Unique public places in Urban India

ULBs, in addition to exisiting public spaces and tourist spots under their jurisdiction, can utilize other unused or under utilized spaces such as land fill sites to create new public spaces. This is not just an environment friendly move but also helpful in increasing per capita open spaces that is considerably lower in Indian cities than most global cities. The article highlights the key public spaces in Indian cities and their significance and also present a visual imagery of evolution of a landfill site in Gorai, Mumbai into a beautiful public park

Maintenance of public open spaces has always been an important function of the local bodies. William Robson, In his famous book, ‘The Great Cities of the World’, lists the numerous functions of the Cities. ‘The most widespread services administered by the municipalities are public health, hospitals, city planning, water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, public cleansing, education, highway construction, street maintenance and lighting, public assistance, welfare, police forces, fire-fighting, the provision of public housing and housing regulation, parks and playgrounds, recreational and cultural amenities, public transport, markets, abattoirs, cemeteries and crematoria. These services form the central core of the local government; although all of them are not everywhere entrusted to the municipal government of the great city.”

Although many of these activities require urban open spaces, for the purpose of this article we will define urban public spaces as parks, playgrounds, gardens, riverbanks and beaches meant for recreational and tourism activities. Sports stadia, cinema halls, cremation/ burial groundsand toilets/ urinals are also important urban public spaces but we can say that they are more or less similar in all important cities. Major Indian cities can be grouped in the following categories for a comparative study of their urban open spaces.

♦ Seaside Cities and towns: Mumbai, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Pondicherry, Kochi-Ernakulam

♦ Hill Stations: Abu, Darjeeling, Gangtok, Kullu-Manali, Mahabaleshwar, Mussoorie, Ooty, Nainital, Shillong, Shimla, Srinagar

♦ Religious Places: Allahabad, Amritsar, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Mathura-Vrindavan, Tiruchirapalli, Madurai

♦ Cities with historical monuments: Agra, Delhi, Vadodara, Khajuraho, Lucknow, Mamallapuram, Mysore, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Jodhpur

♦ Metro-cities other than on sea-side: Ahmedabad, Patna, Nagpur, Pune, Bhopal, Guwahati, Kolkata

Seaside cities and towns India has a vast coastline and several cities and towns have developed on the coast, some of them as port-cities. The sea is naturally the main attraction in these cities and beaches like Chowpaty in Mumbai, Marina at Chennai, Rishikonda beach at Vizagand Cherai beach near Kochi have become famous. Some beaches are away from the city. However, when a popular beach is located within the city, it becomes a popular tourist attraction and has a fair-like atmosphere in evenings and on holidays. A large number of eating joints develop on the beach and it becomes an important centre for solid waste creation in the city.

In Mumbai and other seaside towns in Maharashtra, the Ganpati Visarjan (submersion of Ganesh idols on the last day) takes place on the beaches and cleaning of the beaches on the following day is an annual but still a major cleaning drill for the municipal administration.

In Chennai, a wide road and an elegant promenade are both an intrinsic part of beautiful Marina, now almost two centuries old. This beach drive, the Kamraj road, runs between magnificent stately buildings on one side and a wide sandy beach on the other. 

Well-constructed seaside promenades are also important public places in thesea facing cities. The Gateway of India and the Marine Drive are well-developed promenades in Mumbai, where large number of people assemble every day.

Pondicherry’s 1500-metre long promenade bordering the beach is neat and beautiful. Two monuments of historical importance on this Bay of Bengal beach are the 4 metre tall statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the War Memorial constructed by the French in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War. The Pondicherry promenade is kept for the exclusive use of pedestrians in morning and evening by controlling the traffic flow of automobiles. The Vembanadlake, formed due to presence of numerous islands on the sea coast could be considered the unique public place in Kochi.

Hill stations

In India, which is generally a warm country, the hill stations, typically with altitudes of 3500 feet to 7500 feet, offer a cool and enjoyable climate in summer months. In view of the dominance of non-agricultural activities at these places, most states have converted the hill station village panchayats to municipalities. Although the normally resident population of a hill station may be small, it increases many fold during the summer months.

Many non-resident rich persons construct their properties at hill stations. So usually a hill station municipality is quite rich. In fact, Mahabaleshwar and Matheran municipalities seem to have higher per capita expenditures per citizen than even the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai since the normally resident populations in these municipalities are small.

Various points on hill tops giving an excellent view of mountains are usually the most common tourist attractions in hill stations. In addition, hill stations such as Abu, Nainital, Ooty and Srinagar have beautiful lakes famous for boating or strolls around. Mahabaleshwar and Shillong also have small beautiful lakes.

Maintaining the cleanliness of these lakes becomes an important responsibility of the local body. In addition, the hill stations can have added attractions like Dilwara temples at Abu or the Mahabaleshwar temple which are usually looked after by either Archaeological Survey of India or the temple trusts. 

Darjeeling, Gangtok, Mussoorie, Shimla do not have lakes but are still attractive because of their altitude, malls and view-points. Ropeways add to the attraction in some of these hillstations. Hill station municipalities usually levy an entry tax to take care of the added expenditure because of tourist influx.

Religious places

India is a deeply religious country. In fact, the country was partitioned in 1947 because of the strong religious feelings between two communities. So the orthodox throng the religious places on holidays and certain specific religious days. Many of the religious towns are ancient and the religious shrine is situated in the oldest parts of the city with narrow lanes. Usually the religious shrines are under the management of temple trusts but the environs such as roads, street-lights, cleaning are to be maintained by the urban local body.

The Kashi-Vishwanath temple at Varanasi is arguably the most sacred for the Hindu community. Allahabad, Rishikesh and Haridwar are the other famous religious places on the holy river of Ganga. The TriveniSangam i.e. confluence of three rivers at Allahabad is the site of the KumbhMela, a mega event that takes place after every twelve years. An estimated 120 million people visited the 2013 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. Adequate land is kept near the confluence of the rivers, close tothe Allahabad Fort, where tents are pitched during the Fair. The state government also appoints a special I.A.S officer to help in organizing the Fair. 

Cities with historical monuments

A single structure that has made India world-famous is the Taj Mahal, the most important heritage monument in the country. The Taj with Agra Fort and Fatehpur-Sikri constitute the most commonly visited public places in the city of Agra. The maintenance of these places is with the Archaeological Survey of India but the approaches, the environs, roads, lighting and water supply are handled by the Agra Municipal Corporation and the state government of Uttar Pradesh.

Delhi, the National Capital of India, is also a historically important place with the Qutab Minar and the Red Fort among the most visited sites. The circular market at Connaught Place (now Rajiv Chowk), the India Gate and the Raj Path famous for its Annual Republic Day parade on the 26th January are other places where a large number of people assemble. The Government of India plays an important part in maintaining these assets. Jaipur, the Pink City, is the third place that completes the tourist Golden Triangle of India along with Delhi and Agra. The City Palace, Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal are the places of attraction in Jaipur.

Hyderabad’s Charminar, Salar Jung Museum and Lucknow’s Imambaras are the historical places of attraction. However, modern attractions like the Ramoji Film City of Hyderabad and Ambedkar Memorial and Kanshiram Memorial Gardens of Lucknow have now come up.

Mysore, Baroda and Jaipur are famous for their palaces, many of which have now become museums. Jodhpur and Gwalior have important hill-top forts that are important urban spaces.

Metro-cities other than on the sea-side

These cities may not have beaches and sea-side promenades, but still they have their own grandeur.

Kolkata, the Capital of the British India till early twentieth century is now a widelyspread out city. But the vast green space surrounding Fort William, the headquarters of the Army’s Eastern Command, called the Maidan, canbe called its major urban space. The Maidan has numerous playgrounds including the famed Eden Gardens, several football stadia, Kolkata Race Course and the marble masterpiece of Victoria Memorial. It is rightly called the lungs of Kolkata.

Bangalore’s most important public spaces would be the Central Cubbon Park gardens around the majestic VidhanSoudha.Lalbagh garden with its glass house also provides another important lung to this bustling city.

Ahmedabad, Patna, Pune, Nagpur and Bhopal have their own share of historical buildings. However, I would consider the Kankaria Lake and the Zoo at Ahmedabad, the Museums of Patna, Shaniwarwada at Pune, lake gardens and Seminary Hills at Nagpur and the Lake Drive Area of Bhopal to be more attractive urban public places in these cities. Some of these are managed by the local governments.

Guwahati, the largest city in the North-East is located on the south bank of the river Brahmaputra. In my view, gardens/sandy beaches on the banks of Brahmaputra with the Umanand temple river island in the middle offer a majestic view and could be considered the most important urban public place in Guwahati.

Epilogue

India is a vast country with different climatic zones from the Ocean to the Himalayas. The urban life also offers tremendous variety. Different cities and towns have their unique public places that have developed over the last many years. These public places are often the focus of the local urban planning and the urban local bodies have to take special efforts for their proper maintenance.

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