Connaught Place: As ugly as it gets in Delhi’s expensive heart
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)
New Delhi’s Connaught Place is home to the fourth-most expensive office space in the world, ahead of such usual suspects as New York and Tokyo. If you’re one of the people who has to walk through it every day, the one question you’d ask yourself is: why?
The occupancy cost in Connaught Place is $162 per square foot, compared to $156 per square foot for Tokyo’s central business district in fifth place, according to an annual survey released by global real estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield. In New York city’s Midtown, the equivalent cost is $128.85. (London is most expensive, $262 per square foot, which includes taxes and charges for cleaning and other services)
Renamed Rajiv Chowk after the former Indian prime minister who was assassinated in 1991, Delhi’s central business district houses many banks, media companies and insurance companies, which contribute to the demand for modern office space. (The Reuters Delhi bureau is here too)
“This is largely because there is extremely limited supply that is suitable for prominent and established companies in the heart of the city, close to the seat of the national government,” says Sanjay Dutt, Executive Managing Director, South Asia, Cushman & Wakefield.
Originally named after the Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, the district also enjoys easy access to the Delhi metro. It is also a social leveller, attracting people of all ages and backgrounds from business executives and foreign tourists to college students, middle-class families and drug addicts. They come here for shopping, eating out or just lazing around.
Designed to resemble two concentric circles, much of Connaught Place (CP) features Georgian architecture, painted white and has a manicured park in the centre where couples canoodle, picnickers eat and squirrels scurry around. Apart from offices, it has many multinational retail brands, restaurants and coffee shops such as United Colors of Benetton and Starbucks.
But what do people like me see when they exit the metro? Buildings are hidden behind rows of scaffolding. Bulldozers that invaded the district nearly a decade ago under the pretext of restoration work languish there now. As I make my way to the Reuters office, stepping over steel rods and mounds of mud, and ducking to avoid the underpants of construction workers drying on washing lines, I thank my lucky stars that I’m not lying in a puddle at the bottom of a hole in the road.
The restoration project was meant to fix CP’s crumbling facades, create parking space and repair the roads. But poor execution has left us with more craters than offices. I often wonder how executives in formal clothing and high heels make their way unscathed to their workplaces while battling rubble and dog faeces. I assume that the all-pervasive smell of urine keeps them on their toes.
Not that city dwellers have not played a major part in ensuring that Connaught Place remains an eyesore — the paan stains on the once pristine white pillars are a glaring testimony to their determination.
Given its age and history, it has the potential to be one of the most beautiful and vibrant commercial locations in the world. It has cafes and shops dating back to the 1930s when the market first opened. One of them is a bakery called Wenger’s that introduced French bread and Swiss chocolates to the city. But now, business owners are struggling despite paying exorbitant rent.
“Those people who had been coming to us for generations refuse to come now because they say CP is such a mess and traffic is always blocked,” says Mahender Pal, a shopkeeper whose family has run Oriental Fruits Mart here for over seven decades.
“All the renovation was done so haphazardly. Everything was started at once, no planning or anything. Everything was pulled down and nothing was put in place. There is a CP phobia now,” said his son Sunny Arora. “Right now, things are bleak and bad.”
If that’s the kind of landscape that can command these rental prices, imagine how expensive floor space would be if Delhi finally cleaned up the place.
(Follow Diksha on Twitter @diksha16 )