The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is currently in the early stages, but the goal is for it to contribute to Ahmedabad’s global recognition as a riverfront city. Since other cities have used their riverfronts as a means of financial development, Ahmedabad similarly aims to use its riverfront to bring the city a renewed identity. The Sabarmati River, with its location between the East and West, is perfectly positioned to boost commercial and real estate development.
The Riverfront is intended to be a public space. Since the project is relatively young, attempts to clean up and beautify the river have begun and new trees and benches have been placed along the riverfront. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is in charge of the local development and was handed the project by the Gujarat government. AMC has agreed to make 86% of the land for public use and 14% for commercial use. The land rights are not being completely sold to developers; instead a deal was made that maintains the project fully public. Developers are able to build on the land and have rights to the land for ninety-nine years and then they have to renew the contracts. The bidding process will be managed by the AMC, but there is no exact time frame on when that process will begin. Speculations have been rising that the bidding prices will be starting as soon as the end of February or early March. There has not been much development yet, so there is less competition for the land. The land will be bought cheaply by the developers who will in turn expect a huge profit margin for the development that will be done. Real estate developers are anticipated to build luxurious high rise residential apartments, hotels, and malls along the riverfront. Part of the agreement with the 14% commercial space is that the commercial property will fund the entire development project in the long run. The upcoming development will attract people to visit the riverfront and create a more vibrant atmosphere. Tourism will rise and people from all around the world can visit and enjoy a leisurely walk on the Sabarmati Riverfront. Once built, this new commercial district will create a profit opportunity for the developers. The developers are involved with this project so that the real estate capital can make this public and urban river rejuvenation project possible.
While Alex met with real estate developers, Eli met with a community of displaced people. Before the Riverfront came to be, thousands of families housed in slums lived in the area. When the project was proposed, there was no resettlement and rehabilitation plan in place for them. Later, it was decided that they would live on the same land in apartment buildings but this plan was scrapped when developers realized that the land was too profitable to use to resettle families. Thus, they were displaced to the periphery of the city. This displacement was not considerate of their preferences at all. Families’ entire lives were uprooted; adults had to change occupations because of the distance from city center and children had to change schools or drop out. Additionally, entire communities were dismantled. Families that had previously depended on support networks comprised of other families were separated from those and instead forced to live on the same floor and in the same building as people they did not know at all. Moreover, moving from “horizontal slums” to “vertical slums” was a big adjustment for this community. Because they were not accustomed to living in apartment buildings, many families threw their garbage out of windows. Issues such as these caused NGOs to step in to teach displaced people about community building and solid waste management. However, acclimation has been challenging to the point that over thirty percent of families have moved back to slums near the Riverfront Development Project in order to return to the familiar. Once there, they join those who had not been moved due to lack of documentation proving their residence in the slums before 2002. When asked how they would have changed the process of resettlement, they answered that they would have preferred to have been moved together with their neighbors instead of randomly. Whether in horizontal or vertical slums, the undeniable fact is that these people’s needs were ignored by the project developers and the government and continue to be put on the backburner.
For Eli, it was shocking to see how thousands of people’s lives were uprooted in such a haphazard way for the sake of “beautification” and “global recognition.” What is most sad is that the Riverfront is barely frequented by Amdavadis. She hopes that the displaced people of the Riverfront area will not be forgotten and will continue to receive support from NGOs trying to make a difference and providing a voice to the voiceless.
The project is ambitious and there is a lot of risks with the development. Alex thinks that the developers can over build and then the amount of attraction will not be met. The prices are not going to be affordable so the middle class has to be interested in the amenities being built. If the demand is not met, then the project will not be able to pay to be funded and the project can fail. The people make the project vibrant and therefore the developers have to think about what they will build and how many building will go up in a smart tactic.