Wednesday, April 21, 2004

New age malls

Unlike many Indian cities, Bangalore has always had a central shopping area in every residential locality with a BDA shopping complex catering to most needs of shoppers from daily groceries to apparel and lifestyle shopping. The Jayanagar Shopping Complex probably being the most successful of its kind with the Koramangala and Indiranagar BDA complexes being reasonably popular too. With yuppie culture setting in, new age malls of the Western variety which serve as a one stop shop where a family can do everything from shopping for the biggest brands, eat out at the choicest of restaurants and catch a movie in a plush multiplex or the youth can simply hang out, play electronic games, go bowling and the like (consequently the name Family Entertainment Centres or FECs) have arrived in India. All this with ample parking space and central air-conditioning too! Family Mart promoted by Bangalore's own M S Ramaiah Group opened on Kanakapura Road last year. Not quite a full-fledged FEC with no multiplex the place is apparently doing reasonably well. The first true-blue western style mall The Forum, promoted by Bangalore's largest property developer, The Prestige Group, had a soft launch this month. Spread over a humongous 650,000 sq ft of space with 300,000 sq ft of that reserved for parking (over 1000 cars), this is one of India's largest malls. The mall has been designed in the USA by leading retailing experts. Some of the stores at the mall are Westside for lifestyle shopping, the Landmark bookstore, Fabmall for grocery shopping, KFC, Cafe Coffee Day, Nike etc. The Mall will soon play host to South India's first McDonald's outlet and India's second Tommy Hilfiger store. India's largest multiplex managed by PVR will also open here. The mall will also have a bowling alley and a multi-cuisine food court. Some of the other malls under development are Sigma Mall on Cunningham Road spread over 200,000 sq ft (anchor tenant being Fun Republic), Star Mall (400,000 sq ft) on Magrath Road, Pantaloon's Bangalore Central at the Embassy Victoria on Residency Road, GESCO Lido Centre on Swami Vivekananda Road (Trinity Circle) and Garuda Mall on Bellary Road.

While the onset of the mall culture is a welcome one as it provides additional avenues for entertainment and shopping, a clear negative fallout is the havoc they play with traffic. With hordes of people converging on these malls at once, the traffic situation becomes unmanageable leading to endless traffic jams and chaos. The mushrooming of malls leading to a total breakdown of traffic in Gurgaon is an example of this. The situation is more worrisome for Bangalore as most of these malls are coming up in areas already congested with traffic. Be it the checkpost junction in Koramangala (Forum), Cunningham Road (Sigma), Residency Road (Bangalore Central) or Trinity Junction (GESCO Lido), all these places are among those with the highest traffic density in town and with the arrival of these malls, things are only heading one way - towards unqualified disaster. The concept of town planning as usual exists only on paper and the authorities while granting permissions to these projects do not seem to have considered the impact on the traffic around these malls.

Although atleast one of these malls seem to have been generous with the parking space, I am skeptical of it being adequate on weekends. Then parking will start overflowing on to the roads around only worsening the congestion.


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