Tuesday, September 30, 2008


What characterises life? How do we distinguish a coral – a living but immobile creature – from the rock that it dwells on? The untrained eye could see the former as a intricate rock formation, akin to stalagmites found in caves. But the crucial differences are the coral’s urge to survive, grow and reproduce. This is common from the smallest bacterium to the biggest tree, distinguishing features of that most complex of all processes – life.

What is the biggest living thing on Earth? Most would answer that it is the blue whale, an answer drilled into us in junior school. By the book, the answer is the redwood or sequoia tree found in the western United States. But are there bigger organisms, so big that we fail to recognise them? Ecosystems, such as the rainforest could be thought of as loosely linked organisms, with thousands of inter-linked species. Amazingly, the extinction of a variety of tiny fly may cause the end of an entire species of tree that it pollinates and of countless creatures dependent on trees. Just like the failure of small bunch of cells which pace our heart can bring us crashing down. The idea of organisms living in such harmony need not be so alien, because all multi-cellular organisms including us, could have been created by the co-existance of different types of single-celled creatures. Indeed, this communal existance is still visible in the oddity of nature called the Portugese man-of-war.

Even stranger is the thought that we may all be part of an immense organism, whose body stretches over nearly 200 million square meters, whose arteries and veins are metres thick and who is constantly growing. If I lost you along the way, as I may have, I am talking about the city that we live in.

Think about it. The city has millions of nearly identical building blocks – buildings and people. It has a circulatory system which distributes power and water and takes away sewage and garbage. It has an immune system, clad in khaki. It has a nervous system, albeit a slow responding one, in its many institutions of governance. It learns through institutions of education and research and remembers in its libraries and hard drives. And it is growing, steadily across the years. The city competes with others to survive, to become the fittest. And it has begun spawning offspring – satellite cities like Technocity – and has started adopting children – outlying towns like Attingal, Nedumangad and Neyyatinkara. So if it strives to survive, grow and reproduce, isn’t Trivandrum a living thing?

While you mull this over, let’s take a look at how our city is growing and will grow. To gauge its growth, we will look just at a few key parameters – population, area and urban structure. While the first two are self-explanatory, the last refers to how the city is made up – its central and secondary business districts, density, transportation network, presence of satellite townships etc.

While Trivandrum has a history of over 2000 years, we will restrict ourselves to the last 60 years.


Population: 300,000 – 600,000

Area: 75 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Major town

Always the largest city in Kerala and by far its most developed one before the formation of the State, Trivandrum continued its stately progress in the decades after 1950. The Maharajas had bequeathed it power, water, sewerage and public transportation networks and these continued to service the population, albeit under increasing strain from the growth of the city. The Central Business District (CBD) stretched from the Secretariat to the East Fort, where the major market was located. Residential expansion happened to the north, north-east and east of the CBD. The coastal belt showed little activity except for the airport and VSSC. The city had a well-developed network of educational and research institutions. Trivandrum was loosely linked to its surrounding towns.


Population: 800,000 – 1000,000 (Based on 2005 election data)

Area: 150 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Nascent Tier II City

While the focus continued to be on the Government, small-scale and services industries, the arrival of IT and the privatisation wave started making changes in Trivandrum. The CBD expanded to include areas like Vazhuthacaud and Vellayambalam. Residential activity moved outwards, to areas like Medical College, Nalanchira, Poojapura and so on, as the City Corporation itself was expanded. The city’s status as a knowledge hub continued to expand. The opening of the NH-47 Bypass opened a new avenue for development and it became a focus for development. A small Secondary Business District started to form around Technopark and the city’s links with surrounding towns started to grow stronger.

Present Day

Population: 1,100,000 – 1,300,000

Area: 200 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Emergent Tier II City

Today, IT/ITES has become the single largest employer in the city, followed by the tourism and financial services sectors. The core urban area stretches from Kazhakkoottam to Vizhinjam and from Nedumangad to the sea. The CBD is now expanding till areas like Pattom and Kesavadasapuram while the SBD around Technopark now has about 4 million sq.ft of commercial space and about 20 million sq.ft. under development, including Technocity.

The NH-47 Bypass has become the centre of both commercial and residential development, spurred on not just by the IT/ITES industry but by tourism and medical services. The city has engulfed Neyyatinkara and Nedumangad and is steadily creeping towards Attingal.

It is undergoing its most hectic period of infrastructure growth through the expansion of Trivandrum International Airport, development of Trivandrum Central and Kochuveli railway terminals, road expansion, upgradation of power, water and sewage networks etc, making up nearly Rs 3000 Crores of investment. A massive Rs 20,000 Crores of private investment has been tied up through mega-projects like the Vizhinjam transhipment hub, Technocity, Technopark expansion and so on, between 2006 and 2008. This has fuelled ever-accelerating growth in the city, its population and its economy.

2009 - 2014

Population: 1,400,000 – 1,600,000

Area: 250 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Developed Tier II City

By 2014, Trivandrum will have about 60,000 IT professionals working in Technopark and Technocity. The first phase of the Vizhinjam project will be operational and handling 2 million containers every year, and the city would have changed for ever. The new Business District in the Mangalapuram – Aakulam area would have definitively overtaken the old one and become the new centre of the city, which would now stretch continuously from Attingal to Neyyatinkara and from Nedumangad and Venjaramoodu to the Sea.

The city's road network will be complemented by sub-urban train services and the first phase of the Trivandrum Integrated Mass Transport System (TIMTS), which is being developed with World Bank assistance and which will use BRTS or monorail technology. The NHAI-developed Outer Ring Road

(ORR) gets completed, enabling the swift expansion of the metropolitan area. The development of satellite townships commence along the ORR as the city adds another 100 Sq. Km. of suburban land to its limits.

To manage the expansion of the city, a Trivandrum Metropolitan Development Authority (TMDA) is created with nearly 400 Sq. Km. of the district under its purview. The rapid growth of the city now affects cities and towns as far away as Kollam and Punalur.

2015 - 2025

Population: 1,600,000 – 2,500,000

Area: 400 - 500 Sq. Km.

Urban structure: Mini-Metro

This will be the real decade of growth for Trivandrum as Technopark, Technocity and private IT parks employ over 150,000 professionals and Vizhinjam grows to be the premier container port in India handling over 6.5 million containers each year. Trivandrum grows to be one of the biggest cities in India, shedding its "Tier II" status to become one of the many cities vying for the status of the 10th metro, Pune, Ahmedabad and Vizag having attained the status already.

As a true high-technology, commercial and logistics hub, the importance of the Government sector has shrunk to a side-show. The city now stretches from the Kerala-TN border in the South to the borders of Kollam in the North and from Sea to the Western Ghats, occupying the entire coastal plain at its broadest. The merger of Kollam into the metropolitan area is well advanced as the margins of the smaller city merge into that of its larger neighbour. Varkala, Punalur, Attingal and other outlying towns are completely within the boundaries of the metropolitan area as the city moves outside the district borders.

The Central Business District has built-up around Technocity with over 30 million sq.ft. of space spread across various industry sectors including IT/ITES, research, electronics, biotechnology and medical sciences. Peripheral Business Districts (PBDs) have sprung up in different areas like Vizhinjam, Kundara, Vithura and so on as development branches out from the hub.

A high-capacity MRTS runs from Attingal till Vizhinjam, through the current and old CBDs. Based on either heavy-rail or high-capacity monorail technology, it moves 200,000 people a day in either direction. Branching out from the MRTS and on other radial routes run BRTS or monorail corridors. The Kollam-Neyyatinkara suburban rail is now complemented by a ring railway which runs from Attingal to Neyyatinkara. Water taxis are plying the channel between Kovalam and Kollam. A satellite port for Vizhinjam have come up at Thankasseri, which now handles bunkering traffic and some feeder activity. Trivandrum's two railway terminals, Central and Kochuveli, together handle over 100 trains a day and 100,000 passengers while Trivandrum International Airport handles close to 8 million passegers annually and is connected to over 30 international destinations by direct flights.

An IIM has been added to the IISER, IIIT, IIITM and IIST that Trivandrum had by 2010, and the city now has over 40 engineering colleges and 8 medical colleges within its limits while over 50,000 students study in its colleges. R&D institutes on genetic sciences, molecular biology, nanotechnology and quantum computing number the two dozen world-class centers in the city as it continues to be one of India's knowledge hubs.

500,000 foreign tourists and over 2 million domestic tourists visit Trivandrum to savour its unique ability to deliver a myriad of experiences from pristine beaches to breathtaking hill stations. The Attukal temple had developed into a world-famous pilgrimage center with its own sprawling township. Trivandrum is one of the 10 Special Tourism Zones across India and is continually adding destinations like the Film City and the Kadinamkulam Lake City to its portfolio of delights.

The direction of our city's growth is already clear and while many of the developments that I have envisioned in the later sections may sound fantastic, most of them are already in motion from Vizhinjam to Technocity to Film City, while others are on the drawing boards like the TIMTS or the IIIT. And surely, twenty years ago, Technopark, Vizhinjam, Technocity or even our futuristic International Terminal may have seemed even more fantastic. Yet, they are here today.

The mega-organism that we call Trivandrum will continue to grow for eternity that awaits, in ways that we cannot comprehend or even imagine today. Perhaps Trivandrum will evolve into one of the tower cities on Coruscant.

But I am sure it will be a damn sight prettier...the most beautiful city in the ecumenopolis.

The journey will be fantastic, but the first steps need to be taken today, by you and me. So, let's get to it, partners!

1 comment:

  1. Ajay, your writing is really evolving into a highly readble one...The epilogue for the Growth plans was simply superb! Really admire the skills of putting those words into ideas..

    Nothing to add about the topic man...You've written what I wanted to comment on. 15 yrs back what we are seeing now were just dreams. Now, with the no of malls and 5 star hotels running into dozens and a world class airport and harbour to complememnt each other the remaining ideas are sure to take a concrete shape in a decade or two...

    Cheers man...and again well written!


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.