Public Spaces

HITTING THE REFRESH BUTTON on public spaces in India

Today’s India is fast and driven. Technology has reached further corners than ever before. That also means a more hectic life for the people.
Are there enough public spaces for people to unwind on a daily basis? If yes, are they good enough? Join us as we talk about these important questions.


BUILDING inclusive, healthy, functional, and productive cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and there are no easy solutions. A key part of the puzzle, though, lies right at the heart of the world’s urban areas: its public spaces. The aim is to build cities and communities that can help strengthen the social fabric of our cities and towns and jump-start economic development by creating and sustaining healthy public spaces.

Some say that city planning is based on a simple principle: if you plan cities for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places. More traffic and greater road capacity are not the inevitable results of growth. They are products of very deliberate choices made to shape our communities to accommodate the private automobile. We have the ability to make different choices — starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable and safe places for everyone — for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as drivers.

While that can get a little challenging in places that are filled with hawkers, street vendors and the occasional cattle, we must not lose track of what a city or town is meant to do – let communities thrive in peace and happiness.

What makes a city great, are the public spaces within it. Cities in history are remembered for their public spaces, the Greek Agora, the Roman Forum, the European squares and Indian ‘chowks’. The experience of ‘public’ is the experience of a city.

This is as true for the visitors as for her inhabitants. In fact, public spaces have great value for the inhabitants than the visitors, as these spaces contribute greatly to enhance the experience of lived reality. Today, ‘public’ and ‘publicness’ has to be claimed in Indian cities, and at the centre of it is claiming the public lands for public purposes.

A great urban park is a safety valve for the city, in which people living in dense urban areas can find breathing room. While a poorly planned or maintained park can a place of fear and danger, thus repelling people, business, and investment. A great square, on the other hand, can be a source of civic pride, and it can help citizens feel better connected to their cultural and political institutions.

There is a need for future champions of public spaces, who will lobby and advocate for
equitable approaches to designing, implementing and maintaining public spaces. And maybe private ownership is the answer to these complicated problems.

Another great option could be to build local economies through markets. An informal public markets economy thrives in many cities around the world, but often chaotically — clogging streets, competing unfairly with local businesses, and limiting the hope of upward mobility to marginalized populations. Markets can, however, provide a


structure and a regulatory framework that helps grow small businesses, preserve food safety, and make a more attractive destination for shoppers. And provide a place for people to meet, discuss and show off their city to their friends who visit.As towns expand, their open spaces are shrinking. The democratic ‘space’ that ensures accountability and enables dissent is also shrinking. Over the years, open spaces become ‘leftovers’ or residual spaces after construction potential has been exploited. Hence we need plans that redefine the ‘notion’ of open spaces to go beyond gardens and recreational grounds –– to include the vast, diverse natural assets of our cities, including rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, exhausted quarries, mangroves, wetlands, beaches and the seafronts.

Plans that aim to create non-barricaded, non-exclusive, non-elitist spaces that provide access to all citizens. Plans that ensure open spaces are not only available but are geographically and culturally integral to neighbourhoods and a participatory community life. Plans that redefine land use and development, placing people and community life at the centre of planning — not merely real estate and construction potential.

The objectives for any city should be to expand its open spaces by identifying its natural assets, preserving them and designing them to turn into public spaces for recreation.

The aim should be to expand and network public open spaces, conserve natural assets & protect eco-sensitive borders, prepare a comprehensive waterfronts/ natural assets plan, establish walking and cycling tracks to induce health enhancing behavior while promoting energy efficient transport and promote social, cultural and recreational opportunities.

Whether developed under private ownership or thanks to state government funds, public spaces
in India need to be refreshed and relooked at. They need to be more inclusive, more entertaining and just more in numbers. Policy makers and lobbyists are working hard to make this happen.

Let’s look forward to a greener India with more parks and gardens for people to throw ball and kick their feet up after a long day.

ThanalKoottu: Fort revitalisation, Kochi

On the edge of God’s own country, Fort Kochi, is a spot preserved in time. ThanalKoottu or My Fort Kochi is an attempt to revitalize the public spaces to foster more calm and creativity.


Enter Fort Kochi and you will be instantly transported to a different era. This place is steeped in the history and culture of all who have occupied it through the ages.

Its roots and essence are unique in its diversity. Although let the name not fool you, Fort Kochi is neither a walled city nor does it have a fort of its own.

A charming seaside area, Fort Kochi is known for its Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial architecture, and elaborate bamboo fishing nets at Fort Kochi Beach. St. Francis Church was the original burial site of explorer Vasco da Gama.

Upscale eateries and chic cafes serve Keralan specialties, and quaint shops sell cotton clothing and handmade souvenirs. And a simple walk around the area will reveal heritage buildings housing contemporary art galleries.

But over the years a few things have changed. Public spaces and parks in Kochi are far and fewer than before. They are either timed, ticketed and barricaded or encroached upon by parking and illegal commercial activity. Citizens in the city have limited choice of public spaces and common greens to unwind and they often rely on malls and multiplexes for their recreation thanks to the lack of accessible public spaces.

My Fort Kochi – ThanalKoottu’, was a people-led one-day event held in May last year and it aimed at revitalising Fort Kochi’s Vasco da Gama Square, into a vibrant people-oriented activity space. The square comprised of illegal parking and street vendors which paved way in losing the historic identity of the square.

The scope of the project included replacing parking with innovative public spaces and activities, to transform the area into the epicentre of fun-filled activities for the public.

The event was organised by WRI India with the support from KMEA College of Architecture, Aluva.


ThanalKoottu was a temporary, pilot event that would serve as a testing ground for the creative use of space. This would be helpful in creating a permanent infrastructure for effective public spaces in the city.

The ThanalKoottu event kickstarted with locals and tourists of all age groups, participating in a range of activities organized across different zones in the Vasco da Gama square. While kids enjoyed the life-sized games like snakes and ladder, and other board games that belong on boards but brought to life on a large scale at The Vasco da Gama square. And then there were open table tennis, badminton, and other sports activities organized by Decathlon for grown ups who wanted to get in touch with their childhood. The installations served as interaction areas and of course, selfie spots. The people behind this revitalization understood that people of Kochi need a place to walk, cycle and just be.

The recreated public space was complimented with a series of activities like heritage walking and cycling tours, conversations with city representatives, interactive board activities about Fort Kochi, a treasure hunt, games, competitions, soccer and frisbee, performances and cleanliness drive. The area was divided into 4 zones – the stage, the triangle, the arena and beach. The major challenge was to replace illegal parking with usable public space. They installed temporary barricades at the 3 main entrances to the square and providing designated pocket parking spaces outside the site.

The ‘Thanalkoottu’ project demonstrated that a Tactical Urbanism process is the first step towards creation of Heritage DPR for Fort Kochi area. The project has the potential to be scaled up in two ways. First, by setting up a process to demonstrate Tactical Urbanism process in other public spaces in Fort Kochi and Ernakulam. And by adopting the learnings from the Tactical Urbanism process and developing a permanent intervention for the public spaces.

The people of Kochi, tourists and travellers alike love Fort Kochi. And a lot of that old world charm is coming back to the area. So yes, don’t be surprised if on your next trip, the local kids pull you off your breakfast table to join them for a game of hopscotch.


Visiting Hazratganj in the Land of the Nawabs

You will come here for all the great things you’ve heard about it. But, you’ll stay for all that and much more. Hazratganj stays a worthy example of the unique culture of Lucknow. Let’s take a look.



The first thing that hits you when you’re in Lucknow, and stays with you long after you’ve visits, is its old-world charm. Its exquisite monuments, British-era buildings, and the well-known ‘Lakhnawi Tehzeeb,’ the etiquette of the people of Lucknow, they all add to the beauty of this charming city. The ‘City of Nawabs’ is the capital of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The legacy of the Nawabs of Lucknow has been passed down through generations, bestowing the city with its well-known culture and delectable cuisine. The city continues to be at the forefront of culture, education, commerce, finance and tourism in the modern world.


But, its heritage stays untouched by commercialization and urbanization.

In 1827, the then Nawab Nasiruddin Haider laid the foundation of the Ganj market by introducing the China Bazaar and Kaptaan Bazaar, (Captain’s market) which sold goods from China, Japan and Belgium.

The famous Taar Wali Kothi, Dargah of 12 Imam’s at Khas Mukaam, Choti Chattar Manzil, Saawan-Bhadoh Mahal, the stunning Baradari, which was earlier situated between Kaiserbagh, Darulshafa, and Lalbagh also emerged during his regime.

In 1842, the name of the area was changed to Hazratganj after Nawab Amjad Ali Shah, who was popularly known as ‘Hazrat’.

After the First War of Independence in 1857, the British took over the city and Hazratganj was modeled after London’s Queen Street. Many old Mughal style buildings were demolished and new European structures came up.

Ring Theatre, the present GPO, served add the Ball Room and theatre for the British officers and was called ‘Entertainment Centre’.

It’s another matter that its doors would be closed for the natives.

This place was exclusively for the Britishers and natives were barred from entering.Later on, it was converted into a special court and witnessed the hearing for the Kakori Conspiracy case.

In 1929-32, the building was renovated in Gothic style and a clock tower was constructed in the centre and The GPO, which was then situated in Janpath, was shifted to this building after that.

When Ahmad Shah died, his son Wajid Ali Shah got an Imambara constructed in Sibtainabad at a cost of 10 Lacs.
The magnificent edifice is now called Sibtainabad Imambara, which is a centrally protected monument, and a Shia wakf under the UP Shia Central Board of Wakfs, and situated on Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Opposite Halwasiya Market.

The monument, which was under heavy encroachments and neglect has recently been restored to its old glory and is a Heritage Lover’s delight.

The Indian Coffee House came up during the First World War and was then owned by the Filmistan cinema, which today is known as Sahu Cinema. Unlike Mayfair and Ring Theatre, ICH was crowded by Indians all the time.

In the 1920s, the place became a paradise for journalists and writers and thinkers like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Atal Bihari Vajaypee, Chandrashekar to Yashpal, Amrit Lal Nagar, Bhagwati Charan Verma and Anand Narayan Mulla who expressed their views over a cup of coffee.

And that’s probably the reason why the street intersection in Lucknow, near a posh market by the same name, will be renamed Atal Chauraha, a nod to the former Prime Minister’s love of the area where he used to hang around as a young BJP worker.

Loitering in the area is popularly called “ganjing”, a term derived from the “ganj” in Hazratganj. It is common knowledge that Vajpayee, a five-time MP from Lucknow, was fond of ganjing when he lived in the BJP office nearby.

You could shop for trinkets and Lucknawi arts at Hazratganj. Perfumes and ittars are also common here.

A walk through this great bazaar and you will find yourself shopping for some amazing chikan dresses, eating delectable local food, walking in and out of old bookstores and stumbling across churches and museums.

This unique marketplace has rightly preserved the culture of Lucknow and yet remains contemporary and hosts an amazing shopping experience to whoever visits here.


Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden, Thiruvananthapuram

Entrusted with the responsibility to preserve, conserve and research flora from around the world in God’s own country, the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden is no walk in the park.


Formerly known as the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, was renamed in the fond memory of visionary Prime Minister of India. It is an autonomous research and development institute established by the Government of Kerala. It functions under the umbrella of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), Government of Kerala.

In 1996, Saraswathy Thangavelu Extension Centre of KSCSTE – JNTBGRI housing the Bioinformatics component become functioning. During the year 2003, JNTBGRI was bought under the newly formed society, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE).

They say every monumental achievement has had the driving force of a visionary. The saga of JNTBGRI also speaks the same story. Prof. A. Abraham, a visionary and a great Botanist, conceived the idea of establishing a Jawaharlal Nehru Botanic Garden and Research Institute to study and conserve the rare and vanishing wild plant genetic resources of the country.

KSCSTE – JNTBGRI is the only organization in India, which maintains a 300 acre conservatory garden for the wild tropical plant genetic resources of the country, besides a well integrated multidisciplinary R & D system dealing with conservation, management and sustainable utilization of tropical plant resources.

During the past 30 years, it has flourished into one of the premier R & D organization in Asia, devoted to conservation and sustainable utilization of tropical plant diversity. The institute is recognized as a ‘National Centre of Excellence in ex situ conservation and sustainable utilization of tropical plants diversity’ by the Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India and the Centre of Science and Technology of Non-Aligned and other Developing Countries (NAM S&T Centre) JNTBGRI enjoys the membership of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The institute is a recognized centre of research for post graduate and doctoral research of several universities, within the country.


The Institute undertakes research in conservation biology, Biotechnology, plant taxonomy, microbiology, phytochemistry, ethno-medicine and ethno-pharmacology, which are the main areas considered to have immediate relevance to the development of the garden.

While taxonomists prepared a flora of the garden documenting the native plant wealth before mass introduction and face lift which subsequently followed, the bio-technologists mass multiplied plants of commercial importance, especially orchids for cultivation and distribution to everyone.

They also make a comprehensive survey of the economic plant wealth of Kerala, to conserve, preserve and sustainably utilize it. The institute regularly carries out botanical, horticultural and chemical research for plant improvement and utilization; and offers facilities for the improvement of ornamental plants and propagation in the larger context of the establishment of nursery and flower trade.

JNTBGRI gardens medicinal plants, ornamental plants and various introduced plants of economic or aesthetic value. In addition, it also serves as a source of supply of improved plants that are not readily available from other agencies.


They have developed a modern conservatory garden for ex-situ conservation of plants and scientific studies for sustainable utilization. They’ve also established large living collection of trees and woody lianas of over 1000 species, medicinal, Aromatic and Spice plants of around 1500 species, pre-tsunami living collections from Andaman-Nicobar Islands, Orchids, Bamboos, rare and threatened plants, aquatic plants, insectivorous plants, wild ornamentals, Jasmines, etc. for conservation, display and education. This living collection of trees, bamboos, orchids, Medicinal Aromatic and spice plants are the largest in South Asia.
Over all these years, they have developed 12 new phytomedicines and filed 15 patents. They also published 25 books, over 1,000 research papers and20 handouts, bulletins and course materials. Although they don’t permit a camera on campus, it’s worth a visit. The wide variety of flora will be you with many pleasant images.


The Beauty of the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar

Ever wondered how gardens in paradise look like? Look no further. The Mughal Gardens in Srinagar take you as close to paradise you can get on this planet.



The land of Kashmir, popularized by old Bollywood movies as ‘Paradise on Earth’ stands quite true to this promise. In fact, Emperor Akbar, tired of the heat in his capital city, spent three consecutive summers in Kashmir and with each summer, his love for the place grew even more. Soon enough, Kashmir became the summer resort to successive Emperors as well, including Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. To Jahangir, Kashmir seemed a paradise of which ‘priests had prophesied and poets sung’. For nearly a century and a half, these four great Emperors came, from far away Delhi and Agra, with glittering retinues and splendid state, from the dusty glamour of an Indian court to the cool and quiet of a Kashmiri summer.

Jahangir spent fourteen summers in the Valley of Kashmir, coming in with the blossoming of the lilac and the wild iris in the spring, and setting out back towards the hot plains of India when the saffron flowers had bloomed in autumn. He died in Bahram-Galah (a small village near Poonch), almost within the sight of his beloved Kashmir.

The Mughal rule in Kashmir may not have been impressionable politically but it will always be remembered for the eternal legacy they left behind, including the gardens they built, and the arts and crafts they serenaded.

The celebrated Mughal Gardens of Kashmir owe their grandeur primarily to Emperor Jahangir and his son Shah Jahan. Jahangir was responsible for the careful selection of the site and maneuvering it to suit the requirements of the traditional paradise gardens.

Although the Mughals never deviated drastically from the original form or concept of the gardens, their biggest challenge in Kashmir was to exploit the chosen site and the abundance of water resource to its maximum potential. The sites selected were invariably at the foot of a mountain, wherever there was a source of water either in the form of streams or springs. This feature eventually resulted in terraced garden layouts. Undaunted by the challenges offered by mountainous terrain, the Mughal engineering skills and aesthetics helped in exploiting the dominating natural landscape and the available water resources to their maximum potential and achieved an unparalleled height of perfection.

Almost all popular Mughal gardens in Kashmir except Verinag follow a similar pattern with a central water channel sourced at natural springs. Avenues of poplars or chinar trees further enhanced this channel, which formed the central visual axis of the garden. There are one or more baradaris or pavilions with a central open space ‘dalan’ placed over these water channels. These water channels cascade down from one terrace to another in the form of chadars or falls, where they fill in the larger water tanks, hauz, squarish in form and having an array of fountains. Finally, the water from the central channel joins a water body, either a flowing stream nearby, as in case of Achabal, or a lake, as in case of Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh.

Laid out in the 17th C. (1634 AD) by Mirza Abul Hasan, the Nishat Bagh is amongst the most prominent gardens that the Mughals developed in the erstwhile Hindustan. The bagh or garden is located directly along the eastern bank of the Dal Lake on the foot of Zabarwan mountain range. Nishat Bagh’s exceptional quality lies therefore in its setting, the complex terraced layout, the play of water cascades, the views it offers, and its ecology. Length-wise, the garden consists of twelve terraces, supposedly symbolizing the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Shalimar Bagh is more ostentatious in architectural quality when compared with its other parallels in Kashmir. Almost all the terrace edges at the Shalimar Bagh have something interesting to offer in the form of pavilions, pools, or water cascades. The whole texture of the garden, in fact, is a result of the relationship of the garden’s built and landscaped environment.

The royal garden of Achabal is located near Anantnag predates the arrival of the Mughals in Kashmir. The spring at the Achabal Bagh was popular at one time for its curative values and the amount of water it supplied. The Achabal Bagh, with its abundant Chinar trees and roaring water channels, is yet another embodiment of the Mughal landscape genius demonstrated in Kashmir.


Chashma Shahi continues to retain the natural spring around which it was built and is unique for its high terraces, and distant, yet outstanding, views of the Dal Lake from its terraces. The garden is known to be at its best during late afternoons and evenings. Pari Mahal is also located west of the city centre of Srinagar, near Chasma Shahi, on the slopes of the Zebanwan Mountains.

Verinag is an octagonal pavilion-garden, built around a spring. Verinag was the personal favourite of Emperor Jahangir and it was his great wish to be buried here.

These gardens seemed to be untouched by time. It still slows down a little when one takes a stroll across these gardens. And a first-hand experience is a must.


Located in the historic Fort area of South Mumbai, Azad Maidan is a triangular shaped cricket ground with covers about 25 acres of land. Besides being a popular venue for cricket matches, the Azad (means liberty in Persian) Maidan is also known to host important political rallies, protest meetings and morchas and so on…



FROM political rallies to protest meetings, the Azad Maidan has seen it all. This pizza slice shaped community space in downtown Mumbai has seen many great cricketers make their way to the top as well as landmark political and social rallies making steady headways. Let’s take a tour of this legendary piece of land in south Bombay.
Early in the morning, buses full of kids dressed in all white and carrying hefty cricket kits can be seen making their way to Azad Maidan in Mumbai. It is a simple triangular Maidan or sports ground. But like all things Mumbai, this ground has seen its fair share of historical events and milestones too.
Just a stroll away from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Train Station, Azad Maidan is an impressive 25 acres of land. It is so big that you could squeeze two-and-a-half Wankhede Stadiums into it. It can comfortably accommodate some six to seven cricket matches here that can be played here simultaneously. But like everything else in Mumbai, Azad Maidan too is also cramped for space. There are 22 cricket pitches in the whole ground. But one of these 22 pitches stands out with a perennially green and well-maintained turf. That portion belongs to the posh Bombay Gymkhana and is separated from the rest by a narrow walkway. The Bombay Gymkhana Clubhouse was built in 1875, at the southern end of the maidan. In the rest of the space, 21 pitches jostle for room with their imaginary boundary lines criss-crossing.
If you take a birds-eye view of the ground on a busy weekend, when nearly all the pitches are in use, you’d

think there was some elaborate, nonsensical game of dodge ball meets cricket being played.
Azad Maidan is a microcosm of Mumbai’s odd sense of order within chaos: on weekdays, in overcrowded trains, we pack in more people than they were made to hold. On weekends, at public grounds like Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan, Oval Maidan and Shivaji Park, we pack in more cricket matches than they were meant to ever accommodate.
Even with all this chaos, the cricket pitches at the ground have produced many international cricketers. On 20 November 2013, Prithvi Shaw created history by scoring a whopping 546 runs. Parsis used to come down here on Sundays to watch first class cricket. Somewhere in the 1960s, Polly Umrigar, who played first class and test matches, also played at the Azad Maidan for the Parsi Cyclists Club. And in 1987, youngsters Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli shared a huge 664 run record partnership during a Harris Shield school match held at Azad Maidan.
But walk around the periphery, and you still see garbage strewn about. In the rains, players hurt themselves on discarded bottles and other trash left loosely in the long unkempt grass. And that’s not how the nursery of Mumbai cricket should be.

But apart from fun and games, Azad Maidan has seen its share of violence as well. On August 11th 2012, it saw a protest that quickly turned into a riot. The protest was held to condemn the Rakhine and Assam riots.

The riot reportedly began when the crowd got angry after hearing an inflammatory speech and after seeing photographs of Assam violence and Rakhine state riots. The riot resulted in two deaths and injuries to 54 people including 45 policemen. Mumbai Police estimated that the riots caused a loss of ₹2.74 Crore in damages to public and private property.
Despite its shortcomings and non-existent facilities, this is still the biggest cricket ground in Mumbai. In a real-estate-hungry city, that’s still something worth holding on to. And on a crowded weekend, it does make Azad Maidan quite a spectacle, one that’s worth being a part of if you enjoy the game. And you could head over on a fine Sunday too for a game. Just remember to duck in time.