Civil society representatives meet in New Delhi for finding ways to change the course for a better quality of life in Indian cities
In the western-Indian city of Pune, near Mumbai, residents of two wards (areas divided for administration under civic bodies) have tied up with civil society groups and architecture students to find out how they could reduce the growth of motorized vehicles in their neighbourhoods. In Chennai, the capital of India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, three major city pockets are racing to submit a plan to the administration on giving pedestrians more rights over motorized vehicles. Tens of thousands of people are gathering on main thoroughfares of Gurgaon, near New Delhi, on every Sundays to “claim the streets” for walking and cycling.
Fed up with the chaos on the country’s roads where pedestrian walks are being increasingly encroached for plying more cars, citizens are raising their voice in support of a more liveable neighbourhood. The rising anger of the people against lack of infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, school children, women, the elderly and the disabled is being felt across the country from the north to the south and from the east to the west. The concern of the people found its echo in the deliberations at an international workshop on ‘How Liveable Is Our Neighbourhood?’ organized in New Delhi on December 7 by the Clean Air Asia, UN-Habitat and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation.
“The streets of a city are first for its people, not cars,” says Sanskriti Menon of the Centre for Environment Education in Pune, where the residents of Aundh and Dattawadi wards have joined hands with students of B N College of Architecture and P V P College of Architecture in the area to find design solutions to the transport woes in their neighbourhood. “Even the people who own cars have realized that the increase in the number of vehicles and the congestion from parking are reducing the quality of their lives,” says Menon. “We will submit a plan for increasing connectivity and using public transport to the authorities soon,” she adds.
In the Nanganallur, K K Nagar and Anna Nagar wards of Chennai, each having a population of 50,000, a first survey of the area was conducted in May this year by the residents themselves to support easy pedestrian travel. Called ‘Shall We Walk, Chennai?’, the movement by the people, supported by civil society organizations, is aimed at achieving equality in the use of public space. “We will submit the final design of our plan to improve the quality of life in our neighbourhoods to the local administration,” says Ranjeet Joseph of Institute for Financial Management and Research, which is helping the local community in the survey, mapping and data collection of existing pedestrian infrastructure in the area.
In Gurgaon, where an average cycling trip is only 7km, the people are angry that there is no infrastructure for cyclists on the roads, planned for cars. “But the people are getting the support of corporate houses and the media in seeking a change in the situtation,” says Prabhat Agarwal, one of the founders of NMT Gurgaon. More than 10,000 people came on the streets when NMT Gurgaon organized the first of its protests, called ‘car-free Sundays’. The number has more than doubled on the subsequent Sundays. “School students are helping us by carrying out the road safety survey and demanding cycling and pedestrian infrastructure,” adds Agarwal.
According to Cornie Huizenga, Joint Convenor of SLoCaT or Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport, based in Shanghai, the rising awareness of the Indian society could bring about positive changes on the country’s roads. “In one generation, we were able to make a radical change in smoking and alter public policies of the governments across the world. It is not the government that tells you that you can’t smoke in your house. It was your personal behaviour that made you change,” says Huizenga, adding the same is going to happen in the case of transport when the people will start shunning cars for a better life in their neighbourhoods.
“Our cities will have to look after themselves,” says Dr Kulwant Singh of UN-Habitat, which is working in 192 countries with the aim of providing adequate shelter for all and making cities liveable and safe through good urban planning. “We need to manage our solutions,” he adds.
“Pedestrians and users of non-motorised transport are often neglected in the design of transport infrastructure, which is otherwise essential for sustainable solutions to accessibility and mobility,” says Shilpa Kharwal of Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, a Delhi-based funding organization working on energy security, clean power and energy efficiency in industries.
“If a citizen is not confident to walk or pedal to a nearby market in her or his neighbourhood, how will a city grow?” asks Parthaa Bosu, Director of Clean Air Asia’s India office. “Improving walkability entails improvement not only in the physical infrastructure, but equally in the minds of the people,” Bosu adds.