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The big gap

Recently, a Mumbai based acquaintance shared her experiences from a trip to Hamburg, the magnificent, culturally rich German port city. The photographic walkthrough that followed revealed a fascinating insight into an urban centre that projected itself as a world-class modern city, without losing its inherent core.

For one, the city thrives on its venues and districts that offer visitors all kinds of options to revel in the arts. There’s Kampanagel, known for its now defunct mechanical engineering factories and warehouses that have been converted to make the space a buzzing theatre precinct. The striking similarity with Mumbai’s mill districts and the immense possibilities of converting these into performance centres, annual festivals, dynamic art exhibitions et al rushed to the mind. It would offer a much-needed avenue for a city that is woefully inadequate with venues for the arts.

Another area that caught one’s attention was the vibrancy and respect given to street art, and its fascinating co-existence with Hamburg’s traditional structures. The graffiti and artworks weren’t just meaningless expressions of angst or radical thought but a brilliant play of colour and thought that complimented the city. Mumbai could do with such creativity to be splashed across its modern buildings rather than us citizens be subject to and surrounded by concrete, glass paneled and out of sync monstrosities. A gross neglect of the riches we possess in indigenous materials, ideas and design.

A third observation was the respect given to existing, historically significant structures by ensuring that newer buildings are in sync with these, and yet present an amazing dynamism to give the visitor the impression of a city that balances the old and the new with an aesthete sensibility. The well documented stamp of German engineering of course, was there for all to marvel at – be it in their churches, city squares or business districts. No eyesores, no disconnect of architectural styles.

Being a port city it is the world’s tenth busiest this influence too was noted in their public buildings that celebrated the city’s strong shipping character. What do we have in Mumbai to boast of?

After viewing the entire set of images, somewhere, a sense of disappointment had seeped in. After all, here is a city, richer and far more diverse as far as influences, resources and appeal goes. Far from making it a tourist-friendly city by focusing on even one-tenth of areas touched upon above, our administrators and planners are failing its tax-paying citizens so miserably that it cannot even work at being a pothole-free city even. From Hamburg to humbug.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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