Last evening, my decision to spend time in the city turned out to be one disheartening experience. Half the evening was spent negotiating traffic. I ended up shuttling between a couple of destinations — wary to enter any of them as they seemed enclosed and suffocating. Eventually I went to the beach.
It got me thinking — is this the general perception of Mumbai? I have lived here all my life. My general fondness toward walking has showed me unique facets about the city that would have otherwise eluded me completely.
Cities all over the world have realised the convenience and pleasure of unravelling itself to pedestrians. In Europe, the city interacts only with the pedestrians.
The non existence of vehicles in these parts gives one time and freedom to thoroughly explore the place, guided purely by impulse. I was walking through the inner city of Barcelona when all of a sudden the sound of a violin being played exquisitely filled the streets.
I started following the sound, and soon I realised I wasn’t the only one. Meandering through the narrow alleys, we all converged on a small square
sandwiched between a church and a museum and a couple of street cafes.
A percussion artist joined the violin player and together they put up a dazzling performance, which I would have missed completely if I was driving.
There have been times when I opted for a 4-km walk to work, rather than drive in traffic, and end up driving around 6 km, simply because of twists and turns in routes. The walk takes me from a popular shopping and theatre precinct, through quiet residential neighbourhoods, even a zippy shortcut through a lively slum to the edge of Aarey colony, one of the last green lungs of the city, all in 40 minutes.
Also, I reach home a good quarter of an hour earlier than if I would have driven!
Such events are invisible in our city. Whilst you can feel the spirit of the city, you can rarely witness it.
To enable this, the city has to embrace pedestrian zones where life and activity converge. Imagine an avenue lined with trees, loosely bound by shops and eateries. You rest a while on a bench, meant for you to slow down and take in the life around you, and enjoy street food from stalls peppered all around you.
Right out of Europe, you would think, but it could be our very own Lokhandwala market or Colaba causeway. There are a number of precincts in the city I could name instantly, which are screaming to keep cars out.
Instead of building overhead walkways, which completely disconnect you from the street, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to divert the vehicular traffic? The city offers the pedestrian an intimate relationship.
A semblance of which, you would experience walking casually through a mall. But do we really need to burden our city with the air conditioning and artificial lighting?
The city is out there for you to explore. Next time you are flipping radio channels while stuck in traffic, think about going taking a walk!
(Thomas Kariath is an architect and lives in Jogeshwari)