This blog post has been due for quite sometime. I had hoped to make my posts much more frequent but unfortunately I end up spending most of my day at work, a major part of it commuting to and from work, and then whatever is left of it, recovering from this commute. It has been almost 5 months since I returned to Delhi and I have completely lost track of time. The city seems to be all encompassing, sapping us of all our time and energy. Hours go by , not just commuting to work but also to innumerable family get togethers,weddings and shopping trips. I could not agree more with these words from Gautam Bhatia: "Every time I move out of the house I am filled with a sense of dread. Throughout my progress - from home to market, home to office, office to restaurant, or home to shop or cinema - I am only aware of a monochromatic fatigue, a perennial sightlessness imposed on me by the faceless confrontations of urban experience.”
I have always loved Delhi. In the past months, I realise how much I have missed its winter sun, its food, its monuments and its people. However, I am disappointed byits complete lack of a public realm. While there is a lot of investment in public transport, public space and pedestrian friendliness still seems like a distant reality in the city today.
This blogpost from Romi Ray which gives a great visual description of this dearth of good public spaces in the city:
Delhi has changed a lot for the better because of the Metro. It has surely made a great impact but the metro stations have completely missed out on the idea of pedestrian linkages to surrounding bus stops, shopping malls and amenities.To give an example, case in point is the Hauz Khas Metro station. http://wikimapia.org/12942594/Pedestrain-Subway. If you are getting out here and want to go in the direction of Vasant Vihar, you would first have to take the escalator or steps to the street level. Then to cross the road, there is no pedestrian crossing. Hence you woul have to take the subway where they had a bright idea of builing a ramp instead of steps. The ramp is so narrow, dimly lit that crowded that its an ordeal to go underneath, cross and then take an equally horrendous one on the other side to come up to the street level from where getting to the bus stop is another adventure. Was it really not possible to create an underground link from the metro concourse level to cross ?
In the city, privatisation of the public realm is not confined to encroaching hawkers and cars parked on pavements meant for pedestrians. Residential neighbourhoods find it perfectly legitimate to create gates and regulate what are called as public “ right of ways”. A case in point is some areas of Chittaranjan Park where residents think maids, vegetable vendors, postman and visitors should walk an extra kilometre if they need to, as long as the wealthy residents’ safety is not compromised. At these entry gates to by lanes, not only is vehicular entry restricted but pedestrian access gates can be locked at the whims and fancies of the ‘Resident Welfare Associations’ who ensure that members of the not- so- elite community do not cross paths with the gentry .
We are choosing a life of gated isolated communities instead of mixed use neighbourhoods with “ eyes on the street”. While the rest of the world is realising the importance of mixed use and pedestrian friendliness, we are doing the exact opposite in our attempt to be modern. Instead of walking to our street markets and neighbourhood stores we now drive to shopping malls. Abandoning our traditional neighbourhoods where one could live and work at the same place, we are moving to upscale SOHO or studio apartments miles away from the city where the developers are asking us to appreciate the concept of ’live- work’.
Well, I have time to lament about all this, today as it is Sunday night. As Monday sets in, the city will overpower me, the traffic will numb my thoughts and the week will go by as I will switch to my auto pilot mode of going to work and returning home tired, exhausted and brain dead. Hope to write more next weekend!