Urban public spaces are used by a variety of people for variety of reasons. How do people rate them? Do they consider aesthetics the main criterion or accessibility or connectivity? Ashley Paul explores different components of public spaces, speaks to experts and presents a report underlining the significance of public spaces in urban life
India has a rich architectural history. From the Indus Valley Civilisation with their highly advanced drainage systems to the Smart Cities Mission of the contemporary world, India has always been striving towards planned architectural developments. How much importance was given to public spaces in the process over the years?
Urban Public Spaces
One part of such planned localities is public spaces (commonly known as open spaces). Public space is one of the many terms that are used to define a piece of a planned and developed land that the public can freely access and utilize to enjoy city life. They may be religious places or parks, transport terminals or even roads.What makes them alluring? The aesthetics of urban public spaces (UPS) is one of the components that attract citizens and make them frequent visitors.
Problems relating to aesthetics of urban public spaces
The aesthetics of an urban public space in India are now facing huge problems. One such problem is that of upcoming unplanned localities. Urban spaces are planned while keeping factors like ‘place per person’ in mind. Therefore, they are built to cater to the needs of a specific number of people. But when unplanned localities come up, the number of people using up a space increases manifold. This puts pressure on the public space and eventually leads to the public space losing its aesthetic essence. A similar case was seen in New Friends Colony in Delhi. New Friends Colonyis a planned residential-commercial neighbourhood in South Delhi. It has recreational spaces, a community centre, multi-utility market places and beautifully landscaped parks. However, unauthorized, unplanned colonies like Taimoor Nagar near New Friends Colony have been a cause of increasing pressure on public places in the area. This is because even though UPS are built to cater to the residents’ needs, the usage of these spaces exceeds its limits by over three times. This is because of the unauthorized colony’s residents who could not be accounted for during the planning process of the Colony. This eventually leads to congestion and overutilization of the resources of public spaces in the area and puts pressure on its administration.
Another obstacle is that of illegal commercial activities, especially vendors and hawkers. Most UPS are encroached by these hawkers. This leads to loss of uniformity of public spaces. Uniformity of public spaces is when a person can stroll through the public space without breaks or turns. Thus, when people cannot easily stroll through the space, they become disinterested in using it.
This is the case with South Delhi’s famous Sarojini Nagar market. The market is a well planned, multipurpose market which attracts people and tourists. However, its streets are occupied by illegal hawkers selling a wide range of products. The streets are only vacant at night or when municipal officials visit the market for inspection. This creates the above problem wherein people are unable to commute through or explore the market easily. This, in turn, makes it tedious for the public to visit the marketplace, thereby reducing its usage.
The third problem that aesthetics of UPS face is that of connectivity and accessibility. Contrary to popular belief, accessibility and connectivity cannot be used inter-changeably. While connectivity means ease of coming to and going from a place, accessibility means the ease of utilizing the place. While a place may be connected by road, it might not always be sufficient for the place to be well-connected. This is because the external access time (EAT) is so much that it starts affecting the person’s internal access time (IAT). Also, it often happens that a place may be connected by all types of public transport but may still not be accessible to a certain group of people. The people who are affected the most because of poor accessibility of a UPS are the physically handicapped. Therefore, a UPS must accommodate services like ramps and wheelchairs for the handicapped.
The case of Ambience Mall, Gurugram deserves special reference here. Inspite of being well connected to the National Highway, the number of users of the mall, until a few years ago, was quite less. This was because the mall, a public space, was not connected with public transport. This made visiting the mall an ‘unpredictable event’ for people coming from far off places. Also, the congestion on the roads leading to the mall increased the external access time so much that it started affecting the internal access time of the visitors. The concerned municipal authority, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and the mall’s management authorities solved this problem by linking it to the Rapid MetroRail Gurugram which was being developed at the time. This reduced the external access time and made it easier for people to travel to the mall
Lastly, the most visible problem related to aesthetics of UPS is that of their beauty, attractiveness and upkeep. Over time, open spaces, being in an open environment, are prone to being affected by pollution and other similar factors. In this case, the beauty and attractiveness of the space is lost thereby making the public disinterested in using it. Also, the positioning of the public space is a very important factor. Public spaces near main/ring roads or highways are more prone to air and sound pollution.
Here, BhikajiCama Place’s example is most appropriate. Being located right next to Delhi’s inner Ring Road, it is affected hugely by air & sound pollution and road congestion. Therefore, the only people who visit the Place are those who have offices in the area. The Space has no visitors who actually visit the place with the aim of enjoying the public space.
Place per person is calculated by dividing the total space available by the total number of people who are expected to use it. EAT is the time a person spends in going to the particular place of interest while IAT is the time a person spends within the premises of the area of interest while utilizing its resources
In order to know about the possible solutions of these problems, UrbanUpdate interviewed Dr Sewa Ram, Professor, Transport Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. He said, “The same public place may be used for different activities by the public. Most roads are used as rendezvous points by newspaper vendors and distributors in the early hours of morning and as a medium of transport by commuters during the rest of the day. Therefore, solutions to public spaces need to accommodate this plural nature of public spaces too.” He suggested the following solutions:
♦ A forum must be established to regularize public spaces in the country. This will help in classifying and identifying different public spaces. It will also help in adjudging them based on the yardstick set by the forum.
♦ The government must collaborate with various RWAs in forming a list of public spaces in both unplanned and planned localities. Further, this list can be classified into types of public spaces too in order to gain clear insight into the available public spaces in urban dwellings.
♦ The government must outsource the up keep of public spaces to private enterprises. This method has been adopted by the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) who outsourced the installation & maintenance of all bus stops in Delhi to JCDecaux, a multinational corporation based in France. This has resulted in clean and attractive bus stops pan city. The centre and state governments must also adopt this approach in order to promote cleanliness and improve the aesthetic approach of these places.