When the New Town Planning Area was declared 24 years ago, envisioning the development of an eco-friendly city, the 93. 9-sq-km area was a clean slate, literally. Acres and acres of land, with small villages, water bodies and fields, were gradually moulded into a planned township, divided into residential neighbourhoods and commercial hubs. What was once a distant image of a township, about 20km from Kolkata’s centre, flourished into today’s New Town, tagged a “solar city” and a “smart green city” by the Centre.

Now, divided into Action Areas I, II and III, a central business district (CBD) and an IT hub, New Town has metamorphosed into a parallel city, which cannot be separated from Kolkata proper. The township houses a 135-hectare water treatment and garbage disposal plant, 14 colleges and universities, over 10 major hospitals, the 480-acre Eco Park, the towering Biswa Bangla Gate, cycle tracks, electric vehicles, a social club, shopping malls, galleries, museums, numerous cafes and eateries and a convention centre. It’s now a crossroad for young professionals, artists, students and foodies. The story of New Town is one of hope and prosperity, synthesizing the emblematic qualities of Kolkata’s heritage with a vision for the future.

Working towards cutting down on pollution, the authorities have launched cycles and e-two-wheelers that residents can hire for commute. Unique to the township are the cycling tracks. Though there have bee n complaints against encroachment of the tracks and pavements, New Town is perhaps one of the few places in Kolkata that offers space to pedestrians and cyclists. Battery-driven buses can be seen on the roads. Panels for solar power are installed to draw power from them. Lamp posts have been installed with LED lights that switch on or dim, depending on the presence of vehicles and pedestrians, thereby saving energy.
While travelling on the grey ribbon of arterial roads, lined with trees on either side, appears Eco Park, conceptualised as the largest urban park, complete with a water body, an island, recreational area for kids and adults alike, landscaped gardens, eco-resorts, eateries and a mini zoo by the side. Opened in 2012, it has fast grown into a favourite hang-out, especially on holidays and in winter.
For couple Anubhav Basu and Dyuti Bardhan, Eco Park is “love”. Living in New Town since 2017, Basu said, “It is a great place for lovebirds. But more importantly, Eco Park represents the creative mind of this new part of the city. ” “New Town represents a fresh canvas for art ists, performers and content creators to add a contemporary spin to traditional Kolkata themes and symbols,” added Bardhan.
From the vibrant murals of a subway to the graffiti on the median divider railings, the township is splashed with pop colours and neon hues, which lend the place a distinguishing feature. Passersby can hardly resist a detour from their path to explore the hangout zone under the Axis Mall flyover. A flank of an approaching road has been made car-free, where children can ride on swings and slides or simply run around under a canopy of rainbow flags. The area under the flyover grows festive on weekends, when a “Sonajhuri Haat” is held. Traders, artists and artisans come with their fares, ranging from clothes, handmade jewellery, hand-crafted chocolates to paintings, handicrafts and even toys. Food stalls brim with customers. Local or upcoming artistes find a platform to woo the crowds. “When we went to Sonajhuri Haat, we felt we were transported to Santiniketan. You can find all of Bengal in the canvas that is New Town,” said Bardhan.
The under-the-flyover arena also turns into an open gallery, where earlier in the year, the city’s first Van Gogh-styled exhibition was held in tribute to the artist’s 170th birth anniversary. “Most paintings were by 20-25-year-olds from diverse backgrounds. Using Van Gogh’s style, they came up with portraits of people known to them or a Kolkata icon, like Howrah bridge,” said freelance artist Shatanik Dasgupta, who with a few friends, had come up with the idea.
Seasoned artists are also finding their space in New Town, one of them being Arts Acre, an institution and museum for skilled, professional artists, attracting visitors from beyond Kolkata. Its founder Shuvaprasanna said, “In a short span, it has become a space and a hub for attracting artistic talent from all over the world. Arts Acre hosts and stimulates such skilled talent. Even commercial houses in New Town are built aesthetically , making it a unique artistic experience for Kolkata. ”
Nazrul Tirtha, Rabindra Tirtha, Mother’s Wax Museum, Aircraft Museum: the list of galleries, museums and cultural centres fill the itineraries of both residents and visitors alike.
The township has come a long way since its early days of urban planning, growing into an indispensable limb of Kolkata’s heritage and a space to accom modate various emerging subcultures. Chairman and managing director of Hidco Debashis Sen said, “It is an increasingly vibrant part of the city. Under the inspiration of ou r chief minister, New Town has been developed into an inclusive and a multidimensional space. Truly, it is the Singapore of eastern India. ”


(Above) Once a distant image of a township, New Town has grown into a smart city, with residential areas, a CBD, an IT hub, colleges & universities, hospitals, cycle tracks, smart bus stops, e-vehicles, malls, museums, cafes, a convention centre and an urban park


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