Is our city for us, really? Jan 1, 2011
So here goes Entry #1 for the year and the beginning of Project 365 to blog on cities and urban life each day of 2012.
As we drove to Dwarka this afternoon, we passed the stretch of road that is adjacent to the new runway of IGI Airport. What a sight to see, it was! Every available stone, mud hill and undulation had people standing there and staring at wonderment at the aircrafts that landed and took off. There were even a few straggly trees that had people precariously perched atop their non-too-strong branches! Many more were sitting atop their cars and bikes plane-gazing!
A large strip of land along the stretch had been converted into a giant multi-pitch cricket ground. A few hundred young men were engaged in a wonderful Sunday of playing India’s favourite game.
To me, these seemed exactly the kind of innocent, low-cost pastimes the ordinary city dweller loves to indulge in during their time away from work. And yet, spaces for such activities are shrinking in our cities. As Delhi grows into a larger urban agglomeration, land prices climb so high that even the government gets tempted into developing real estate for profitable uses rather than open/recreational spaces that serve a most critical function in ensuring the health and well being of citizens!
Wherever possible, citizens spontaneously identify and sieze opportunities to use available spaces in creative and largely responsible ways- only until the land owning agencies get on with their plans and make these spaces inaccessible again!
We reached Dwarka to meet relatives and spent some time contemplating where we could take the kids. The mall seemed to be the preferred choice, but where else was there to go, really? Again, non-commercial, outdoor and semi-outdoor recreational spaces that do not focus on shopping are precious few. Those that exist (museums, for instance) are very often poorly maintained and uninteresting, as they have failed to keep pace with recent media, technological and presentational advances and do not appeal to an increasingly informed and savvy population, especially children and youth.
In any case, there is a small percentage of Delhi’s population that would even dream of walking into a mall. Of those privileged few, many would prefer ANY other available, cheaper, more relaxed, less controlled space where they can take spend time with their families and friends in an easy, relaxed setting without an agenda and yet, with some amenities of they were to wish to eat, shop, drink, etc. Is this too much to ask for? Can citizens demand such spaces? How?
Maybe the Airports Authority of India should just landscape that stretch adjacent to the runway and create perches where people can sit and watch the jets go by and share with their loved ones the possibilities of their own dreams taking flight some day!