Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Society Named Valencia !

“A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams”… Herb Caen.

Herb Caen was a San Francisco journalist whose daily column of local goings-on and insider gossip, social and political happenings, painful puns and offbeat anecdotes—"a continuous love letter to San Francisco"—appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle for almost sixty years & in the process has become one of the best documents on a city! Well, why I get fascinated by this quote is I do get equally fascinated with the cities & people & their vision (when I am not in forests) & before I start my sharing about one such city I visited in Spain trip, let me ask you something about our Pune city. If I say that imagine if we divert entire Mula-Mutha rivers (well, on record they are still rivers) like a ring road (ring river) from outside of the city & use that gorge (river bed or basin) of the rivers to develop as biodiversity park, jogging tracks, water bodies, public areas as well build Science Park like structures in the space; what will be your reaction? Most people will say I am mad, my NGO friends will say I showed my true colors as a builder as this is some new idea of utilizing the land under the river for buildings, media will hail it as threat to city, die hard Punekar’s will say its deleting the very identity of Pune & the list of accusations will go one but I am hundred percent sure not a single Punekar will back up my thought or will think this is ever possible! And the reason is simple because we don’t believe in dreams as we don’t has vision to see drams & then in past many such dreams (crazy the dreams may be) has been shown to us & what happened to those dreams we all have witnessed. In first place, any such dream is whim of some single person or its keeping in mind some hidden interest, so the failure is written on wall because the very purpose or aim is wrong while dreaming such dreams, may it be BRTS (well though I have shared it thousand times still its Bus Rapid Transport System) or Mono rail or HCMTR, oh yes there has been river transport named dream too; all these never became reality because it’s not just dream but you need vision to make realty  the dream what you have seen & exactly this vision is what we lack! 

Now let me tell you there is a city named Valencia in Spain which I knew nothing about except it is a historic city & a tourist place! And thanks to my forester friends who made me go there & the moment I entered in the service apartment located right in city center I was in love with Valencia! The name sounds familiar, a bit Italic  but its very Spanish & I have visited enough cities in world but after Singapore (and recent Dubai) this is the city which made me feel I should settle here (with due respect to Kanha or Corbet)! I think the best thing a city can make you is fall in love with her (just like a woman) & like in the Movie Hotel Transylvania where the Count Dracula believes in ‘the Zing” i.e. falling in love at first sight; same thing happens with places & people! Well, each of us has his or her own The Zing for places but only the lucky ones meets their Zing & I am lucky on that front with Valencia! Now you must be real curious as there are far better & scenic cities in Europe is what friends has told me but then each of us comes to know what he or she loves only when you come across that love & it has to be felt, not explained of described! One has to just feel when in that city as it’s here life would be what you wanted to be! First thing I did is threw my bags in my room & hit the road to feel the crowd & the city streets! What caught my eyes is Gothic architecture faced buildings, mostly of similar height, some seven or eight storied, lined along the roads. Cool breeze with crisp blue sky above & the cafes as well bars running all along the roads with small narrow lanes connecting main streets, shops with freshest of colored display of goods & people of all ages, gender, walking, sipping wine or coffee, laughing & the whole atmosphere was like a living dream come true! Well, now about diverting the river, in Valencia they have done it; for years the river was flowing right through the city like most cities in Europe. But then Spain is a country with mountains & vast lands with lots of rains & flooding was a big problem so the city council decided to divert the entire stretch of river passing through the city & they did it! And with the huge land available which was earlier river bed, without touching the contours of this land they have converted it in a biodiversity park (read as garden) which actually is forest or say eco system in itself. And along with forest there is a football ground & every possible use as public place. On the top of it there is Science Park & Institute of Oceanography built in it which is marvel of architecture & a center of tourist attraction as well! I walking all along this river park & seen by my own eyes & then believed dreams can be a reality, Valencia has done it! Because of time constraints I couldn’t see the Science Park from inside but even the outside & facades itself are enough to give the idea what lays inside!

Actually this single thing is enough to make Valencia unique on front of Urban Planning & City Development but it’s just one of the many aspects the city offers to its citizens. Valencia has got few of the oldest buildings in Europe which has been not only conserved but has been converted in to museums; one such is ceramic museum in a castle. Valencia has been ruled by many kings & kingdoms, even Arabs ruled it for hundreds of years & one good thing happened is every dynasty has given its culture to the city & today the city stands with blend of heritage & modern architecture! While walking through the by-lanes of the city I was comparing it with our Smart City Pune which has been tied up between a puzzle whether to conserve old charm or go one behind the development under the names of Malls & IT Parks & we have lost both! As in Valencia what I realized is focus is neither the heritage nor the development but its people around which entire planning resolves. What's most significant about Valencia is, the public places they have created everywhere by which people come together & share what they have (good things I meant)! As a society is build not with structures but by the sharing people does among them & for that we need to give them space to come together! In Valencia there is space for art, culture, performance, sports, leisure & through these spaces they have conserved heritage along with development!

Even in the old city center I was moving through lanes barely 20 ft wide & in the cluster of buildings & churches there are chowks (squares) kept open & where people does all sorts of leisure activities like painting, music groups & yes drink wine, which seems to be a national program of entire Spain! The Old Central Market has redone & now is a tourist’s attraction for shopping local goods which mostly are local agro products like jam, syrups, cookies, chocolates, sweets, clothes & souvenirs! Again images of our Phule Mandai flashed in my mind & the state that beautiful heritage building is in! Here one thing I observed about the souvenirs & that is their quality & innovation put in it; unlike just caps, tee shirts & key-chains type item, here at display was everything which you can use as household or fashion & branded with Valencia! Right from wine openers to lighters, they have tried their innovation beyond our imagination while making souvenirs & this is very important aspect for a country which is not wealthy like its neighbors as this helps the residents to make real good money! And while doing this they have taken care that neither the residents nor the tourists has to face traffic hustles. Immaculate, is the word when I saw the traffic management & parking systems here & no traffic police I saw in entire stay, yet people were following every traffic rule. The Central Cathedral (sorry as by me name isn’t much important, its St. something) which is tourists attraction, the entire front plaza now rests on a three storied underground parking with not a single vehicle allowed on surface except the city buses which are moving in out just to pick up or drop the tourists! And all the excavation as well construction has been done right adjoin to the main Cathedral with no fuss over damaging to heritage structure like cry! I remember law suits here for just making under pass or Metro near our so called heritage structures (Agakhan Palace or Pataleshwar temple are recent examples) & the condition these structures are actually in! All other times we neglect our heritage& when something like road or Metro starts around them, which in actual is to facilitate citizen’s life only, then we remember these structures are heritage too & start raising objections! I won’t say don’t take care of our heritage structures, rather I say understand what conservation (read caring) our heritage means in first place & then act! Cities like Valencia have understood what conservation of heritage is & balance it with development. Everywhere information boards are displayed in three languages i.e. Spanish, English & German, about the place, its history & what it was when its build initially, how it got damaged in the mean time & how its restored in today’s form! And then there are banners everywhere appealing to the tourists about uploading the snaps they have taken on FB page of Valencia City Council. And the best snaps will be used on the souvenirs, now tell me what better way there can be to make tourists as part of your promotion of the city!

On last day we took tour of the city via hop in-hop off bus as mostly I wanted to see the new city as well. And here while developing the new city two major aspects has been looked after, one is face of the buildings, they are in tune of Gothic architecture & lots of green spaces along with public areas with fountains! It’s amazing to see what a small fountain can make the difference to the public area; it becomes center of activities as people lazying around the water bodies is a wonderful scene to feel! And special spaces has been created for art in the form of sculptures all around, showing to visitors that the backbone of city is art! There has been a park developed from recycled waste of all sorts & its latest tourist attraction, no wonder!
One more thing, in old city on Sunday morning there is a flea market where anybody can sale anything, right from home made wines to used clothes & on Sunday, till late noon entire old city roads are closed for vehicles so people can enjoy flea market! On last day evening, sitting on a road side café in & sipping coffee in old city of Valencia, I was just observing the people, it was weekend eve & I always used to think about what differentiates a society from just a bunch of people staying together! Well, here in Valencia I got the answer, it’s not just the people but the people with a vision & a will to make that vision a reality, is what differentiates a society from bunch of people staying together! After coming back to our Smart Pune while I was writing down my this sharing I came across two news in news papers, one was about a one & half kilometer length of road has been made as heritage walk with closing down that stretch for vehicles in Amritsar, Punjab & it has become a great success! And second news was about certain road widening in Sadashiv Peth area of Pune , a decision which has been as usual being debated as been implemented for some builders & going to be a threat for many heritage structures, truth only God knows; now is it needed that I comment, why we are the way we are today as a city! 

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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