People want to reclaim their cities the world over, since the automobile lobby has hijacked most cities at the cost of green, open, public spaces, K.T. Ravindran, advisory board member of UN Capital Master Plan, and founding president of Institute of Urban Designers India, has said.
The newest trend is to build pedestrian pathways, walkways and cycle tracks, since people want to get their spaces back, having realised that they have been ravaged by automobiles, he said here on Sunday, on the sidelines of a talk on Urban Design, held at Kerala Museum, Madhavan Nayar Foundation (MNF), Edappally.
“People are nowadays looking at the ground of a city more than their city’s skyline, since there will be little civic life unless there are adequate public spaces to walk on. Multi-functional and accessible open spaces are the trend, for which lost public spaces in cities must be recovered and restored back to people. This is happening faster the world over, than in India. Shopping malls are public spaces, but mono-functional ones, said Mr. Ravindran, New Delhi-based award-winning urban designer who has been a champion of sustainable architecture and urban design. He is also a trustee of MNF.
Referring to vast tracts of land, including on either side of the road, being dedicated as parking spaces for automobiles, he said much of this can be reconverted as public spaces so that people can celebrate their city. “Cities are not just meant for home-to-office-and-back journeys. People yearn for entertainment and chance encounters with others – a situation of ‘all at ease’, which is not the case now.”
On vendors and others encroaching on footpaths and other open spaces, he said this is mostly about people’s livelihood options which over time become contested spaces when mono-functions take over. All this can be regulated.
Speaking of the acclaimed urban planning measures adopted by ancient civilisations in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro (that were located on the banks of Indus River and were noted for their elaborate drainage and water-supply systems and roads), Mr. Ravindran said invaders, including colonial powers, cannot be blamed for the predicament of slack and often times lopsided planning that most Indian cities are encountering. “We created our own problems, not the others. Any semblance of civic infra in our cities was mostly brought in by colonial powers. We did precious little after their exit. The planned cities that they built for, say five lakh people, now accommodate 50 lakh people. We cannot blame others for flaws in our country – it is escapism.”
It is time to salvage cities through people’s participation, he said and exhorted people to get involved in improving their city. “We must not have the complacent attitude that government agencies will do everything just because we pay taxes,” he added.