Walk Tall!

Chennai: Community engagement on walkability


On August 4th, Transparent Chennai held its first community meeting in KK Nagar to bring the residents of the locality together advocate for improvements of pedestrian infrastructure in KK Nagar. About 25 residents from the community including the ward councillor, resident welfare association members and other residents participated in the meeting. Prior to this meeting, we had worked with a few residents to survey the quality of footpaths but less than ten had participated. The poor response from the residents prompted us to organise a community meeting to elaborate the walkability project, create an awareness about the importance of pedestrian infrastructure, its condition in their neighbourhood and demand for change.

Image 1: Starting the meeting with a description of Transparent Chennai and the Walkability project

The one hour session was organised with two objectives in mind. First, we wanted to create awareness about pedestrian infrastructure and participatory planning. Second, we wanted to conduct an activity that would stimulate them to differentiate between good and poor pedestrian infrastructure. We started by explaining who Transparent Chennai is and does and described the walkability project in detail. We briefly took them through the methodology and the process involved in the project starting with community outreach, surveys, mapping and data collection to digitisation and analysis. We also elucidated the steps of conducting design workshops, finalising designs and drawing up an implementation plan. The final step in the process is to follow up with the appropriate people responsible for the implementation and hold them accountable. We illustrated the Nanganallur experience, which has received an incredible response from the residents and is in the design finalisation stage. The residents were enthralled about the Nanganallur project and were inspired to make it work in KK Nagar as well.

We also briefed the residents about the various components in the footpath design, how we envisage the project from the point of view of equality in public space and good pedestrian infrastructure, and how we work with local elected representatives to provide leadership for the change.

The ward councillor, who has shown keen interest in pedestrian infrastructure in the past, addressed the group about the importance of footpaths and how there are conflicting uses of that space. He also pointed out how the footpaths of 2 feet wide on each side of the interior roads act only as a place for planting trees. As a result, people tend to park their vehicles next to them and block the movement of vehicles. One suggestion he made was to have railings along the footpaths to ensure safe walking to the pedestrians. The residents agreed with most of the points and appreciated the councillor for participating in the meeting.

Image 2: The ward councillor addresses the meeting

The second half of the meeting was an activity which had residents look at images of pedestrian infrastructure from around the world. They were given stickers of two colours: red and black and asked to place the red ones beside images they liked and black for those they didn’t. This exercise was to compel them to look at various features of footpaths and differentiate between good and bad designs. The residents participated actively and enthusiastically and promised that they would get involved and help us in getting more people for the next stage which is surveying of the streets in KK Nagar.

Image 3: Participants evaluating images of pedestrian infrastructure from around the world

The lively session got the residents to interact and made them think about the various issues that affect pedestrians. By creating awareness about the importance of footpaths among the residents of KK Nagar, this community meeting made it easier to overcome the initial scepticism about the project and helped pave the way for future endeavours in the neighbourhood. We look forward to the next stage of the walkability project in KK Nagar and to working with the councillor and residents.

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