Delhi aspires to become a 24*7 city. But it needs to ramp up infra and safety
The area around Jama Masjid in the Walled City transforms into a vibrant space after sunset during Ramzan with shops, eateries and street vendors open till the wee hours of the morning.
“It is not just local residents, people from different parts of the city come here during Ramzan. It is a major tourist attraction, as people get to experience a completely different side of the city,” said Abu Sufiyan, a resident of old Delhi and founder of Purani Dilli Walo Ki Baatein (a cultural platform).
Sufiyan said that even on regular days, the narrow lanes are bustling with activities as street vendors set up their food stalls after market hours. “People come with their families till late at night,” said Sufiyan.
While there is a demand for night time activities, especially from a tourism point of view, the national Capital has very little to offer to those who want to enjoy and experience the city at night.
For years, ice-cream vendors at Rajpath, India Gate, a restaurant at Nizamuddin railway station and few roadside eateries have been some of the options for late night outings for the public at large, as most markets close by 9.30-10pm.
The rationale of night economies
Keeping pace with changing times, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has for the first time proposed a major change in the draft Master Plan of Delhi-2041 to promote night time economies and nightlife in the national Capital.
This is in sync with the Delhi government’s decision last year to allow only high-tech and service industries in Delhi’s new industrial areas. The decision was aimed at reducing pollution levels in the city in the long run. The Union housing and urban affairs ministry issued a notification on October 29 last year in which the definition of industries was changed.
A DDA official, who did not wish to be named, said, “The new developments will bring about a change in the way the city operates right now. World over, cities are moving today becoming 24-hour cities and this is a step in that direction.”
Hitesh Vaidya, director National Institute of Urban Affairs (which has helped DDA in preparing the vision document), said, “Cities should consciously support night-time economies and active nightlife. This has several potential positives. It will support numerous economies that can thrive at night, for instance, cultural activities, certain industries, logistics, etc. thereby helping to stagger work timings and reduce congestion on roads. This will also substantially increase productive use of city resources by utilising city infrastructure throughout the day, resulting in higher economic output.”
MPD-2041, the blueprint of city’s development in the next two decades, proposes development of nightlife circuits around cultural precincts, heritage areas, central business districts etc to provide the city a “vibrant nightlife”. It proposes for restaurants and commercial establishments to remain open 24x7. DDA officials said that this is a step towards making Delhi a “24-hour city”, just like London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, among others.
A second DDA official said that several states have started implementing the Model Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 2016, thereby allowing shops to open 24x7. “Indore, Mumbai, Ahmedabad are some of the cities where shops are allowed to open 24x7. Most cities world over are moving towards the 24-hour concept. It is about time Delhi, being the national Capital, also moves towards becoming a 24-hour city,” said a DDA official.
The infra deficit
While urban development experts and civil society members welcome the move, they say that a major infrastructure overhaul is required to achieve this. From transportation to safety, all aspects have to be relooked at to ensure people’s convenience.
Arunava Dasgupta, head of the department, urban design, School of Planning and Architecture, said that to make Delhi a 24x7 city, the focus should be to first take strategic measures and provide the infrastructure to make the city liveable and convenient for people to perform their daily, necessary activities during the daytime and then extend those qualities into the night.
Dasgupta said, “Nightlife of a city is an add-on quality. It can happen or be promoted if the daytime needs related to transportation, safety, livelihood, etc have been taken care of efficiently and equitably. The most important thing is to have a robust infrastructure before we plan for a 24x7 city. Also, while every part of the city cannot have an active night environment, every corner of the city needs to be safe, barrier free and accessible for all.”
To ensure that the provision gets implemented, experts say there are a few things which must be kept in mind.
Safety of people, especially women, experts say, is the biggest concern. Kalpana Viswanath, co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, said, “It is an interesting idea and would be great to explore the city at night. But there is a need to address issues related to women’s security. Well-lit streets, proper public infrastructure such as toilets, good public transportation facility, quick emergency response and provisions to encourage women vendors and others to work at night are essential to ensure women feel safe at night. Addressing the gender dynamics should be at the centre of planning provisions for a 24-hour city.”
Citing the example of Bangkok’s flea markets, Viswanath said that there are so many women who work in these night markets. Street vendors, especially women vendors, are essential to address the safety-related issues.
Activating frontages of buildings, creating public spaces and redesigning streets, experts say, are measures which can address the safety issue to a large extent. The draft MPD-2041 mentions these urban design concepts to have more eyes on the streets, said the first DDA official quoted above.
Good public transport system
A good public transport system during night time is critical for the success of this concept. London, New York, Seoul, Barcelona, Tokyo are some cities where public transport is available 24x7.
The draft plan proposes that low-frequency Metro and bus services should be available at night time.
Amit Bhatt, director transport, WRI India, “For a city to have a vibrant nightlife, well-planned public spaces are essential apart from a good public transportation system. There is a need to have such commercial activities on the frontages which can work 24x7. There is a need for landuse regulation to change provisions to achieve this.”
Nightlife around heritage assets; need for a cultural calendar
The draft master plan talks about developing nightlife circuits around cultural precincts, heritage areas. Promoting tourism, cultural activities can help in developing these circuits.
Vaidya, the director of National Institute of Urban Affairs said, “A city’s nightlife can provide interesting options for citizens to participate in recreational, cultural and creative activities after standard work hours. Cities like Paris have experimented with ideas like ‘Nuit Blanche’ literally meaning white night, which takes the form of a festival where the city explodes with cultural activity.”
But not all areas can be developed at nightlife hubs. Urban designer AGK Menon said, “In Shahjahanabad, the concept of night life during Ramzans exists. It has to be encouraged and part of the cultural circuits. When we talk about promoting nightlife, the policy document has to be clear on what it means. It will depend on the policy decisions taken in this regard. It is not an easy decision to make. We will have to see the details of it.”
Ratish Nanda, CEO of Aga Khan Trust for Culture, said, “Potential for creative economies creating wealth for people of Delhi and improving the quality of life in our city is unimaginable. Illumination of monuments, access for longer hours, cultural events - music, theatre, food - at some of our little-known heritage sites would be an attraction not only for tourists but also Delhi’s own people.”
He added, “The enabling environment that the master plan aims to create should be extended to abolishing of the licenses required for cultural events when these are held at select venues and allowing greater private sector initiative.”
Pedestrian-friendly and accessible nightlife circuits
Sufiyan said that there is a huge demand for night time activities, especially in the Walled City. But due to the present norms, not much can be done. “Shahjahanabad is a major tourist attraction. There is a need to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, upgrade sanitation service, limit the number of e-rickshaws, provide street furniture etc,” said Sufiyan.
Another case in point in Connaught Place. The heritage market sees a very high footfall, especially during the winter season due to its location, cultural events planned at the Central Park, large number of restaurants etc. But the heritage market starts closing down from 8.30-9 pm onwards. Only restaurants operate till 1pm. The market, many say, has the potential to become a vibrant place at night.
Manpreet Singh, the owner of Zen restaurant in Connaught Place and the treasurer of NRAI, “The idea to promote nightlife in the city is fantastic. We should keep pace with changing times. There are so many cities which are 24x7. There is a growing demand for recreational spaces, eateries to open till late. Though it can’t be done in all the areas, especially markets which are located in residential areas or abutting it, it can easily be done in CP, which is surrounded by offices.
But the market association says that before promoting nightlife, basic infrastructure has to be put in place. Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association of CP, said, “there is a lot which needs to be done first to make the market safe and accessible. The street vendors encroach upon public space. We have to first ensure the safety of people. Before the 24x7 concept, let’s see if the idea is sustainable or not.”
The nightlife concept will help the informal sector as well, said Arbind Singh, national coordinator, National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI). “World over cities flea markets, especially at night, are extremely popular. It is one place where you can experience their culture, food etc. A similar concept if promoted in Delhi will not only help the vendors earn their livelihood, it will attach a new dimension to the city’s cultural experience,” said Singh
A new authority
Bhatt said that for the success of this concept, there is a need for a commission or a regulatory body to look into the night time economic aspect and plan for the nightlife circuit just like in London. London has a Night Time Commission and a “night czar” to look into all aspects of the night time economy and ensure community involvement in it.