OUR CITIES AS OUR ENVIRONMENT
A voice from Chandigarh.
Quite a few of us have childhood memories etched while playing in the open, plotting mischief, running with abandon… when any kid our age qualified as a partner in our endeavors of the day! The space around was safe to run about, explore, play and …grow.
What can we say about the environments we have created today?
I am referring to our urban environments- our cities. As India has embarked upon a mission to rapid urbanization, our cities are the environment we have chosen to live in. These are the man-made environment our kids and their kids will grow in!
How many of us can just send the children out to explore their world, their immediate surroundings?
Let’s admit, Safety today is a top concern to us all….and also most cities just don’t have the space. And that means we cannot allow our next generations to even grow with spontaneity.
Lets talk specific to Chandigarh! we live in a planned city ..a city accepted for long as a near perfect model of town planning. The city designed by the master of modernism – Le Corbusier. A city that influenced every new development that followed for decades. A city each one of us is so proud of!!
What environment does Chandigarh offer?
Do parents find their neighbourhood conducive to spontaneous exploration by their children? Chandigarh is a city with space…but is our neighbourhood safe?Also in a place like Chandigarh with the maximum imaginable open space per person, we still come across newspaper reports pointing to lack of place for children to play …especially ball games. Why? With so much open spaces around, this seems irrational. Are we missing something while planning our cities? Something fundamental? The key actually lies the way these open spaces are organized in the city.
What are the functions we ascribe to the outdoor open spaces in our surroundings?
Movement of course is one… movement as in walk? Cycle? well sometimes!!.. but more importantly drive! And then park! …..Parking for the cars is a more rampant function of our outdoor space, atleast in context for Chandigarh. Next function that comes to mind is Greenery. We LOVE our greens! Chandigarh scores very high on this account and this is one of the prime aah factors, why we love the city so much…But is that why most residents prefer to maintain, what should have been walkways as little greens outside of their boundary walls? Maybe then GREEN function rates even higher than the WALK function!!!Moving on… Dumping place for unwanted items is a function we may want to hush past! As also admitting this might be place for street dogs, sometimes cows! Dogs score higher though. How about street vendors? …outdoor spaces are also a place to find daily services-yes ,… though we are not yet sure how much we want to continue that to happen after the notification for street vendors and the reallocation plans are implemented!
Now I want us to consider community! Is this a function that even crosses our mind?
Can the outdoor spaces encourage community and bonding? Once so entrenched in our culture, we don’t see much of this present in our immediate neighborhood….andin Chandigarh it cannot be due to lack of space.Is it then lack of inclination? …I will say unlikely. We are not yet over with our basic human nature, COMMUNITY remains a fundamental need. We can argue that anonymity of neighbours is a factor …and our mindset and conditioning make it a really long process- just breaking the ice with unknown people..maybe! Otherwise Punjabis for sure understand value of maintaining extended family relationships ..and also just consider the amount of time we spend on social networking sites!! So our human need of community seems intact.Is there enough opportunity? Here comes the aspect of planning ….the way we physically lay out the outdoor spaces does have a definitive and lasting impact on what function it may serve.
May be this is what we are missing!! designing for community ..creating opportunities for spontaneous interaction and activities in the neighbourhood …designing for our children ..assigning functions to our outdoor spaces, … and to the very least-OWNING THEM UP! Afterall isn’t that the environment that has the maximum impact on the quality of our lives, and the generations we are raising?!!
Now I’d like to bring in the concept of …Eyes on the Road. The proponent of the thought, Jane Jacob, advocated that safety in urban context was directly related to the number of eyes on the street. The strangers on the side walk, the activity generated around the street hawker, the thriving community activities in neighbourhood …all contribute to making our environment safer. Community, safety, relaxed environments of interaction and activity, the hum drum of life ….all of these seem like a good healthy environment to live in. If I might add..better civic sense, inclusive attitude and maintenance of such spaces, if available in our neighbourhood could be one of the small important and very desirable side effects and a sufficient incentive to bring planning for the shared city spaces into the spotlight.
As per UN Habitat, the public space is the single most important factor that defines the character of a city. Whereas building inclusive, healthy, functional and productive cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, the key part of the puzzle lies in the heart of the world’s urban areas: The Public Spaces!
Reworking the neighbourhood fabric of our city has been one of the principle objectives ever since we came together as a society to work for our city. ACT! Chandigarh is a registered society of practicing architects and concerned citizens of the Chandigarh region working towards a sustainable urban future.Asthe academic exercise undertaken as part of our city unifier initiative — Chandigarh Urban Festival, CUF 19, this year we could address the issue of reorganizing open space of a complete sector.An Community Participation Workshop and an Ideas Competition was conducted in partnership with Chandigarh Smart City Limited (CSCL) and support of UT Administration.
Entries were invited under catagories – MOBILITY, NEIGHBOURHOOD, COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION & ECONOMY for improving the open spaces in Sectors 22 & 35. A distinguished JURY selected the 13 winning ideas out of the 106 entries received.
The Smart CEO had announced that the winning ideas will be implemented under Placemaking projects planned under AREA BASED DEVELOPMENTS (ABD) of CSCL in the given sectors that had already beenselected for the purpose. On August 16, 2019 the Chandigarh Smart City Limited (CSCL) has sent a statement summarizing implementable ideas along with the name of concerned departments/ authorities for required action at their end. But it maynot be enough.
We propose to create a followup task force to take up the matter of implementation of winning ideas with the UT Administration. More information on this is available at www.chandigarhurbanfestival.com
Chandigarh its time to ACT!
Author: Ar. Shilpa Das