The history of Bengaluru – as indeed that of any other city – is marked by the constant emergence of new dominant groups, each with its own set of imaginations, from Kempe Gowda in the 16th century to the IT Moghuls of the 21st century. Each distinct phase of history is legible in the urban landscape, especially in its constant, yet dynamic street networks that offer an understanding of city planning, and Bengaluru’s long journey.
The pre-colonial era
Kempe Gowda’s Bengaluru was located within the walls of the old trading city that lay along two main roads – Chikpete Main Road and Avenue Road. These divided the area into Doddapete (big market) and Chikkapete (small market). Chikpete, which runs in an east-west direction, is characterised by a dense and narrow cluster of roads, designed largely for pedestrian traffic, residences and commercial activity centres. The petes (the Kannada word for markets) were organised based on caste and professions.
Owing to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions in the old city, Chamarajpet was developed in 1892 as the old city’s first planned residential extension by Chamarajendra Wadiyar, then the ruler of Mysore. Initially, residents were hesitant to move out of the pete and into the new extension, but the deadly plague of 1897 forced them to relent. Rectangular in shape, the Chamarajpet layout has five main roads and nine cross roads, with housing plots of a uniform area and building height of no more than four feet. This was to ensure that the residents could see the maharaja’s procession regardless of where their plot was located.
Bengaluru Cantonment area
The creation of the British Civil and Military Office or the Cantonment in 1807 heralded the creation of an urban form that was in stark contrast to that of the pete. Colonial city planning included strict zoning regulations, which demanded a separation of residences and workplaces and a new aesthetic. This was very different from the modes of urban development in the pete area and it redefined the city’s relationship to space.
Known as Blackpally during the colonial rule, Shivajinagar was where the Indians who managed the daily domestic needs of the British lived. It was inhabited by non-Kannadigas, mostly migrants from Tamil Nadu and other states and a large Muslim population. Despite its deep connections with, and proximity to the Cantonment, Shivajinagar’s layout was similar to the that of the pete area with narrow streets and mixed-use buildings. Today, it is an important transport and commercial hub.
Richmond Circle lies at the centre of Bengaluru’s cantonment area and is characterised by wide, spacious roads. It is flanked by Cubbon Park on the west, which acted as a partition between the cantonment and the older city areas, Richmond and Langford towns which had well-spaced areas for European bungalows to the south, and Parade Grounds and South Parade Road, now known as the MG Road, to the north. This area is a major commercial centre as well as a traffic junction, and is home to the Vidhana Soudha and other administrative establishments.
Post the Great Plague
In the aftermath of the devastating plague that struck the city in 1897-’98, new residential extensions were designed to accommodate households that had to be evacuated. These “Model Hygiene Suburbs”, which followed new planning principles introduced by the British, were built in a grid or chessboard pattern, with modern sanitation facilities and ample space.
Basavangudi is laid out in a rectangular pattern around a public square, with parallel streets running in a north-south and east-west direction. In addition, there are four diagonal streets connecting the inner areas to the boundaries of the extension. Segregation of housing on the lines of caste is clearly visible with the larger plots around the square assigned to higher castes and the smaller plots on the peripheries assigned to household of lower castes.
Malleswaram came into existence in 1895 owing to overpopulation, poor sanitation and the deadly plague in the old city. Primarily identified and built for residential purposes, this jungle became a network of roads and streets laid in a grid, with 10 main roads running north-south and 17 crossroads running east-west, intersecting the main roads at right angles. Janaki Nair, in her book Bangalore’s Twentieth Century, notes that Malleswaram was divided into eight blocks on the basis of caste.
Planned residential layouts – BDA on the rise
The 1970s witnessed a surge in population and urban sprawl within the city. Initially, city planning came under the domain of the City Improvement Trust Board and then under the Bengaluru Development Authority. The BDA took on the mandate of a centralised planning authority to accommodate the growing population, a role it continues to play even today.
Jayanagar, planned by the CITB in 1948, was one of the first and largest residential extensions developed in Bengaluru immediately after India’s independence. South End Circle, where six roads from different areas converge, was regarded as the southernmost end of the city in British times, beyond which Jayanagar began to be developed. The parallel main roads and crossroads grid network, along with tree-lined avenues and public spaces, were adopted in the development of Jayanagar and most other planned localities in Bengaluru post-Independence.
With a history of over 500 years, Yelahanka was Bengaluru’s capital in Kempe Gowda’s time. Yelahanka Satellite Town in north Bengaluru, along with Kengeri Satellite Town in west Bengaluru, were developed by the BDA in the 1960s to de-congest core areas of the city. With a plan to accommodate all basic amenities, this township spreads out in a semi-circular fashion with distinct networks of clustered and symmetrical streets and ample public spaces.
Modern industrial spaces
From flourishing textile industries to public sector industries, and in its current role as India’s IT powerhouse, Bengaluru’s industries have shaped its urban form in myriad ways.
Continuing with the township model which became popular across public sector undertakings in India, the Bharat Electronics township was set up in 1954 on 640 acres of land in Jalahalli, to the north of the city. BEL Colony, like other PSU townships, was deliberately planned as a self-sufficient space of large-scale industrial production, and provided subsidised worker housing within the premises to avoid straining the city’s limited resources. The image below shows a neatly laid out plan with the dense road cluster indicating an employee housing colony, and the more spread out network indicating the factory site.
Created in 1978, Electronic City is home to a host of IT industries. Built on 800 acres along the Hosur highway to the south east of Bengaluru, it is one of the most prominent IT industrial layouts of the city and is characterised by large office complexes and a network of public and private roads, with the latter constructed within the individual complex premises. The four-lane mixed corridor that runs from Electronic City to Silk Board is the second longest elevated national highway of the country.
As Bengaluru embarked on its journey of progression, moulding itself to meet the requirements of a global city, the development of world-class mega infrastructure became paramount to usher in global flows of capital.
Earlier known as Hanumanthapura, Majestic was named after a famous movie theatre and has been integral to the imagination of the city. With a history spanning close to 500 years, the area which was originally the Dharmambuddhi tank, has seen immense transformations in its form. The iconic semi-circular structure of the BMTC bus stand was built on a tank bed in the 1980s under the leadership of then Chief Minister Gundu Rao. This centrally located area is now a major transport hub with the bus station, train station and a metro station located in a 1 km radius. Certain pockets depict a well-planned network while other areas consist of a series of clustered network of streets of the pete areas.
The Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Road was conceptualised with the intent to connect Bengaluru and Mysuru, and is also called the Bengaluru-Mysuru Corridor. The political controversies surrounding the project, however, allowed for only the development of a peripheral ring road connecting Tumkur Road (NH4) and Hosur Road (NH7). The four interchange loops link these two highways with each other. The development of this infrastructure was in response to the demands for reducing commute times to Electronics City and the rest of the IT corridor by bypassing the city’s traffic snarls. It was also developed to connect the southern and eastern parts of the city to the international airport at Devanahalli.
Bengaluru’s recent urbanisation is characterised by its peripheral growth, where a bulk of its economic and real estate development is concentrated, even as the provision of public services such as roads and water services are lagging.
Whitefield in Bengaluru’s eastern periphery was developed in 1879 as a self-sufficient Eurasian and Anglo-Indian settlement to promote industrial and agricultural pursuits. The original colony was developed by DS White in an inner and outer circle around a park, similar to extensions in the Cantonment area. Whitefield remained a quaint village till the 1990s but has grown rapidly post Bengaluru’s IT boom with much of the development in the area led by private players. Many of the smaller roads in the area fall within large, private gated colonies with a few main roads connecting them.
Tucked away between the bustling Bannerghata and Kanakpura Roads, Anjanapura Township is one of the biggest residential layouts developed in recent years by the BDA and spans an area of 1500 acres. Located in the southernmost periphery of Bengaluru, the township of Anjanapura is not yet a fully-fledged residential locality as it was meant to be, owing to the apathy of the authorities coupled with ill maintenance of the sites.
Streets evolve in form as their utility changes over time. They become an indelible marker of the numerous economic and social processes that have drastically changed the landscape of the city. Viewing street networks in this way allow us to identify the salient features of each planning phase that shaped the city over time, along with spatial and cultural dichotomies.
We take inspiration from OSMnx, a tool developed to acquire, construct and visualise complex street networks using Open Street Maps and Python code. Using this methodology, street network information is presented as monochrome images of one square mile each – making them intuitive, consistent, comparable and visually compelling.