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Public facilities must be accessible to all

A city’s design should utilise public spaces to the maximum

May 29, 2015 05:50 pm | Updated 05:50 pm IST

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/11/2014: View of Semmozhi Poonga in Chennai on November 07, 2014.
Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/11/2014: View of Semmozhi Poonga in Chennai on November 07, 2014. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Imagine a city’s commercial area. The footpaths on either side of the road have trees, vendors, junction boxes, electricity poles and parked vehicles too. With the lack of space, people walk on the road instead of the footpath. “While this is common in several Indian cities, the concept of universal design can be adopted to make roads the path user-friendly,” says Niels Schoenfelder, managing director of Mancini Design.

Mr. Schonfelder says public spaces are one of the most important areas in a city where universal design can be applied. Such designing is the only way to have access to common infrastructure. Many travel abroad for vacations and have experienced better roads and transport facilities. Though there is awareness, there seems to be a lack of experience in designing such infrastructure and understanding its impact on the quality of life. Education on universal design is the basic factor that can motivate, train people and drive development of better designed facilities. There are studies that indicate that over 30 per cent of people in India travel on foot. Thus, footpaths are an important element on a road. There are several local bodies that are working towards developing footpaths and cycle tracks.

While space availability is a constraint in the country, there are case studies, experts and data that can be tapped to find the right solution. “The answer is to look closely and see what can be done with the space available. We need to re-organise the elements on a footpath, including the greenery and design,” says Schonfelder. The entry and exits to properties and junction boxes should be secondary elements and footpaths should be give priority. There should be enough space for people to walk. Also, in India, there are several micro businesses that are set up on the roadside. Therefore, the design should incorporate adequate space for commercial activities as well. These are the commercial aspects of public places. So the businesses should be given an important place in the design. Similarly, when a property, such as an industrial or IT park is developed, a parcel of land is taken up for business and there is economic activity on it. Its owners should take care of the land and the environment.

Open space reservation should be implemented in such a way that the space is put to use for the public and neighbourhoods in the vicinity. He adds, “People who are employed at the park need affordable food and transport. There should be space for these service providers not just inside the park but around it too. The design should include providing basic facilities such as electricity and plumbing pipes in common areas near the park that can be provided to the users at a fee. Thus, the area is designed and developed in such a way that it supports those who provide supplementary services. Universal design needs commitment to the process and public participation to sustain it. The key part of universal design is to bring people together and get their support to implement the proposed design.”

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