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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Why has Bengaluru Let its Open Spaces Shrink?

If we manage to convert this historic spot into a space for people to congregate, it will be a proud legacy to leave behind for the generations to come | Nagaraja Gadekal
If we manage to convert this historic spot into a space for people to congregate, it will be a proud legacy to leave behind for the generations to come

Recently Bengaluru was witness to a shocking incident of police caning two teenagers for playing football in a designated playing area of an upmarket residential neighbourhood. One can assume that in the city’s slums, this is a frequent occurrence. For one, most slum children do not have access to designated play areas, and two, the power equation between the police and slum dwellers is warped. What is it about us that makes us want to put up a building to legitimise any activity?

We find it perfectly acceptable that restaurants and bars are open till late in the night but we have issues with children playing in a playground. Don’t get me wrong, I find restaurants staying open a positive sign, but it is our attitude to open spaces that I have a problem with. Since independence, Bengaluru has systematically shrunk its open spaces by putting up buildings on lakebeds, parks and civic amenity sites. The state has been deficient in its role as a protector of the commons.

This brings us to the issue at hand — the restructuring of Ambedkar Veedhi, running in front of the Vidhana Soudha and the High Court, owing to the insertion of the underground stretch of Namma Metro. Here is an opportunity to create a public space that Bengaluru, which is often associated with good climate, software professionals and terrible traffic, can be proud of. The opportunity still exists. We just need the will to do it.

All the great cities of the world have invested in creating and sustaining iconic public spaces. Whether it is Trafalgar Square in London, Champs-Elysees in Paris, Piazza Navona in Rome, Piazza San Marco in Venice, Times Square in New York or closer home, India Gate in Delhi and the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Some of these are ceremonial, and most are places where people gather. These are places where people of all groups can have unhindered access to.

Today, Bengaluru is the third most populous city in India. It is high time we demand that the city provide us with the public spaces we deserve. Not just roads to carry traffic, with no concern for the pedestrian, but properly designed spaces that can be used by people of all ages and socio-economic groups. We need to create a space that will enable us to showcase and enjoy art and culture, allow children to play, and senior citizens or anybody else for that matter to walk and spend time meeting people. All these need to be thoughtfully designed by professionals. The physically challenged need to be given access, there should be an adequate number of toilets and the right kind of trees should be planted, all the while ensuring that the pedestrian doesn’t have to worry about vehicles hurtling at him at breakneck speed. One could also look at permitting certain activities up to a certain time of the day and other activities later.

It would be ideal to consider the stretch from the Visvesvaraya Towers end to K R Circle. This would probably be the right scale for a space of this nature. As all this is government land, it would be easy to control development along the stretch. It is high time Cubbon Park stops losing more of itself to buildings and starts reclaiming the streets for the people. This space, if we manage to get it done, will be a legacy we will leave behind for generations to come.

The key ingredient to achieve this is leadership. Do we have it in us to attempt something like this?
- The author is an urban planner and architect. He is the director of Aarusha Homes, a company that operates hostels for the youth.

 Source : The New Indian Express , 19th Oct 2015


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