Smart City Series: Of beautiful urban spaces

Punctuation’s matter more in written text than the words itself, similarly urban spaces matter more in architecture than buildings themselves.

On recent marriage hopping trips to Mumbai and Indore I had enough time to mull over India’s bustling metropolis, Mumbai and Indore, a rather smaller city with equally enthusiastic denizens. While Mumbai is winning with its charming old colonial buildings and a busy skyline, Indore is more humble with a dainty past displaying an ambitious future in its buildings. Mumbai has its ever-busy local trains to ferry people and Indore meets its traffic requirements through a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system. Everyone, regardless of where in Mumbai or Indore, agree on how we shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us. But what is more crucial to note, is we as humans tend to thrive on our public spaces just as much as we need our private retreats. After all no man is an island.

Mumbai skyline

The Mumbai Skyline from Marine Drive

Pic courtesy: Snigdha Bathina

From the Spanish steps in Rome to the lawns of the Rajpath in New Delhi, history has more often than not happened in urban squares and parks or gardens. It is thus a sad state of affairs that our country has discredited these very essential compunctions. With global warming and rising pollution levels, not to forget littered arenas, one cannot bear for long even the few and fettered urban spaces anymore. Lack of trees, the harsh sun-rays and dangerous encounters only add to the discouraging conditions. Malls therefore are but for natural places to retire to. All equipped with false trees, blue skies painted on ceilings and even a made-up river if possible.

What if the urban spaces in our cities were to receive more attention and made convenient? Maybe with walking paths, delightful benches, tree-lined vistas or even bunched shades, and what if we actually took them seriously. After all the Central Park is largely indispensable for the well-being of New Yorkers?

A stroll along the Marine Drive and then later at the Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai, reinstates to one the need for open clear, urban spaces. The sea may be the best part of India’s fastest city, but the urban promenade along the crashing waves contributes to it’s largely delectable nature. Cities must be designed to encourage walking as a means of commuting for its citizens an essential criteria of smart cities. Walking is only possible in any metropolis with provisions of larger footpaths, cleaner air, tangible greenery, pre-planned walking routes with measured distances, urban infrastructure to allow for seating/pit-stops and finally public transportation systems that allow for a break from walking when required tied into urban spaces that open out as plazas, shaded promenades and walk-ways connect individual estates as public space, ofcourse.

While the largely successful BRT system in Indore is well defined meeting the numbers quite efficiently. Urban transportation systems contribute a great deal in how a city works, is smart or not and the design of a city. More car-pooling, could effectively reduce choked roads we face in almost all urban cities of India. The large amounts of time spent in traffic jams reduce quality of lives and invite even more lifestyle problems if not diseases. Therefore its not just our buildings that shape us like Winston Churchill mentioned, but urban design and the quality of our cities shape us even more then we could imagine.

PS. Smart cities are made of smart citizens ofcourse. psst. take the hint. Get smart! Use those urban spaces more conscientiously.

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