By Aditi Kelshekar
Streets form an integral part of urban life but we tend to only view them as mere facilitators for movement and transport. A few streets in Aundh, a suburb in Pune, have been chosen to be re-designed under the Smart City project. The area has already been assigned a ‘Smart’ street within its jurisdiction. During our ten-day field work we attempted to study these new designs and gather people’s opinion of it. We also noticed various ways unconventional, unusual and unnoticed uses of the streets and urban infrastructure which are a part of daily life of the streets that have been proposed to be redesigned into ‘Smart’ streets.
Street as socialising space: Bus stops, benches on footpaths, tea stalls, etc are important spots for interactions and socialising among people from all walks of life — employees of nearby corporate offices use this space for some lunch-time chit-chat, whereas senior citizens prefer such spaces for their evening discussions.
Street infrastructure as a space for support and storage: A sugarcane vendor at Medi-point junction, uses a street light pole as a Sugarcane ‘holder’ for support, a unique way of storing sugarcane. It also highlights the visibility of the sugarcane vendor to the passersby.
Another tea vendor on the same road locks his stall to a nearby tree for the night when the business closes. He mentioned that this was a temporary arrangement until he found a permanent space that he could rent. his earlier space is now under redevelopment and therefore they have had to put up a make-shift stall.
Street as a space for delivery dispatch for multiple ‘online’ shopping websites: Online shopping is now believed to be the most convenient was of shopping but these e-commerce websites have their existence mainly only on the internet. An area on Mahadji Shinde road doubles as a major delivery and pick up spot for popular online retail websites. Delivery persons are often denied access into nearby offices and employees turn up on this footpath to pick up their items.
Street as a space to practice religion and spirituality: Streets of Aundh serve as spaces of religious and spiritual importance for many, who worship small shrines during their daily commute. A tree on AIMS road near the labour adda has a small idol of Lord Ganesha, which is known to have been installed by the laborers, who occasionally make offerings to this idol and perform puja. Another shrine on the Kumar Classics Road, has been installed by the auto-rickshaw union, near the auto-rickshaw stand, where the members of the union ensure maintenance of the shrine regularly and make daily offerings and puja.
Street as a space for marketing and promotions: A huge mascot of a mobile company stands on the footpaths opposite Medi-point, right outside the mobile shop, using the street as a space for branding and promotion of the product.
Street as a space for business, vending and earning livelihoods: Streets form an important market place for buying and selling goods and therefore financially support many families who earn their livelihoods from the streets. Following are stories of 3 street vendors, who struggle to make ends meet for their families and how the streets of Aundh form the backbone of economic support to them and their families. A small Chai Tapri on Mahadji Shinde road is run by five members of the same family who take turns and work in shifts. The lady who owns the stall works during the day with the help of her husband who helps out with the logistics. Her daughter, who is currently pursuing her B.Com pitches in on holidays, and her sister-in-law runs the stall in the evenings upto 10pm at night. The sister-in-law struggles to make ends meet for her family of 4, with the meagre income she earns while running her stall in the evenings. Her days are usually spent taking care of her two children, both of who have been diagnosed with kidney failure, and her chronically ill mother-in law. With the advent of the Smart city project in Aundh, will they be able to continue their livelihoods is a question that still needs to be answered.
Street as a lounge or resting space: People were seen napping in the afternoons post lunch, or resting within their stall areas. We met a coconut vendor, who regularly naps in the afternoons on his bed made with coconuts as the base along with wooden planks.
Streets have multiple uses, a few which are extremely integral to the survival of a certain section of the society. The streets form their source of livelihood. For others it may be an important space for social interactions and re-connecting with the neighbourhood. But in light of the policies to re-build streets, we have rarely seen the effort and provision to incorporate and legitimize other uses of the streets as well. Streets are simply seen and planned as roads that connect one place to the other and aid transport. Jane Jacobs, in her book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, emphasises on how cities have more intricate economic and social concerns than just automobile traffic. Only time will tell, if we will be fortunate enough to see such diverse uses of the street, even in the new ‘Smart city’, or will the focus of being Smart be limited to providing well-designed spaces, only in the way that is imagined to be ‘Smart’.
The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit Course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.
To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html