tree, but now aesthetically-pleasing tree guards have been designed that help the tree grow. So it serves a dual purpose," said Mehta.