Ballard Estate, normally emptied of most human activity by 7 pm, may evolve a whole new nightlife, and attract the characters who light up that world, if things go to plan.
The venerable heritage precinct in south Mumbai — the city’s first business district built by the British — is deserted by early evening once its largely government, defence and financial services offices down shutters.
Spread over 22 acres along the city’s eastern shore, its much neglected public courtyards, one to two acres on average, could come alive as squares offering food, art festivals, performances and new spaces to socialise.
A proposal submitted on Tuesday by the Ballard Estate Welfare Association to the Mumbai Port Trust, which owns the land, suggests clearing and developing five of the district’s courtyards, which are now home to squatters and garbage dumps.
“The idea is to utilise the courtyards between some of its buildings, which now lie abandoned, frequented by encroachers, drug peddlers and unwanted elements,” says Jitiksha Shah, who owns a petrol pump in the area, and is a member of the association.
The plan, prepared by heritage architect Abha Narain Lambah, suggests illuminating its iconic buildings, having open air cafés, turning its courtyards into plazas, even introducing night-time buggy rides and tours.
“It is a beautiful area, with all its buildings having a unique character and uniform height. On the municipal development plan, its courtyards are reserved as recreation grounds — these are public spaces that
should be kept open,” says Lambah.
She describes how the food courts could replace the area’s random scattering of hawkers and khau gallis that generate litter, while the service area could house toilets, copier shops, newspaper vendors, florists, internet cafés and stationers. The art courts could include an amphitheatre for performances and cultural events like the Kala Ghoda arts festival.
The Mumbai Port Trust, which is evaluating the proposal, sounds positive. “It is a good idea to get the courtyards cleaned up, but we’ll have to check if any of them have been leased out and what their status is,” says Prakash Binsale, board trustee, Mumbai Port Trust.