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A study of sidewalks in thyagaraja nagar chennai india


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A study of sidewalks in thyagaraja nagar chennai india

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A study of sidewalks in thyagaraja nagar chennai india

  1. 1. An Ethnographic study of Sidewalks in ThyagarajaNagar, Chennai Chennai is one of India’s most rapidly expanding cities. It also has a large vehicular population which is expanding at an increasing rate. More vehicles on streets mean lesser space for the pedestrians. Most of the roads in Chennai lack pedestrian friendly features with little thought given to their safety, convenience and numbers. The volume of vehicles has not yet reached the levels seen in the developed world (or even the numbers seen in Delhi) but is a source of problem even with now. The area was originally predominantly residential in nature but has fast transformed into very busy commercial hub of the city. This has significantly affected urban amenities, land use, nature of transportation and services. Single storey shops of yesteryears have now given way to multistory buildings with little change in other infrastructure. Much of the development and building seems to have occurred without any comprehensive planning. Though much of the large commercial development has taken place on the RanganathanStreetandUsman Street,ithas spreadto small roadsand by lanesalso. In recent years a flyover has been constructed on the Ranganathan Street. This was taken away a large number of vehicles away from the street, which (did not intend to shop) interfered with pedestrian movement. The condition of the road beneath the flyover and the services and facilities for pedestrians has notimprovedalthough. Saravana BhavanStoresisone of the largeststorespresentin the area.
  2. 2. Jane Jacobs said “Streets and their sidewalks, the main public places of a city, are its most vital organs. Think of a city and what comes to mind? Its streets.” A very large number of people who use roads are pedestrians and walking as a mode accounts for maximum road trips. If a road has pedestrian friendly features then it is more likely to be used by them. These features could be facilities, safety, ease of access, how street engages them, how street satisfies their main purpose of travel etc. If proper pedestrian spaces are created then it improves circulation of people. Streets make people come out of the cocoon of personal vehiclesandengage withthe surroundings. This is especially true for shopping areas like Thyagaraj Nagar. The area needs high volumes of eager shoppers and so should be safe. There are lots of traditional sari andjewelers on its streets. People carry large amounts of money, wear expensive jewellary and clothes. The shoppers do not necessarily come straight to one shop to do all the purchase and then simply go back to their homes. They move along the entire street and check out what each store has to offer. Thyagaraj Nagar attracts It attracts large number of shoppers not just from neighborhoods in and around Chennai but also from neighboring districts. Pic:A sidewalkinThyagarajaNaga. Lack of vehiclesgenerallymeansthat people use the entire road.More people onroadcreatesdifficultiesfor existingvehiclesandhence lessuseof vehiclesbypeople.Pedestrianswin due to numbers. EnteringThyagaraj Nagar fromthe Bus Standside.Thispicture isof a temple presentrightinthe beginning.
  3. 3. As it is home to a large number of traditional jeweler and sari stores, people do shopping for wedding ceremonies here. And given certain specific Indian social characteristics, the volume of shopping done by a single shopper is high. This makes it necessary for them to move from shop to shop looking for something which perfectly fits their purpose suites their taste, purchasing power and need. Sometimes entire familiesshoptogetherandmove aroundthe shops. In addition to these stores there are large number of hawkers and other shopkeepers. They keep the street noisy and busy. They sometimes create crowd clusters, where people stop by and check their wares. These hawkers exist harmoniously with the formal stores and some of them are actually complimentary. Sometimes the entire sidewalk is occupied by the goods, lampposts, covering sheets, twowheelersbelongingtoshopkeepers. Road side shopkeeperssell theirstuff rightoutside aregularbrandedstore. People walkandjostle throughother shoppers,enjoyingthe sights,smells and the sounds.
  4. 4. The crowds are also engaged by the aesthetics of the buildings, their design, their employees, and individual sellers who do not occupy any space but hawk their wares by moving between the crowds. Given the nature of the street and the kind of shopping that people do walking is the ideal way to explore andappreciate the area. The movement of people is sometimes hampered by gaping potholes. This is especially problematic after the rains when they are water logged and as people try to avoid walking into them it effectively reduces the total area available for walking. These potholes paint a very dismal picture of the facilities available to these large numbers of side-walkers. They take away the precious space which has already beenencroacheduponbymanyshopsand hawkers. The Waterlogged potholes are impediments to pedestrians The new flyover has taken away some of the vehicles from the old road. But sometimes the vehicles have to use the old road, and that creates chaos as there is no segregation of vehicles from pedestrians. Since the space is quite limited ideally there should be user charge whenever someone brings a vehicle into the reduced space. But since it does not happen, people bring their vehicles tearing in through the crowds and then park them either on the roads or in the underground parking belonging to stores, whenevertheyhave some space available. Another interesting thing to be noted is the human controlled traffic management system that operates right at the start of south Ranganathan Street near the bus stand and then at the place where the flyover begins its ascent, in front of Saravana Stores. There are no traffic lights and only police personal present usually direct the behavior of crowds, instead of directing the traffic. That task is managed by an unwritten and unspoken contract between the vehicles and the walkers. When there is a vehicular flow, people do not cross the road. They wait and slowly walkers and families collect up. They then grow up into a critical mass of 20-25 people. Unconsciously they distribute themselves into a line and then
  5. 5. attempt to slowly walk into the road. Similar attempts are made by the People present on the other side of the road. Vehicles soon start noticing this crowd standing on both sides attempting to cross the road. Some of themstart slowingdown,andthenone of themwill stop. As soon as one vehicle stops, people quickly conquer the road space and move. Suddenly a mass of people floods upon the road and vehicular traffic is bought to a halt. People on the other areas of road, who also need to cross the road, do not attempt this at any given point of the road. They observe the point where the crowd is collecting and then walk up to that point. Once most of the crowds have crossed, and it thins out vehicles slowly start moving again. The crowd is now a minority as vehicles have piled one behind the other and are growingimpatient. The crowd hands back the conquered space back to the vehicles, and people start to wait for that critical mass to build again. All this while there is no effort by the policemen to regulate the flow. They just allow it happen by its own. They keep an eye on the crowd behavior and maintaining general law order, which is necessary considering the large number of shoppers. Policemenare keenertowatchpotential pickpocketsandchainsnatchers. The traffic and the crowd become indistinguishable from each other.
  6. 6. The construction of a new flyover has freed some space right underneath it. As the vehicles moved up, the middle of the erstwhile road space has been occupied by hawkers. Some of it is used for parking purposesbythe store workers,mostof thembeingcycles. There is no architectural design to the side walk and it is irregular, breaking at some pints and then beginning once again without a ramp. There is no effort to provide some amenities to pedestrians. Due to congestion there is no space left for simple sitting areas with chairs, benches or steps where one can have a break. Families are found resting at the steps of the stores after hours of tiring shopping, or else theytake refuge inmanyrestaurantspresentinthe area. There are only two traffic control booths (one of whichis present right opposite the Nalli showroom and works without a traffic light), no litter bins, road signs, signboards, area map boards, loudspeakers, clocks, ATMs (which is surprising as this is a busy commercial area, the only ATM was present in one of the arterial lanes). The area and the stores are very well lit, but there are still patches of darkness and they call for proper lightning that can enhance the beauty of the pedestrian space. The area also does not have any signage systemorlandscaping.
  7. 7. The busy and congested nature of the road does not leave much space for the sidewalk, as it is essentially reduced to only 2-3 feet. Thankfully, given Chennai and India's culture in general the place is still mercifully free from any grand statue of political or social personality. The stores and their beautiful decoration make the area beautiful but works of art like color surfaces, mosaics, frescoes etc can make the streetmore beautiful. The importance of pedestrians for an urban setting has been appreciated and there is conscious effort to create ‘livable’ streets, streets that contribute to the life of city. Keeping in mind Jane Jacobs description of streets and sidewalks as places which do not just connect but which contribute to public life, we can see that T Nagar does have some of those. Although in terms of physical infrastructure it may not live up to the requirement, but it manages to provide security to very large number of strangers. Nobody feels lonely or insecure in the thriving market. Its cultural and commercial importance hasremainedundiminishedevenwiththe rise of othercommercial centersinthe city.