What would be your one wish for our city in 2011? MetroPlus asks 11 thinkers, movers and shakers in Chennai what they would change about the city if they had the chance. Their answers touch upon some of the most pressing needs of the hour — water conservation, proper planning, personal safety and clean roads for everyone — and reflect the need for greater civic consciousness in our ever-growing population. Here's what they have to say…
I would make sure every single auto, taxi cab and car has a little dustbin or packet to put garbage in. We all eat a lot in our vehicles; putting this in will keep the litter off our streets. I have a habit of carrying a plastic bag in my handbag, and all my ice-cream sticks, cigarette butts and wrappers go into that. At the end of the day, I knot it up and throw it out. We're always talking about proper garbage disposal, so this is what I'd institute in Chennai — a dustbin bag for every vehicle.
M. S. SWAMINATHAN
The greatest challenge before the city is to ensure water security for its citizens. Consider the Tiruvanmiyur groundwater — we're fortunate to have fresh water so close to the sea. But this non-renewable resource is being steadily exploited. For example, it is being used by the wealthy in the area to water their lawns and gardens. Why not use seawater and grow halophytes (plants that grow naturally in salty conditions) instead? Chennai-ites need to reduce their ecological footprint with regard to groundwater.
I would wish for a flood-free Chennai. Improper planning has led to the construction of buildings in low-lying areas which used to collect rainwater in the past. Residents in these water-logged areas now fear the monsoons. Flood levels have continued to rise in the last decade, and with global warming, the problem is only going to get worse, yet no steps are being taken to address the issue. As the city develops, we have to ensure that there is proper planning for draining floodwater, and that certain critical areas — marshes, ponds and lakes — are not built on.
Herpetologist and wildlife conservationist
I want to see cleaner waterways. When I was a youngster, the Cooum and the Adyar rivers teemed with fish and attracted numerous birds. I want to see these rivers restored to their old glory. I want to see accelerated development around Chennai and more satellite towns, which alone can effectively address the issues of pollution and congestion. Urban planning should be aimed at creating an urban agglomeration that would seamlessly unite Chennai and the many towns around it.
City historian and heritage conservationist
I would ensure fewer people urinate, defecate and spit on the roads and in public places. At least the first two, in certain cases, are done because someone has health issues but I see people spitting for no apparent reason.
More public toilets need to be made available. And as for people who spit, a sense of shame must be inculcated in them. Several times I have told auto drivers not to spit. But they don't do it as long as I am in the auto. It will require a huge media campaign to put an end to such practices.
I wish there's law and order, cyber security and a sense of justice to all. I want a corruption-free city. And more security for senior citizens who live by themselves. It's not been a safe place for them, of late.
We need to allow parties to continue beyond midnight. An active social life is the one thing I want for the city. I know drunken driving is a serious issue, but it can be controlled. People need to be more aware of it and we need that culture of having a designated driver taking you home after a party if you're drunk.
Good roads, obviously. But more than that, I wish that our people have better traffic and civic sense. Because even if Chennai becomes like London, what is the point if people's mindset does not change… They should think of it as home, our city, and keep it clean. Also, personally for me, I want more fast-food joints and takeaways for our sambar-idli all around town.
Wildlife filmmaker and conservationist
I wish we would learn how to manage our rainwater, which is a precious resource, in a more sensible way. Today, most of the rainwater harvesting structures in the city have gone to ruin. This is something we can change — I wish voluntary compliance will become part of our psyche at least in 2011!
The other problem pertaining to rainwater is flooding. Before every monsoon, people are sent to de-silt and clean up the drains. But since what's removed from within is left right there on the sidewalk, it all goes back in again after another shower. This annual urban flooding causes much damage to property. Will we see a change in 2011? I sure hope so!
Children's author, poet and playwright
The city certainly needs a well-designed, affordable theatre space, built on the lines of the Prithvi Theatre and Ranga Shankara. A place for theatre and the arts to find expression, and flourish. We could also use wooded parks, and ones without fancy architectural add-ons at that. And to bring it all together, we could do with a lot less noise in the city; which could be enforced with better laws against loudspeakers and public meetings in specific areas.
With each passing year, traffic-related problems, particularly mishaps, have become a major concern. One of the solutions could be converting more arterial roads into one-way. People may find it inconvenient. Also, taking a long and circuitous route could be an irritant. But, it is a good way to avoid traffic congestion. Permission for construction of buildings should not be granted unless there is a provision for parking. We have huge commercial buildings that do not have provision for parking even 100 cars. Indiscriminate parking poses a greater traffic hazard than rash driving. Also, we need to think seriously about using public transport. This will help curb the increasing number of vehicles on roads.