I am currently in India and we’ve been mostly talking about pavements. Yes, fascinating, I hear you cry! But wait, let me try and convince you why they are.
I think we have a strange relationship with pavements – from ambivalence to strongly emotional. In Sheffield, UK at the moment, pavements are a bone of contention with the AMEY-Sheffield City Council street management contract which is currently and controversially cutting down trees which are deemed to be damaging the pavement and making it difficult for some users (particularly those with wheels, e.g. wheelchairs/ pushchairs).
But here in India, like in the rest of the world the cutting down of trees for pavement maintenance or for street widening is nothing new. It has been happening for years in cities all over the country. Many citizens are now paying the price for such decisions, in terms of lack of space to walk safely, or with shelter and shade, making it such an unpleasant experience to walk the streets. And so those who can afford it get into their cars or on their two-wheelers.
But as tourists in a city, we often find ourselves navigating the place on foot. In India, we find that it’s often a case of inconsistent pavements along streets, incredibly high pavements and the street furniture literally blocking the way of the pedestrian!
Trying to walk the streets only using the pavements in India is often an impossible task. We are in Ahmedabad right now and decided to talk a morning walk along the riverfront. We could see that when you get to the riverfront promenades, the pedestrian is mostly priority (although that’s the able-bodied pedestrian – I’ll come back to this). But it’s the ACCESS to the waterfront by foot which is a problem.
Let’s put this into perspective. The riverfront project has cost INR 1,200 crore (12 billion rupees = approx. £140 million). This is a huge project with the recovery of the costs (paid by the municipal authority) covered by selling some of the reclaimed land for commercial and residential use. So, it’s an ongoing massive project and the riverfront promenades themselves are mostly finished. This is the public realm around which development is slowly happening. Given its high profile nature, and the fact that we were staying in a hotel on the riverfront, we thought we’d be able to easily get down to it on foot. Incorrect! Figure 1 shows the view from our hotel room, and you can just make out a new building being constructed on the other side of the river. There is no direct path to the riverfront and you are at the mercy of gaps in the traffic to allow you to cross the road.
You can discern from the photos that in this very new urban landscape two things are going on: it is the motor vehicle that is being planned for, not the pedestrian. And there is no place for the street vendor. The high pavements put a stop to them being mounted up on the kerb. So we are in an odd position of seeing a vast amount of public space in a vibrant Indian city simply not being used. When you compare this to any other part of the city, it is quite surreal…I will watch this space with interest over the next few years and hope to see it become as vibrant as the rest of the city.