Re-imagining the Public Realm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is highly ambitious to build out 100 smart cities in India. The government has already proposed an allocation of Rs 7,060 crore in this financial year for the mission. With every year, a greater proportion of people are living in cities than were previously. Cities are the story of this century. According to a UN Report released recently, Delhi has become the world’s second most populous city in 2014 after Tokyo, more than doubling its population since 1990 to 25 million. Mumbai is ranked sixth on this list with a current population of 21 million.

While our cities fill with more number of people each day, alleviating the overall living conditions of people in these cities still remain a major problem. Also, Indian cities are infamously popular to be unmanaged, littered and ugly at sight with full of people. Sadly most of the time, it’s our own point of view. Life at these cities constitutes of rushing around to a work area in the morning, do some shop check thereafter and rush back to a homely place, if you have one. We are busily concerned about these end points and forgets to worry about what happens in between. However, the builders employ this thinking to divide city’s area for commercial or residential use. But think hard, why do we want to live in a city? New York’s City planner for 12 years, Amanda Burden in a talk at TED2014, answers this question as “Public spaces are the places which make cities work. It’s not just the people using them, it’s the even greater number of people who feel better about their city just knowing that they’re there”.


The streets and squares have always been the theme of Indian-ness in its villages and cities throughout the past. These were the places provided people from different parts of the India engaged each other. These were spaces in which people transacted, ate, celebrated, fought, loved and played sports. Diversity was allowed to flourish, and people learned to live with and negotiate each other. These spaces made for greater understanding and civic engagement. People make spaces. Cities are fundamentally about people and the ways in which public spaces are built is important to any city.

The idea of developing smart cities is great, but when we adjust people into the equation, we have to think about whether they would like to live in it. The idea and establishment of a meaningful public space doesn’t happen by accidents, they are always to be fought off against commercial interests and other uses. Even once obtained, someone has to think really hard about each and every detail to make the public space work. In the present context of India, in which we are busy architecting the economic aspects and trying to boost commercial investments and our cities are turning into a complete mess with no one to spare off, the idea of rediscovering and preserving our public spaces becomes more than important.


Recently of late, the idea of reclaiming back our public spaces have been enthusiastically been taken up by citizen in large number. Organizations such ‘The Ugly Indian’, ‘Come, clean India’ etc. have come across to work along to mend and create Public Spaces for better usage. We have a long way to go, but if a due importance is also given to setting up and preserving existing Public Spaces, then only we can consider our city to be truly ‘smart’.

After all, according to Burden, “A successful city is like a fabulous party, people stay because they are having a great time.”

12 Comments on "Re-imagining the Public Realm"

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