Chennai, or Madras as it used to be known, was the former capital of India under British rule. However, many of its neighbourhoods pre-date the city by hundreds of years before being engulfed by urbanization.
The oldest part of the city, known as George Town, is a neighbourhood of tiny streets and thousands of small shops. It’s also home to the state assembly building known as Fort St George and the port.
Today, the city is rapidly expanding to the south and south west and the geographical centre of Chennai is steadily moving south year on year. The driver of the growth are three main roads.
The East Coast Road, or ECR as it’s known locally, runs along the coast and has been a catalyst for residential, leisure and hospitality projects. Some fantastic beach resorts can be found along this road as well as some stunning beach front villas.
The Old Mahabalipuram Road, or OMR as it’s known locally, is often referred to as the IT corridor. Each year tens of thousands of fresh engineering graduates are vacuumed up by large IT companies. As a result, dozens of IT and tech companies have set up shop in the south of the city and the skyline is dominated by huge tech parks with thousands of people working in them.
Shooting out from the south-west of the city is the Grand Southern Trunk road, known locally as GST road. This road leads to multiple car plants from manufacturers like Ford, Renault, Hyundai and BMW.
Rapid development isn’t just happening on the outskirts of the city though. Every neighbourhood in Chennai is undergoing major renewal as areas that were once purely residential are turning commercial, old bungalows and apartment blocks are demolished for new, glass and steel office and retail spaces and colossal shopping malls have started popping up in all areas of the city.
As the middle class is booming, hundreds of restaurants have opened up to cater to the newly acquired taste for global cuisines, international hotels are opening luxury resorts and leisure facilities are growing all the time.
This rapid development is taking its toll on the city as construction detritus litters the roads, dust and pollution is at an all time high, roads are clogged with newly purchased Hyundais and Hondas and power and water infrastructure is creaking under the demand.
However, things are slowly getting better. The metro rail system which has turned the entire city in to a construction site for the last three years is almost complete and when operational should alleviate the traffic on many arterial roads. Nuclear power stations are slowly coming online to provide regular power and a new desalination plant should provide a lot more water security.
When you come to Chennai, you’ll see a city in its adolescence. It knows it needs to grow up and there are glimpses of a golden future, but it’s going to make life difficult now and then.
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