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Will the real central hub stand up?

Mumbai has Nariman Point, Chennai has Anna Salai. Alas, Hyderabad doesn't have a focal point. The problem lies in lack of planning, reasons MMTS Project Director N.V.S. Reddy. One solution to overcome this malady is to encourage open spaces at Central Business Districts and not treat them as mere business boroughs, writes DENNIS MARCUS MATHEW

THE BUSINESS OF IT: Multiple Central Business Districts seem to dot Hyderabad landscape. No wonder, the mantle has shifted to Punjagutta, Begumpet from the good old Abids. Offering higher FSI may encourage CBDs in other areas too, contends a top official. - Photo: MOHD. YOUSUF

Ever heard of a Central Business District (CBD)? Mumbai has Nariman Point, New Delhi has the famed Connaught Place. In Kolkata, it's Park Street and in Chennai, it's Anna Salai. In Hyderabad, these commercial hubs are scattered all over.

A term mostly consigned to business circles and Government files, CBDs are what spur fiscal growth of a region in different ways. Though CBDs are traditionally located close to the centre of the city, in some cities, it is different, like Nariman Point on the south of Mumbai.

Multiple CBDs

With transformations in the real estate sector, traditional CBDs seem to be losing to the peripheries, gradually. And like in Hyderabad, multiple CBDs come up to dot the entire landscape.

Hyderabad's CBD concept, though unofficially, started with Abids where concentration of office complexes, garment and jewellery set-ups, among others, was high. CBDs for bulk shopping — commodities like vegetables, iron and steel, etc. — were in and around Ranigunj and Monda Market.

In stages the mantle shifted to Begumpet, Punjagutta and Raj Bhavan Road, and then, Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills. Of late, a purely formal business-oriented CBD is taking shape along and beyond the road to Madhapur, stretching up to Gachibowli. This, after the advent of information technology.

The emergence of a CBD has had spiralling effect on its surroundings, particularly on real estate prices. From a common range of Rs.1,500 per square feet, prices have rocketed to over Rs.3,000 and even Rs.20,000 in prime areas.

Areas where prices have remained stable are few, with exceptions like Himayatnagar.

All this while, a middle class CBD too, was in existence in Ameerpet. This remains unaffected to a large extent, but now saturated like Abids. An alternative is yet to materialise, courtesy lack of land, clogging of access because of stupendous growth all around and high cost of land, all negative factors for any CBD.

And CBDs, experts say, are essential for any city. Not just from commercial angles where we have to get more companies setting shop in town, but from the larger perspective where a city becomes independent in all aspects.

The problem in Hyderabad, MMTS Project Director N.V.S. Reddy says, is that there was never a planned approach for CBDs. "There are no wide roads, zonal regulations are not followed, and we have inadequate parking places which violate stipulated norms too. Congestion is the result."

Infrastructure is key

Once realtors who build the area sell it off, people who buy the shops are those who suffer. As CBDs grow in volume and transaction, these factors become constraints, and then, the shifting starts, he points out.

Lack of planning is evident from dearth of takers for some complexes in Somajiguda, Abids, Banjara Hills and Ameerpet. Lack of parking space and concentration of traffic has hampered growth in these areas, which actually are suited for investment in properties, according to several market surveys. Here is where infrastructure comes into play.

Mansoor Babu Khan, a partner in Babu Khan Properties, one of the pioneer construction firms in the city, stresses on importance of infrastructure.

"Usually it is builders who first reach a place with their projects. Governments then realise the potential and gradually, infrastructure comes up. But it has to be planned, like in Chandigarh. Bangalore was good, not any more. And now focus of the business world is on Hyderabad. Concentration, we can say, is now between the Mumbai Highway and the Bangalore Highway," Mr. Khan says.

The authorities, Mr. Reddy says, are now formulating plans to improve the scenario. "The CBD models we currently have are those which have been tried and given up in the West. We have seen conversion of residential areas for commercial usage," he says.

Actually, CBDs should not be just business boroughs; they should have open spaces as well. So that people have the option of relaxation too. "The concepts we have now (of shopping centres, eateries and entertainment centres all under one roof) will soon tire out the public," he says.

The official approach as of now, Mr. Reddy continues, is to promote mass transport systems like the MRTS project, and to provide essential infrastructure like water, drainage systems and other basic amenities, including electricity, greenery and lung space.

"We are trying to sort out things, and plan new CBDs. Incentives like higher FSI should be offered to encourage CBDs in other areas. At the same time, it should be kept in mind that people should not depend on CBDs for everything, as is the wont in Hyderabad."

"Neighbourhood shopping should be encouraged and every colony should have minimum facilities," Mr. Reddy observes.

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