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.
WORDS BY- AMOG
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.