Gurugram needs spaces to walk, cycle, meet friends
A great city has to have great public spaces, writes Kalpana Viswanath.gurgaon Updated: Jun 16, 2018 09:13 IST
A great city has to have great public spaces. Think of the streets of London, Central Park in NY, Champs Elysee in Paris and closer home, Marine Drive in Mumbai and India Gate in Delhi. Residents of the city flock to these public spaces. Even the Raahgiri days clearly demonstrate that city residents will use public spaces if provided. Our streets are the greatest public space that we have. I have lived in cities all my life and enjoyed the public space as a common good. Good public spaces are also great equalisers – people from all classes, ages and genders carving out their own use and enjoyment, while at the same coexisting with strangers and creating that public which defines a city. I love walking around cities, exploring its nooks and crannies, engaging in activities and in fact, even sit at a roadside café and watch the city go by.
But unfortunately, we have very few such spaces in Gurugram. A city is a space which is occupied by a diversity of people and this must be nurtured and promoted. Cultural and socio-economic diversity have always been a feature of Indian cities historically. Gurugram needs to embrace this rather than continue to create islands of exclusion and privilege. Unless the city is envisaged as a collective space for a diversity of people including the people in urban villages, in the industrial area, office goers, students and the elderly, it will only be a collection of buildings and not a city.
Improving and creating public spaces helps the economy of a city. Gurugram is a fast-growing economy with migrants from all over the country. The city must respond to the needs of all its residents. Along with those living in gated communities are also the working class who continue to walk and cycle and use the streets, but also face many exclusions. Further there is growing evidence of the health consequences of our modern Indian lifestyles where obesity is growing at an alarming rate, even among children. Due to various factors such as poor roads, fast moving traffic and lack of safety, many children cannot walk around the city anymore. The plight of the elderly is even more dire, where they are unable to move around the city due to these very same factors which restricts their mobility.
It is globally recognised today that we need to create safe, inclusive, green, resilient and sustainable cities. Cities need to create spaces for all and the problem of inclusion must be addressed through policies and structural changes. Let’s start with our streets. Gurugram streets are not even fit to walk on in most parts. Roads are built for moving the car faster and not for people to walk on. Most of us end up using our cars even to go to a shop or restaurant a couple of kilometres away. The city has been designed for the car owner as well and the person living in a gated community. The great public spaces in Gurugram are its malls. That speaks a lot for the city. Islands of privatised public space do not make a great city. There are a few parks, not all well maintained and there is the wonderful Aravalli Biodiversity park as a public space that people can use. We need more of these in Gurugram, where we can step out, cycle, walk, meet friends, see the sky, meditate, read a book, romance. After all isn’t that part of city life.
(Kalpana Viswanath is the co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, a social enterprise which uses data and technology to help make cities safer.)