What makes a Public Space Resilient?


Public Spaces in India

Cities have 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad- Plugged and Unplugged

Public spaces 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.

Thus Manek 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.

What is 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.  

Srijani Hazra

1. http://culturedays.ca/blog/2015/09/10/top-five-reasons-public-space-important/
2. http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/the-importance-of-parks-and-public-space/

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