Tactical urbanism can help residents build a safer Gurugram
City streets should be planned and developed for all users. Unfortunately, many streets in our cities are unfriendly for pedestrians. Gurugram, in developing its streets, has focused on roads for cars rather than pedestrians.
Recently, a small experiment was conducted at Shankar Chowk to make it more pedestrian friendly. Shankar Chowk, at the intersection of Cyber City and the National Highway-48, sees more than 10,000 people cross every day, of which 6,000 cross during rush hour. The road has no facility for pedestrians and people just pray and run across the street.
Over the past three years, 9 people have died and 13 have been severely injured at this crossing.
This is a very important crossing with Cyber City on the one side and Udyog Vihar on the other, both of which house thousands of offices. Lakhs of people work in these commercial areas, of which a large number use public transport and walk to their destinations. Ideally, this intersection should have had a proper crossing or a skywalk to enable people to move safely.
Further, there is a Metro station at the corner and the lack of a crossing has negatively impacted Metro usage as well.
The innovative experiment that was conducted was to create a zebra crossing under the flyover using paint and some creativity.
This kind of activity by citizens to reclaim spaces is known as ‘tactical urbanism’. The road was painted to allow people to cross in an organised manner. Unfortunately, it was removed almost immediately as it was seen as affecting the free movement of cars.
Tactical urbanism refers to low-cost temporary changes to the built environment to make cities and neighbourhoods more friendly and usable by people. It can be done using paint to demarcate spaces differently, adding street furniture or reorganising spaces. It has been used to slow down traffic such as the Slow Ottawa or Slow Toronto programmes in Canada.
A well-known tactical urbanism project was done at New York City’s Times Square. The experiment began with temporary street closures, paint, and inexpensive beach chairs. Today, it includes custom designed granite benches, tables and designated activity zones for the city’s street performers.
Tactical urbanism can be done in different ways—one is to use unused spaces, which is found in every city.
For example, in Miami, an unused parking lot was converted into an inviting public space which saw a huge footfall of over 20,000 people over a weekend where there were food stalls, activities and benches for people.
Another method is to use paint to reorganise public spaces and redistribute road space as has been done in several cities globally. In some cities, activities have been done in public spaces to engage more people through street theatre, workshops, live music, pop-up barbershops etc.
The idea is to reclaim streets and public spaces for people as well as to make them livelier. In San Francisco, the ‘pavement to parks programme’ led to the development of more than 50 parklets in the city and the idea has spread to several other cities as well.
Similar to the experiment in Gurugram, several cities have addressed the issue of poor intersections. In Addis Ababa, what began as an exercise in one space has been used as a model to retrofit many intersections. Another innovative idea has been to use the space underneath flyovers to engage people such as creating seating or a temporary marketplace.
With growing urbanisation, the quality of life for all is a growing concern. Urban dwellers around the world are taking steps to reclaim and redefine public spaces. City authorities should encourage this participatory approach and find ways for further engagement.
(Co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women’s safety and rights in cities)