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Vol. XXXIII No. 14, November 1-15, 2023

Lakefront development: Transforming Chennai’s lakes into recreational spots

-- by Varsha V.

Recently, The Hindu carried an article stating that the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) intends to develop lakes in Korattur, Retteri, Perungudi and Porur into recreational spaces for the local communities. A similar plan was already announced earlier this year, in fact, reports had emerged in January of the CMDA proposing a Rs. 100 crore lake-front project that intended to transform waterbodies into public spaces, including lakes in Perumbakkam, Mudichur, Madambakkam, Sembakkam, Ayanambakkam, Puzhal and Kolathur.The New Indian Express cited its sources to reveal that a letter had been “sent to the State Government to constitute a coordination committee and to float an open design competition for lakefront development,” and that the project was under review by CMDA minister P.K. Sekar Babu. The Villivakam lake eco-restoration project is the city’s latest success in this particular arena; it is an initiative that Corporation Commissioner J. Radhakrishnan uses to underline the administration’s commitment to creating recreational spaces for the public within their own localities. “So the focus is on developing parks, playfields and lakes. We are equally committed to ensuring that the water spread area is protected. We ensure that an additional water spread area in Villivakkam lake is also created,” he said in a quote to The Hindu, adding, “We are proposing to get the Villivakkam lake inaugurated in two stages. The initial stage will be the lake that is refurbished, with a hanging bridge which will be opened for the people.” Apart from creating new spaces for the public to use, the lakefront development initiative will also bolster the city’s blue-green infrastructure (BGI), helping mitigate issues such as urban flooding and rising temperatures. Indeed, the city’s geographical layout has reportedly been taken into consideration when choosing the lakes that will fall under the project. The plan augurs well for Chennai, which has ecently lost a significant portion of green, public spaces to ongoing civil works, including the metro – after all, the quality and expanse of public spaces enjoyed by local communities are key factors in measuring a city’s growth. In the case of Villivakam lake, the GCC has reportedly already begun work on creating an access path to visitors and aims to open free access to a second lake spanning 8.5 acres to residents. A detailed project proposal to develop Porur lake on similar lines is also apparently in its final stages. According to The Hindu, Corporation Commissioner J. Radhakrishnan revealed plans to transform the space into an eco-tourism spot complete with a watchtower and a big walkway. In addition to the creation of new entertainment spaces, such robust lakefront development will also help prevent land encroachment and illegal discharge and lakes, when healthy, can serve well as valuable natural channels for water harvesting. The benefits the public stand to gain are undeniable. 

However, the challenge will lie, as always, in the sustained maintenance and protection of these natural resources even while making new amenities accessible to the public. Such development must balance environmental and social considerations while ensuring long-term endurance of these new spaces. Effective waste management will be particularly crucial – a task that Chennai has not had much success with, even when it comes to its iconic beaches. Waste discharge into waterbodies or trash accumulation on their banks will be disastrous not just for the initiative but for the ecological resources that the project hopes to develop. The CMDA wisely seems to share this concern, for it reportedly hopes to rope in the GCC and other local bodies into its lakefront development proposal, for joint development as well as maintenance of the lakes. It is hoped that community engagement will also play a bigger role in the planning process going forward. The creation of new stakeholders from local communities that stand to benefit the most will certainly give such projects a better chance at longevity. Such engagement will also help shape them into truly accessible initiatives that can be enjoyed by all members of the community.

Other neighbouring states such as Kerala and Telangana have thriving lakes that serve as multi-purpose resources, providing avenues for not just water management but also recreation and tourism. There are multiple success stories for Tamil Nadu – and Chennai – to study and emulate. The city is blessed with a significant number of lakes, after all. Lakefront development is a proposal that should be met with welcoming hands, provided due study and effort are accorded to ensure sustainability.

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