Urban Infrastructure; going beyond the average citizen

In the face of relentless urbanization, urban service delivery has come under severe pressure in every Indian city. Urban planners, policy makers and local administrators are grappling with the urgent need to beef up urban infrastructure, address deficits and meet the needs of the average citizen. The mythical average.

In the race against time to create adequate physical infrastructure in a timely manner, often the needs of different categories of citizens get drowned. Yet the need for social equity and inclusiveness demands that urban infrastructure and systems are designed to meet the needs of as many, if not all categories of citizens so that all are able to participate in and avail of the benefits and opportunities of urbanization equitably.
The most obvious category of citizens is the specially abled citizens-one with special physical needs. Our cities are busy building roads and footpaths rapidly to meet the ever-growing needs of vehicular traffic and public transport systems. Yet, how many of the walkways have dropped curbs to accommodate the needs of wheelchair bound citizens? Our planners and implementing agencies seem to have simply missed out on this. While there are many mandates and regulations including some by the courts, their implementation has often been limited to the rule books, Development Control Regulations and other statutes with nothing to see on the ground. Design of public buildings, toilets and other facilities leave much to be desired as far as meeting needs of specially abled is concerned.

Age friendly cities

Another vulnerable category with special needs is the older citizen. Cities will host about two thirds of the global population by 2030. A large fraction, especially in the high-income societies, about a third, will be over the age of 60. Cities can no more go about with a business-as-usual attitude. Unfortunately, city designs are made with the average person in mind. This ‘average’ person may turn out quite ‘mythical’. While well documented research says that older people are more likely to be happy and content if they are able to participate in all activities and to enjoy outdoor social interactions, the fact is that they perceive our cities as inhospitable, even hostile given the uncaring external environment marked by cluttered, encroached walkways, poorly lit streets and casually designed public infrastructure. While the public discourse dwells on inclusivity of urban design, the reality is that all aged citizens except the affluent are unable to participate with safety and security. The affluent because they can be driven around and accompanied by care givers on such outdoor visits. The rest are confined indoors under ‘self-imposed house-arrest’, an oft quoted phrase coined by Chris Phillipson, Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology at the University of Manchester. It is almost as good as saying that our public are suitable only for certain groups of people, by age and income levels.WHO’s Age Friendly Cities Project aims to engage with cities around the world encouraging them to make their cities and communities more responsive to the needs of older persons and to enable them live fuller lives with dignity.

Women and the City

Urban infrastructure planning needs large doses of gender-equality thrown in. The primary parameter is to make cities safer for women. By virtue of poor design, some areas remain out of bounds for women because the destination or the route to the destination is poorly lit at night or passes by and unfriendly neighbourhood, for example. It is necessary for planners to take a closer look at the way women use and interact with the city infrastructure. For instance, the housewife makes multiple trips a day (as opposed to the simple ‘home to workplace to home’ structure of man’s movement) including to drop and pick up kids from school, errands for groceries and medicines, accompanying an elder to a neighbourhood relative and the daily exercise walk. Well-lit streets to ensure safety, wider walkways to enable carry goods,enroute seating for accompanying seniors will all go to make our public spaces more woman friendly. Public transport is an area where we have noteworthy examples; Mumbai has women-only suburban trains, not just women’s compartment in all trains, many cities have all-women buses and so on. The vigorous efforts to increase women members’ in our urban local bodies is surely a useful step towards understanding women’s needs better and to bring in greater gender equality

Urban mobility is driving change in cities around the world and the incredible rate of innovation in recent years has redefined our experience in cities. Electric cars, Hyperloop & Pod Taxis will soon be the preferred mode of transport. Ingenuity and perseverance is crucial in this regard

Cities for Children

Children need special attention in the design of our public spaces and systems. In the absence of friendly public spaces, children are often confined within the boundaries of their residential complexes or gated communities after school hours. They are occupied with the same set of activities each evening and interact with the same set of neighbour kids. Facilities such as parks and gardens, swimming pools, badminton courts and museums are increasingly difficult to find in close vicinity. Outdoor cycling and skating spaces for example which are children friendly are next to non-existent. However, the Happy Streets which happens in many Indian cities on Sunday mornings is a realization of this shortcoming and provides a refreshing change for all, particularly children who have the street all to themselves surrounded by many events including entertainment, song and dance, street plays, painting competitions, football and badminton games, cycling and skating. We need more of these events more often in many more locations.
As we can see a city is made up of different sets of citizens, each with a different set of needs. While it may not be possible to meet the needs of every set of citizens at all times, cities cannot be designed for the ‘average’ citizen either. Some call this the ‘mythical’ average. Our cities must strive to become more inclusive by creating the appropriate architecture which will meet the needs of as many as possible as often as possible by engaging all stakeholders.

City of Bursa

In Bursa, the metropolitan city released a circular that obliges all municipal directories to integrate the principle of gender equality in all their planning and implementation processes. To ensure that this circular becomes more than a vague statement, the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality, which is also a signatory party to the European Charter on Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, commissioned the Equality Commission of the Municipal Assembly to oversee the integrity of the proposals submitted to the municipal assembly from a gender equality point of view. The city also revised the municipality’s Public Works Bylaws in order to establish solid legal grounds for gendersensitive urban space planning, including compulsory construction of nursery rooms and children’s playgrounds in all regenerative areas, social and cultural spaces and municipal buildings. Nilufer, a district of Bursa that has been a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact and part of the Cities Programme since 2007, reports annually on how it advances universal principles including Human Rights and Women’s Empowerment. The district’s 2013 Communication on Engagement states that a total of 257 women have benefited from services offered through its Women’s Cooperation Centers, which offer a range of tools to women, from access to adult and children psychologists to advice on professional skills development. Furthermore, this data is tracked and disclosed at all levels through direct applications, face-to-face meetings and telephone calls.

City of Izmir

In İzmir, the metropolitan municipality established a Branch Office for Women and issued bylaws for its operation with two subdivisions: the Women’s Counselling Center/Shelter and the Gender Equality Unit. The office has a total of 30 employees and, in terms of its name and administrative structure, is the first of its kind in Turkey. The Gender Equality Unit collects gender discrimination data from municipality staff on a regular basis and organizes activities on important dates such as International Women’s Day. The unit also provides gender equality training regularly for groups ranging from neighbourhood governors to the general public, and invites women’s organizations to offer their opinions in relation to changes in municipal regulations on land development planning. The efforts in İzmir have been scaled down to the neighbourhood level as well. The Municipality of Konak initiated neighbourhood mobilization activities within the framework of the Women Friendly Cities Programme. Following a series of systemized seminars and focus group discussions, the neighbourhood women assessed their most urgent local need as the reformation of the neighbourhood park that had been widely occupied by substance abusers. The municipality’s Equality Commission pursued the matter at the Municipal Assembly and the park was subsequently transformed and named ‘The Park of the Leader Women’ after the women who advocated toimprove it. Though only a small scale example, it showcases how transformative local equality mechanisms can be when it comes to the lives of women living in cities. The City of Izmir was the first municipality to join the Women Friendly Cities Programme, and the Equality Mechanisms that have been formed in the city have now been dispersed to local administrations at the district level. Women dressed in their best peddled on the roads of Izmir to reclaim their space on roads. Izmir’s Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu said, “We hope that this demonstration, from the most enlightened city of Turkey, extends a message on mobility, on violence against women and on terrorism.” The slogan of the drive was— “Perfume rather than smell of gas on the roads”.

Source: Turkey striving for sustainability through ‘Women Friendly Cities’ EgeTekinbas, Women Friendly Cities Joint Programme Manager, United Nations Population Fund/United Nations Development Programme, Turkey[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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