A home is renovated. The balcony is now a part of living area, new storage systems are installed, a fancy set of entertainment electronics replaces the old ones, a fresh coat of paint adds to the décor. The occupants are elated at their new ‘old home’ and forget the discomfort they faced in the duration of the work. Now, as they settle down and start arranging their belongings, they start missing the comfort of the old places. The small conveniences of their ‘old house’ have disappeared. But the house is visually pleasing! Never mind the hard-to-open wardrobes, the hard-to-find- three- remotes for the entertainment unit, the be-extra-careful-glass used for housing the TV. They know… eventually they will get used to it.
A city road is being remodelled. The process of construction work is long; the discomfort faced is not by one family, but by a thousand citizens. The citizens have questions, why? How? What is the plan? The questions remain unanswered. Yet after completion some newspapers print glossy pictures of the new design and compare it to designs across Europe and US or in this case Singapore. Now we are progressing! The citizens are happy; we have got a design exactly like ‘abroad’. The discomfort is forgotten though they are not sure how to arrange their activities in this new space, but they know, eventually they will get used to it.
Revamping of Jangli Maharaj Road with the addition of a Pedestrian walkway
has been one of a kind in the City. Like any other citizen, I am curious how it would be used. As an Urban Planner I am critical of the design. J.M. Road is the road I travel daily on my way back home. As I observed and documented this pedestrian walkway through the construction stage till its functional stage, I saw the phases in which the design is getting absorbed in the city fabric. Temporal factors also transform the Urban Space. The walkway was observed during the evening hours 5.30pm- 6.30 pm all throughout the months.
April Last week: The First Impression- the pedestrian walkway feels like a superimposition, on an important mobility corridor of the city, without taking cognizance of the surrounding activities. It is adjoining the Sambhaji Garden, a city level recreational facility. This walkway could have been designed as an extension to this facility. However, the current design is disconnected from it. The walkway is missing the character and this creates a weak first impression.
Lack of activities creates a weak first impression
The design disconnects itself from the adjoining garden
May Third Week: Urban Space is a Resource. The width of pedestrian walkways is a logical function of the expected volume of people. A background work of pedestrian volume counts, existing pedestrian activities ensures this. Urban space being a highly contested resource, ensuring its optimum utilisation should without doubt be a priority. Too much space creates its own set of problems. The picture illustrates the case, where a two wheeler has been dragged on the walkway. Early in the month of May, just after the completion of a part of the walkway, people were unsure about how to use it.
Too much space invites unnecessary things. A two wheeler on the walkway!
June First and Second Week: Plan for activities. An activity starter was essential for people to want to use the space as intended. A tea stall set up in the corner of the walkway near the police station proved to be just that! By the beginning of June, people started gathering around the tea stall. This tea stall turned that one corner lively all through the day. By mid-June, two Pani-Puri vendors also added to this activity during the evening hours. Are separate permissions given to vendors to put up stalls here? Has thought been given to the type of vendors who should be allowed in this space? Vending activity is a powerful tool to add character and image to the walkway and this possibility should definitely be explored.
The Pani-Puri stalls initiate some activity on the otherwise desolate walkway
Be Pragmatic. Yes, the pedestrians should be a priority for any city. It is widely accepted that a pedestrian friendly city boasts of a better quality of life for its citizens. But we cannot do away completely with the traffic. Any street or road should take into account at least the basic functions of all the road users, pedestrians or otherwise. The absence of a bus bay, leads to chaotic situation on this patch of the road, which has already been bottlenecked due to the walkway. This also puts the pedestrians at risk. The picture illustrates the people waiting for the bus, spilling on to the carriageway.
People waiting for bus spilling onto the carriageway
June Last week: Still exploring. The walkway space still seems more demure than robust, though its utilisation has improved considerably since its empty start sometime in May. The Tea stall has disappeared, leaving the corner desolate again. However, at certain times in the day it is a pleasure to see people sitting on benches enjoying a conversation, waiting for their friends or walking confidently without worrying about the traffic.
At such times I imagine the space being used to its capacity and becoming a robust urban space that it was planned for. The walkway does hold this promise. However, this should be planned for, adding activity stimulators for all age groups rather than just leaving it to the people to adjust and orient their activities in this space.
There is no blanket design which can be applied to each and every road in a city. Especially in a city where no formal planning efforts have been made, each street presents a unique situation and challenge. Hence after the execution of any design it becomes imperative to analyse it, to observe responses, learn and innovate. It is crucial for any design to evolve for the better. The walkway is a laudable effort to make the city streets ‘livable’, and the gaps left, I assume, are mainly because this is a first draft of the pedestrian walkway concept and that, it will be improved in the next version.
Images which hold the promise to make this space robust
This article has been authored by Isha Panse, an Architect with Master's in planning. She is currently working on her Doctoral Research in Urban Planning. Most importantly a Puneite and a mom who wants the city to evolve into a better place for her daughter.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily endorsed by Parisar. Parisar encourages voices from citizens who want to explore their city and express their opinions on the same. This article is such a piece from a citizen and should be treated as a guest column.