Public spaces make cities more inclusive - Hindustan Times

Public spaces make cities more inclusive

Jun 29, 2022 04:13 PM IST

The article has been authored by Hitesh Vaidya, who is the director, National Institute of Urban Affairs, Ambika Malhotra, urban designer, National Institute of Urban Affairs and Manasa Garikaparthi, urban designer, Oasis Designs Inc.

Raj, a 22-year-old from a village near Patna, moved to Delhi in search of work in 2018. After working as a coolie (porter) at the New Delhi railway station for just over a year, he relocated his family of three from the village to Delhi. Raj lives close to work in Aram Bagh, Paharganj, a densely populated colony with narrow roads and oddly stacked buildings that could fall like dominoes at any time. His children play between parked cars and scooters or on the steps of street-facing shops, and sometimes even on the levelled terraces of the third and fourth floors of his building. Living in a cramped one-bedroom house, Raj’s family lacks the space to breathe and just be together. Within a one km radius of his home, there is no adequate, safe, enjoyable open space where Raj and his family can spend a day away from work and daily struggles.

The narrow roads of Delhi (In picture).(Flicker)
The narrow roads of Delhi (In picture).(Flicker)

The urban design of megacities like Delhi has a considerable negative impact on the lower economic group lacking space for recreational activities to exercise, play, and build a relationship with the city and its life. The planning of a city previously overlooked people like Raj and his family as a user or a decision-maker in the outcome.

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With the realisation of needing place-making projects, India has seen a paradigm shift in thinking and the proliferation of people-centric design in cities. Be it the Art Trail for talented artists in Bhubaneswar, the Capital’s Sunder Nursery for those who are one with nature, the Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore catering to scores of commuters, Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront Park that facilitates celebration through congregation spaces, or the Kunnara Park in Kochi that aims to strengthen communities while engaging in activities - each one imbues the life of city-dwellers with the ideal amount of vigour, vitality, colour, accessibility, and security. They allow the families to spend some time together outside their matchbox-sized homes, for children to run free, maybe even eat ice cream and watch the city come to life. Place-making projects can be a loosely defined area that allows users to manipulate it to their needs and comfort. True public spaces don’t differentiate users by economic class, gender or race but generate room for creativity, safety, and growth. Businesses expand, communities thrive, and cities grow when people take over the public realm.

Historically, Indian public spaces were markets, streets, baghs, chowks, and ghats as anchors of the city ecosystem. Through the book, Transforming Urban Landscape in India: A Compendium of 75 Public Spaces, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) creates a repository of unique projects across the country that break conventional methods of building public spaces and instead focuses on the context, the people using it, and its overall effect on its surrounding. Each project brings something new, be it exemplary community participation, a public-private model, conservation of ecology and monuments, reconnecting the neighbourhood, or giving the city back to the people. The book divides the projects into seven categories: waterfronts, streetscape, plazas plus markets, transit nodes, urban landscape, adaptive reuse, and tactical urbanism, highlighting the importance of safety and accessibility. With projects like Chattarpur metro station, Delhi or pathways and streets like Jangali Maharaj Road in Pune promoting active public spaces with street lighting and nightlife, women like Raj’s wife Bimla can travel the city feeling safe and secure. Urban spaces are the backbone of urban life, for they create social cohesion, reduce stress on both physical and mental fronts, improve social interaction, contribute to safety and act as a catalyst of celebration in what could be a melting pot of numerous cultures.

Through various schemes, the government has tried to encourage cities to envision, demarcate, build and resuscitate public spaces while nurturing neighbourhoods. The research and theories widely accepted on place-making are often too western and challenging for officials to understand and implement in the Indian context. The book is the first step towards presenting inclusive projects that act as case studies and inspiration for other cities to follow. The initiative showcases the role of safe, vibrant and inclusive public spaces in reimagining the urban landscape and bringing together communities to enjoy the public realm. It is dedicated to cities that have been instrumental in the urban transformation of India through mainstreaming people-centric planning and design.

Public projects have also taken a step further and designed sensitively with rainwater harvesting, solar-powered street lights, corrugated paver tiles for the blind, and reduction of the urban heat island effect with micro-dense green covers to create a positive impact on the city and the environment. By publishing Transforming the Urban Landscape in India, NIUA hopes to encourage and show the path to more cities to build better public places. It is time for cities to make a choice of creating either a graveyard of grey development or plugging green blue public spaces for the betterment of societal and environmental welfare, especially for people like Raj and his family with no other means to freedom within the city. This is perhaps why it is fitting to travel to and delve into re-imagining, celebrating and uniting the whole nation through landscapes as the country celebrates 75 glorious years of its Independence.

Author- Hitesh Vaidya, Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs

Co-Authors – Ambika Malhotra, Consultant + Urban Designer, National Institute of Urban Affairs; Manasa Garikaparthi, Urban Designer, Oasis Designs Inc.

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