Mumbai’s new viewing decks give residents a vantage point
On a rainy weekend morning, the Girgaon viewing deck lacked visitors, but the civic body’s maintenance staff were present, wiping benches and the floor, ensuring that the ground wasn’t slippery
Mumbai: Every two weeks, Brijesh Shah, 38, and his six-year-old son Siddhansh make a two-hour excursion to Dadar Chowpatty. It starts with a walk in Veer Baji Prabhu Udyan, continues to the beach, which in the last few years has seen a dedicated clean-up attempt by citizens and almost looks pristine in a pre-monsoon view. Since February this year, the walk ends at the viewing deck, barely 100 metres from Chaityabhoomi, the cremation site of Dr BR Ambedkar.
“This place [viewing deck] is peaceful and serene and in a city like Mumbai that is a luxury,” said Shah, a banker, and a resident of Dadar. The viewing deck, which like Dadar Chowpatty, now overlooks the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, was constructed over a storm water drain outfall.
The walk and time spent is, is a regular slot in the Shah calendar and is marked for leisure time.
Between February and April this year, Mumbai’s two most well-attended beachfronts, Dadar and Girgaon Chowpatty got viewing decks. In Girgaon, the 470-sq metre deck can seat 75 people—there are 10 rectangular benches and one circular one in the centre—and has access for wheelchairs, as well. The Dadar viewing deck, which covers an area of 10,000 sq ft can seat up to 100 people on 26 benches.
Kiran Dighavkar, assistant commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) who spearheaded several beautification and development projects for the civic body including the viewing decks, said that these interventions were created as part of the city’s tactical urbanism programme which, among other things, sought to convert some unused open spaces into community spaces.
On a rainy weekend morning, the Girgaon viewing deck lacked visitors, but the civic body’s maintenance staff were present, wiping benches and the floor, ensuring that the ground wasn’t slippery. One staffer could be seen informing his supervisor on the areas where rain water was forming puddles.
Located at a distance of approximately 30 metres from the shore, and away from the traffic, this seemed to be a good spot for an undisturbed view of the Arabian Sea right on one corner of the Queen’s necklace.
Pranam Bane, a 24-year-old freelance photographer, scouting the Girgaon viewing deck for a good shot said it made for a pleasant hang-out spot with friends. “It’s airy and the architecture is nice too. That it is sea-facing helps.” This was his first visit, but he returned to the place twice in the two weeks since. He hasn’t so far shared the images with any publication.
Both decks make for a great selfie spot too: their own aesthetics leaning towards minimalism and a focusing on plant décor.
Assistant Commissioner of D Ward, Prashant Gaikwad, says that while doing the rounds of Chowpatty, soon after being appointed to the ward, he realised that while the rest of chowpatty was beautiful, this spot, near the Walkeshwar junction was an eyesore.
The storm water drains, built pre-Independence, were not only becoming a way for sewage and waste to enter the beach area, but the smell and sight drove people away. “We thought we should have something beautiful here, not just to cover the storm water drains but also something that is a public space for citizens to come and occupy.”
He adds that the storm water drain was covered with flaps and any leakage of a sewage pipeline into the storm water drain was fixed, so that no garbage would be deposited on the beach. The Dadar viewing deck is at a height of 16 feet, while the one at Girgaon stands 1.5 metres from the storm water drains. Both heights have taken into consideration high tides. The decks are open from 6 am to midnight. Dighavkar says, the Dadar deck’s proximity to a religious site is also an important reason for the timings, to ensure that no illegal activities take place here. Food and beverages are so far not allowed on the decks, but the policy may change, he adds if the demands change. The idea is also to tap into the city’s tourism potential by creating a space for taking photographs.
While Dadar, says Dighavkar, gets 1,500 visitors daily during the weekdays and 5,000 during the weekends, Gaikwad puts the number at Girgaon at more than its capacity of 500. Together, the two decks cost around ₹10 crore to make.
The sun started to scorch the sky but groups of friends and families walked on to the Dadar viewing deck. One group walks in from the air-conditioned interiors of a coffee shop, across the road at Shivaji Park, to catch the sea breeze on the deck.
Alan Abraham, joint principal architect of Mumbai-based Abraham John Architects and co-founder of Bombay Greenway, said that while the decks created space above the outfalls, the city still doesn’t use its waterfront well.
“These projects look good on Instagram. This is not adding to my experience of the beach, in fact it’s distracting from it. Additionally, at Girgaon, there was already the Walkeshwar deck, which is on the footpath and has a different view angle,” Abraham said.