What makes a Public Space
Spaces in India
the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and
only when, they are created by everybody.” - Jane Jacobs, The Death
and Life of Great American Cities.
What makes a
place a city? Inaptly, our policies define cities only in terms of
population count. But the mere existence of people does not make a place
a city? In fact, it is the significant contribution made by each and
every individual residing in a place that makes a city. One such
significant contribution is in the sphere of public spaces. Public
spaces are like mirrors for the inhabitants of cities, reflecting their
physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
planning for public spaces is one of the most neglected aspects in
Indian cities. For example, Mumbai with such a great seafront, offers
each resident only 0.88 square metres of open space per person whereas
the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 9 square metres of
open space per person worldwide. As new cities are emerging and older
ones are growing, what is required is the enhancement of public spaces.
Ahmedabad- Plugged and Unplugged
thriving within historic cities attain a distinct cultural identity.
Such places are not only focused on community activities but also
showcase the traditional settlement of communities. One such public
space is Manek Chowk, a traditional business centre inside the Walled
City of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. It is demonstrative of an excellent urban
public space developed on traditional city planning principles and
thrives as a vibrant anchor community space in the contemporary context.
So, what makes
Manek Chowk a resilient space? Let’s take an example of a typical street
at Manek Chowk. A typical street has the walls of houses facing toward
the street and a few old trees. Sometimes religious significance of
trees also leads to establishment of religious infrastructure. Presence
of such infrastructure leads to the emergence of new activities like a
cobbler repairing shoes, small shopkeepers putting up display of items
to sell, a postmaster segregating letters, two mothers having chat while
waiting for their kids to come from school and a thela wala selling tea.
This example explains how the presence of certain permanent
infrastructure leads to setting up of some new temporary infrastructure
like a plastic shed, park benches, movable carts and ladders. Such
temporary infrastructure is what makes public spaces like Manek Chowk
thrive within the walled city of Ahmedabad serving as a ‘plugin’ which
fits perfectly at the right time and right position into the already
existing urban fabric and can be plugged out when the need has ended.
Thus Manek Chowk keeps switching between plugged in and plugged out
version around the clock, allowing to absorb people’s contribution to
the city. Hence, it serves as a flourishing jewellery business centre in
the daytime and by night it serves as the famous ‘Khao Gully’ of
Ahmedabad which also provides security to the closed jewellery shops.
Chowk sets an example that space is a multi-functional area. It serves
as an open public space, gathering space for social interactions,
festival ground and playground for children. Such spaces function due to
the initiative taken by people.
required is to lay down the guiding principles which will govern making
slight changes in the already existing ‘plugin’ so as to enable the
manipulation of the existing space function to enhance the use of public
spaces in all cities. ■
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