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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014

Reclaim the 'hood

Riddhi Doshi, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, May 05, 2013
First Published: 02:42 IST(5/5/2013) | Last Updated: 02:43 IST(5/5/2013)

Mumbai is not called 'jugaad city' for nothing. From orally reserving seats on local trains to fixing box grilles to windows to create extra storage space and using plastic bags as raincoats in the monsoon, the mega city compels its people to experiment and innovate in order to fix their problems and get what they need.

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Now, in a city starved of public and pedestrian spaces, Mumbaiites are employing that same spirit of innovation to create room for their creative, fitness and social needs.

From doing pull-ups on local trains to walking, cycling and playing cricket in the quadrangles under flyovers, Mumbaiites are becoming part of a global phenomenon called tactical or do-it-yourself urbanism, rethinking their perceptions of what constitutes public space and how this shape should be utilised.

With no gym or garden in his old Sion building, graphic designer Atul Puranik, 68, for instance, does pull-ups, stretches and yoga asanas in the first-class compartment of a local train every day, on his way to work. "I find the handlebars in the compartment very useful for my pull-ups," he says. "And since the journey to CST is almost half hour long, I thought it would be good to utilise this time and infrastructure to exercise."

Even though unintentional, seeing activities such as cycling under the Matunga flyover, walking and exercising on Andheri skywalks and in malls, rapping, jamming and dancing at Carter Road, Bandra and Shivaji Park, practicing parkour at Powai lake and creating a pop-up garden in Santacruz are interesting and impressive, says Prathima Manohar, an urban planner and founder of urban 'think- and do- tank' The Urban Vision. "For very long, our only response to infrastructure problems and lack of open and pedestrian spaces has been to protest. These exercises mark the beginning of community activism, where an entire neighbourhood is playing the role of activist to reclaim their neighbourhood."

On the other hand, the trend is a stark reminder of the fact that Mumbai is starved of open and pedestrian spaces, says Nayana Kathpalia, co-convenor of NGO CitiSpace. "Our government has only focused on making more space and facilities for vehicles on the roads, even as authorities around the world work to draw the public into public spaces."

In Santacruz, for instance, Sneha Haria, 29, and her husband Kaushik are among about 15 people who have been going for daily night walks on the skywalk for the past five months.

"With no gardens or decent pavements in the area, it's the only place with unobstructed walking space, and it has a nice aerial view of the suburb," says Sneha.

Now, Manohar is hopeful that, as in other parts of the world, where projects that began as experiments in tactical urbanism and later became permanent features of the city, we too are headed towards a greener, more spacious Mumbai.

(With inputs from Nisha Shroff)


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