Kolkata (1960-1970) / Salt Lake City and the Utopian Models

“It has grown into a lovely garden city, just as I had planned. There are community housing, parks, clean roads and the traffic management seemed fine. I did feel a bit nostalgic today. But more than anything else, I felt proud that the city had developed just the way I had wanted it to,” — Toskovic, April 2008

Salt Lake City is historically significant because it was one of the few realized modernist ideal cities at its scale. It was emerged at the time when social reformers such as Ebenezer Howard, Tony Garnier and Le Corbusier first put forward their ideas on the evolution of industrial city. Dobrivoje Toskovic, the planner of Salt Lake City, stated that he took inspirations from multiple utopian models including Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City.

Garden City

Garden City addressed overpopulation with decentralization. In light of the slum landscape of factories and tenements brought by industrialization, Howard argued for self-contained communities of manageable size combining urban and rural (greeneries) with adequate public and private amenities. 

As Garden Cities were planned with a population of 32 000, Salt Lake City was too large to be a Garden City with its population of 168 000. Nevertheless, elements and ideologies of Garden City could be observed in Salt Lake City by zooming in into a single block. The centre of the block was a garden ringed with a civic and cultural complex, a park, housing, and industry.  Open spaces were present next to the local centre such as schools, which represented both individual and communal living. The Bidhannagar Municipality was enriched with greeneries in the form of parks, squares and playgrounds. These greeneries were gathering points for enhancing the quality of urban environment and took up the role as lungs of an urban area. Traffic moved along radial avenues and ring roads. Therefore Salt Lake City could be seen essentially an aggregation of 68 blocks of Garden Cities.

Garden City in Relation to Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel
Garden City in Relation to Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel

 

Sample Block of Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel
Sample Block of Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel

Image of the City

The master plan of Salt Lake City also reflects ideas from Lynch’s the Image of the City. Lynch provided researched on how people perceive, organize and navigate the urban landscape. He drew relationship between the presence of time and history and the urban environment. In studying the three cities: Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles, Lynch put forward that individuals understand their surroundings in consistent and predictable ways, forming mental maps with five elements:

Paths — the streets, sidewalks, trails, and other channels in which people travel;

Edges — perceived boundaries including walls, buildings, and shorelines;

Districts — relatively large sections of the city distinguished by some identity or character

Nodes — focal points, intersections or loci 

Landmarks — readily identifiable objects which serve as reference points

Landmarks in Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel
Landmarks in Salt Lake City, ETH Studio Basel
The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch, 1960
The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch, 1960

 

Toskovic wanted to create a mental map based on orientation and identity. He reserved the corner plots in the master plan for institutions that could serve as landmarks, yet the institutional buildings were never realized on these corner plots. In replacement, water tanks distributed throughout the city serve as landmarks today. They are numbered and of different colours and shapes for better orientation.

Planned plots for Institutional Buildings, ETH Studio Basel
Planned plots for Institutional Buildings, ETH Studio Basel

 

Water Tanks Location, ETH Studio Basel
Water Tanks Location, ETH Studio Basel

 

 

Map of Bidhannagar/Salt Lake City , 2002
Map of Bidhannagar/Salt Lake City , 2002

Reference:

ETH Studio Basel. “Salt Lake City — an Ideal City Just Completed.” November 2008.

Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. 1960.

Toskovic, Dobrivoje.  Interview by ETH Basel Studio.

2 Comments on “Kolkata (1960-1970) / Salt Lake City and the Utopian Models

  1. It is interested to know about the utopian models concept behind the Salt lake City, such as garden city and image of the city. But I would like to know more about what is realistic example with adapted of these concepts? As most of concepts could be found in other cities, I believe that there would some specials of applying those concept in Kolkata.

  2. What are new elements of this planning at that time? Is there any Kolkata elements left behind/ transferred to the satellite town? It is pity to see the modern planning eliminate local factors, especially transportation for developments as this is the biggest commercial city in India.

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