Ever since it started in Nov. 2013, Raahgiri day has been a huge topic of discussion for the residents of Gurgaon. Over the next few months it became one of the most popular events in the city, with cycling groups, zumba classes and various workshops for the residents. But what took icing on the cake were not these events but the fact that it was happening on the streets of Gurgaon. Vehicular Traffic was blocked on some of the busiest arterials of the city during the first half of Sundays to make space for these activities. It was like a small rebellion against the vehicular dominion that Gurgaon is infamous for. This enabled thousands for people to do something very few of them had done here; WALK ON THE STREET!
| Raahgiri Day Activities|
So successful was this event that similar events started happening in other parts of the city and now even Delhi has stepped up by closing a ring of the Connaught circle for these street activities.
Initially, I was very excited that this was perhaps that very event that may change the course of the way the urban realm is seen in our cities. Finally, I thought we have woken to the coarse truth of’ people before cars’. But, my excitement was quite short lived as I began realizing that, as always, the authorities and the people had missed the larger point;
“The need for a real and permanent Public Realm.”
Almost seven months since the inception and tremendous success of ‘Raahgiri day’ everyone is talking about closing other streets for a few hours for the pedestrians and extending this to other places and other cities. All this, while turning a blind eye to the pathetic state of public infrastructure in the city. Most of the streets in Gurgaon still lack basic pedestrian comforts like continuous and sufficiently wide sidewalks or even sufficient number of public parks well distributed across the city. So are the pedestrians only content with being able to use selected streets for a few hours during the week? Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we did not have to restrict ourselves to a few hours in a week or if instead of doing yoga or zumba on a dirty tar road you could do it in a beautiful green park on the grass under the shade of trees?
| The condition of most Gurgaon streets-SPOT the sidewalk...|
Then I thought that maybe, ordinary citizens like me have to be content with these few hours, for walking on the streets and not worry about some speeding vehicle knocking me off. Perhaps, those who stay in the plush gated communities have it all. So last week, I finally got the opportunity to visit one of my colleagues who stays in one of these famous townships located in the outer fringes of the city. Now, I thought, I would experience what it is like to leave in an oasis where everything is perfect. However, when I entered this development, to my disappointment, the streets were full of potholes, some worse than those in my neighborhood. There were hardly any sidewalks or trees along the streets for shade. There was a shopping complex in the development which looked much worse than the one we have in our neighborhood. The houses here would be twice as expensive and people were paying much higher rents and maintenance charges for these dismal facilities and yet the conditions were no better than any other place in the city. I just couldn’t understand how this was possible when it struck me what the issue was….
“WE (THE PEOPLE) JUST DONT DEMAND IT!”
| Even the 'Modern' office districts like Cybercity have no sidewalks or cycle tracks for pedestrians|
We are content with events like Raahgiri but don’t care if our streets are full of potholes, or if there are a handful of city level parks in the city, or that hardly any of our streets have safe sidewalks let alone any bus-stops or cycle tracks. Of course, the authorities and developers are happy to oblige as a few hours of closing some streets is must less work than the alternative of providing and maintaining the public infrastructure required for the city.
To clarify myself, this is not a criticism of Raahgiri day. I am a huge fan of this event and really appreciate the organizers for their initiative and hard work to make it a success. While these events are great, the focus should not shift from the need for real public infrastructure. The solution is not to close more streets in the city for a few hours of pedestrian activities. The solution is to provide and maintain the requisite infrastructure throughout the city so that people don’t have to rely on these events solely for their pedestrian activities.
Imagine a Gurgaon, where you can walk safely on shaded sidewalks or cycle to work on dedicated cycle tracks. Where you can do Zumba or yoga in the city parks located close to your home. For me, first you imagine, then you demand and then you make it happen!
Gurgaon, we need to DEMAND MORE!