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In Theyagaraya Nagar, a densely populated neighborhood in the heart of Chennai, there is a street called Lakeview Road. It is one of many T. Nagar roads with the word “lake” in its name. But there is no lake to be seen from any of these roads. Today, all you’ll find in this neighborhood is a great cacophony of shoppers in stores and open-air shops, gridlocked cars and careening rickshaws.
This is a familiar story in Chennai, a coastal Indian city once known for its sparkling waterways. Over the past century, development has encroached upon those waterways in every corner of the city, shrinking them, polluting them, and creating a water crisis in a place that receives far more rain than the rest of India. Now, Chennai wants its waterways back. But reclaiming them is not so simple.
Over the past several decades, the city’s poor have built their communities along the water. Smelly and stagnant, these were undesirable areas that richer residents wanted nothing to do with. A new plan, however, would flood Chennai’s waterfronts with high-end residential and retail development, evicting the riverbank slum communities in an effort to quickly transform Chennai into a “world-class city.” Cleaning up and reclaiming waterways is a laudable goal, for sure. But as Kavitha Rajagopalan reports in this sixth and final Forefront of the Informal City Dialogues, the way that the city goes about this reclamation effort will mean the difference between an inclusive city and one that runs roughshod over its own residents in the name of progress.
Forefront stories for the Informal City Dialogues are offered free of charge. Click here to read our most recent Forefront, “Waving or Drowning?” and find our previously published long-form stories by clicking the links below.