‘Gurgaon a city designed to profit, not to live in’
Bharat Singh is an urban planner and designer currently based in Oakland, California. Following his recent visit to one of the editions of Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon, Singh spoke to media about his impressions of the event and the city, and offered a way forward for the Raahgiri movement.
Q: You recently visited the Raahgiri Day venue. What were your impressions?
It’s a great concept, especially in the context of the newly built parts of Gurgaon, because it breaks the barriers of gated communities and the cocoon of driving around in one’s car. One gets to be out and socialize, in a way. It’s primarily directed at upper middle class residents but has the potential for being accessible and usable for people from all walks of life. Most importantly, this event shows there’s a latent need for well-designed roads and better public infrastructure in Gurgaon. If you build good footpaths, cycle lanes and prepare a conducive environment for these modes of travelling, people will use them in droves.
Q: As an expert on urban planning, how well-planned, or otherwise, is Gurgaon as a city? What are the weakest links?
Speaking strictly about mobility and land use, Gurgaon isn’t planned as a settlement for socio-economic interactions, but only for purely economic activity. Hence, the livability quotient in Gurgaon has to be artificially propped up by malls, clubs and a lot of marketing. It has been designed not by people interested in living there, but by those who want to profit from it. To me, the weakest link is this complete disregard of planning for socio-economic needs.
Q: Can you list a few practical steps the authorities should take to prop up Gurgaon’s public infrastructure?
They can act on two levels. First, use the concept of ‘local area planning’, something that is being done in Delhi, to engage residents and get them to highlight land-use and mobility issues. This will establish what the deficiencies are within a community (parks, convenience stores, civic utilities, etc) and what the destinations are within and adjacent to communities people go to. Once the problems are highlighted and prioritized, provide alternative solutions and implementation strategies. Secondly, at the level of the city, create clear directives for all civic management agencies (PWD, HUDA, police, etc) on goals, principles, and standards for urban infrastructure and services, so it is clear to each agency what their role is, and how they fit in the implementation and management of urban infrastructure.
Q: How important is it for a city to invest in facilities for pedestrians and cyclists?
It’s a matter of human rights. If we are a democratic society, then we are obligated to provide equity for all sections of society. If we have policies for affordable housing and poverty alleviation, that has to be translated into transportation. For any city that has global aspirations to attract human capital, it is essential that they invest in pedestrian and bicycle amenities because they make a city more livable, attractive and conducive for person-to-person interaction.
Q: In a recent blog post you talked about the way forward for the Raahgiri campaign. Your recommendations?
I would say expand the route and extend this programme to other commercial areas or parks. It should be extended beyond March, and can also be shifted to evenings. Add more economic activity with mobile vendors to give it an economic engine that will sustain it in the long run. We already have weekly bazaars, why not add one to this? Add some temporary pedestrian/biking infrastructure on these sections so that residents are exposed to good and complete street designs, and can demand that from the city authorities. Finally, find ways for these activities to be made more inviting for members of different economic strata.