HOME IN THE CITY
It is often said that the city gives you anonymity, the city also makes you lonely and very rarely do you really ‘belong’ to a city. I would disagree with this, whole heartedly. I have always felt that the city life is an essential part of who I am. In some sense it completes me, lets me be me...gives me space to find myself..and makes me call it my home. When I close my eyes and think of home, it is not my house that I see, but rather a place in the city where I have run to whenever I needed to ‘be’. Thankfully, the cities I have lived in over these years have gifted me these homes.
The city, as the noted urban sociologist Robert Park once wrote, is: ‘man’s most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city has remade himself.’
I have lived for a period of more than six months in four cities: Delhi, Bangalore, Muscat (Oman) and Gurgaon (Haryana) where I presently reside. I have homes in three of these, excluding Gurgaon. And my homes are: ‘A city forest’ in Delhi, a large playground/stadium in Bangalore and the Beachfront in Muscat. All the three are obviously ‘public places’ yet have embraced me just the way a home should. One would then question what defines these homes. For me it has been simple:
1. My homes were part of my ‘everyday’, even if I did not visit them every single day – they were part of my everydayness. These spaces needed to be accessible at all times. Physical accessibility and the least time taken to reach these places was a requirement. As a result my homes have always been in the half a mile radius distances.
2. The second characteristic has been the nature of these places. These are located in the middle of the urban fabric, yet are spaces of respite. My homes have been: a forest in the middle of the city, a large playground /stadium with no gates and a beachfront.
3. These spaces are public places yet are not monumental in nature. They are not landmarks such as India gate which everyone knows about, yet are accessible to the neighbourhood in which they are located. They are quasi-public places that allow some level of private relationship.
4. These are spaces with a certain scale of public-ness. These are large loci like punctuations in the continuous city fabric. They give me the anonymity, yet because of the freedom they offer, give me the comfort one seeks at a home.
5. There is always an element of discovery. The location and physical characteristics of these places are fixed, yet at the same time, the treasures they hold have changed for me every single day. The new bird one spots, a new leaf, a new shell, a new runner, greetings from old and recognisable faces – all are part of this discovery experience. Going to these spaces is repetitive, yet, the experience it offers changes every single day – making me look forward to greet these and to be greeted myself.
6. These are spaces that are diverse, multipurpose and offer experiences of varied scales. I am not the only one loitering in these places nor do I interact with these places in similar fashion every day. Someday I might choose to run, someday I might just choose to sit by the bench and another day I might just sit in the shade of a tree. Rossi, in Architecture of the City has given us two important concepts, among others:
- Idea of the City - an archaeological artefact – and of the city as an autonomous structure that not only characterizes the city as an ‘object’ but more importantly and perhaps inadvertently, redefines its subject
- Locus – as a site which can accommodate a series of events; it also in itself constitutes an event.
My homes are very such ‘loci’ and my city(s) offer me very such ‘meeting’ with my own self. Now, if I wear my ‘urban designer’ hat, I would lay stress on the ‘importance of design and planning of public places’. Being at ‘home’ in a city doesn’t always mean having an access to shelter. It expands to design of public places in a city. I would also recommend practices such as Transit Oriented Developments which speak of mixed use neighbourhoods and walkable districts. I would condemn the heterotopias of today, the alienating malls, laisez faire developments, millennium cities like Gurgaon. I live in Gurgaon, yet I do not have a home. What i have in my accessible radius are loads of houses, every house with atleast four cars flanked on the road, narrow colony lanes, plots meant for parks and community spaces sold by the developer and kids busy in cell phones and playstations with absence of a playground to allow them to indulge in cricket or football! I look for my home here... till then I shall be a migrant and my heart shall long for my home, forcing me to visit my city park back in Delhi every time I drive pass through it. Such is a quality of a home, you long for it... and perhaps it does too. Hope we all find our ‘homes’ in the city!
- Nidhi Batra