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Publication Detail
Isolated by elitism: The pitfalls of recent heritage and conservation attempts in Chennai
  • Publication Type:
    Chapter
  • Authors:
    Arabindoo P
  • Publisher:
    INTBAU India
  • Publication date:
    2008
  • Place of publication:
    New Delhi, India
  • Pagination:
    155, 160
  • Editors:
    Prashad D
  • Book title:
    New architecture and urbanism: Development of Indian traditions
  • Keywords:
    Chennai, Marina Beach, Heritage, INTACH, conservation
Abstract
Postcolonial cities around the world are known to have an ambiguous if not an outright indifferent attitude towards its built environment particularly its preservation and conservation. The pressures of ‘hyperurbanisation’ has meant that at the political and planning level development policies are often restrained by the everyday issues of basic amenities provision with little room for anything else. Moreover, postcolonial governments in India have developed an ambivalent position on heritage and conservation, especially towards the colonial structures and monuments. To many they are reminders of a imperial past of exploitation and subservience and need to be done away with, but to a select few they are a necessary part of an architectural heritage that needs to be preserved and conserved. As public authorities pursued a largely welfare-oriented development agenda with populist leanings, discourses on the conservation of the built and natural environment develop an elitist appeal, relegated to the English-speaking middle/upper classes and their private institutions, operating often in socio-political isolation. Against this context, this paper examines the debate that ensued in Chennai in 2003 in relation to the proposals by the state government to reimagine the historic stretch of Marina Beach in the city as a ‘global banner’ replete with multi-storied modern buildings and high-technology facilities, catering to multi-national users and reinforcing a ‘world class’ presence. The announcements triggered a heritage discourse as conservation groups in the city gathered to lobby in the short-term against these proposals and in the longer-term for a comprehensive heritage act for the city. While they were successful in foiling these specific proposals, their altercation with the government only resulted in an indefinite delay in the drafting of a Heritage Act, in the absence of which, the resources of such bodies are constantly stretched and challenged by their case-specific responses to protecting buildings and quarters mainly through judicial modes such as Public Interest Litigations (PILs). As urbanisation issues are being spearheaded by global intentions, it highlights the presence of a multiple range of actors defined by varied interests and agendas thereby creating the need for a complex ‘politics of partnership’ to negotiate and resolve the resulting plurality of such struggles. In such an instance, for the heritage groups to craft a meaningful role as participants in urban policy making, it is imperative that they shed their ‘reclusive’ image underlined by an ‘elitist’ agenda and engage with unexpected partners including the poor, community groups and NGOs, and the public institutions.
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