Life in the Concrete Jungle: The Resilient Greenery of Chandigarh

Located at the foot of the Shivalik, Chandigarh was a visionary project of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru wanted to showcase the resilience, modernity and sovereignty of post-independent India to the global world. Designed by eminent Swiss-French Architect Le Corbusier, Chandigarh features an intricately stitched urban fabric with proportionate built and unbuilt spaces. 

The Principles of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh

Corbusier integrated principles of the “Garden City” movement besides changing the fan-shaped planning concept of previous American planners Albert Mayer and Mathew Nowicki. He adopted the idea of aligning the city’s planning with the hills. The result was a grid-iron layout with blocks as basic planning units.

The concept of Chandigarh’s Master Plan is analogous to the Human Body. Corbusier also attempted to integrate aspects of ecological preservation with the city’s development. Buildings such as the Capitol complex, the Secretariat and the High Court coexist harmoniously with the lush greenery. Their deep overhangs, shading devices, perforated screens and bare concrete façade tell the same story.

The anthropomorphic plan of Chandigarh consists of a hierarchy of open spaces. The Leisure Valley runs for a distance of 8 km from the North-East to South-West of the city. The strip is intermittent with dedicated Green Pockets such as the Rock garden, are for the City Level. Next comes the Block Level, with open-to-sky Green Areas at the heart of each sector. This is followed by Parks for the Community Level and Courtyards for the smallest units – Homes.

This was the joint initiative of Dr M.S Randhawa, the then chairman of the Chandigarh Landscape Committee, and Architect Le Corbusier. The core concept lay in incorporating green nodes into the city’s urban planning.

Sukhna Lake Chandigarh
Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

A Natural Habitat in the Teeming City

The green structure of the city has been intricately carved and planned. The vegetation in the heart of each sector is interconnected, forming a green corridor. The Leisure Valley overlooking the Sukhna Lake spreads for an area of 2.4 SQ.KM. This green strip has been correctly named the Lungs of the City. Besides providing a multitude of recreational spaces, the Leisure Valley acts as a year-round refuge for local and migratory birds.

Several native and exotic species of birds find the perfect spot for their nesting season in Chandigarh. The city has enough resources to provide refuge for about 150 species of birds. The urban area’s ‘bird species per sq. km’ index is 1.94 – greater than that of Bhopal, Srinagar and Bangalore.

The Significance of the Green Belt

The evergreen canopies above its streets instill a sense of solace and austerity while riding down the road. Chandigarh is one of the few cities in the world with its landscape designed more than just for aesthetics; it has been planned with a purpose.

The Phalkan and Kusum trees planted on either side of roads cut off solar glare and form a green tunnel. Chandigarh also witnesses a graceful change in its treescape throughout the year. While the Simbal trees shed their leaves every Autumn, they sprout new blossoms in early Spring. There is no need for exotic ornamental plants for landscaping. Instead, local plantations offering sustainable production, improved soil, water quality and biodiversity benefits.

Chandigarh has set an example for other cities to emulate by increasing its green area to more than the minimum value of 33%. The forest area increased from 42 sq. km in 2003 to 48.03 sq. km in 2019 whereas the green cover increased from 8 sq. km in 2003 to 10 sq. km in 2017. In total, Chandigarh has gone from 26% of green area in 2001 to a whopping 46% in 2019.

Urban Greening Efforts in Chandigarh

Efforts taken by the local administration in greening the city are appreciable. Multiple schemes such as the implementation of the lush Nagar Van spread over an area of 247 acres, are part of the initiative. The city forest thus adds value to the urban elements around it besides providing a natural habitat for the flora and fauna to thrive among city dwellers amicably.

Thanks to the efforts of the local municipal corporation, Chandigarh has the highest number of trees per hectare of the culturable non-forest area in India. These green belts provide the city with a pleasant microclimate, while helping in reducing pollution and the Urban Heat Island effect.

Life in the Concrete Jungle: Chandigarh and its Greenery

Rising Concerns

The cities of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula together form the Tri-City Area. Poor construction activities around the Greater Chandigarh Area have transformed the city into a green island which might hamper the overall ecological wellbeing.

The need of the hour is a joint initiative among the three cities to develop equilibrium. Other concerns such as the three-fold increase in the city’s population have also led to rising needs for infrastructure, which pose a threat to the city’s ecological biodiversity.

With its live demonstration of development alongside ecological conservation, Chandigarh is setting the right path for other Indian cities to follow. Despite one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, Chandigarh logistically proves the feasibility of simultaneous progress and preservation. Rightly nicknamed ‘The City Beautiful’, Chandigarh not only showcases a unique natural charm but also beautifies the lives and livelihoods of all in the city.

Mehna S
Mehna S

Mehna is a fresh B.arch graduate who likes to pen down her thoughts and opinions about the ‘Whats and Whys’ of the architectural world.