Experiencing a new-found freedom

Living in cities has become claustrophobic arising out of lack of living space, crowded and congested neighbourhoods, lack of playgrounds and public spaces and traffic jams.

Karnataka is waking up to the need for more open spaces and public spaces.  After the unprecedented success of initiatives in Bengaluru like the Open Street, Bus Day and Cycle Days, second-tier cities in the state are experimenting with similar projects.

Mysuru, the city of palaces and a tourist hub, is keen to promote its heritage by enabling visitors to appreciate the architectural marvels dotting Sayyaji Rao Road.  The authorities are planning to ban vehicular traffic on the stretch of the central business district.
Experiencing a new-found freedom-1In the coastal city of Mangaluru similar plans are afoot with the idea of blocking 500 metres of one of the busiest roads in the city – from Mahatma Gandhi statue to Lady Hill Circle.

The Hubballi-Dharwad municipal corporation is planning an open street for citizens on Koppikar Road on the lines of the one held in several places in Bengaluru. Koppikar Road, the hub of commercial activities, is a hotspot buzzing with people especially during holidays and festivals. The road is choked with heavy traffic. The municipal corporation has, therefore, planned the open street with cultural events, exhibition of paintings and food stalls.

In Bengaluru, one of the earliest initiatives to decongest the city roads was “Bus Day”, a day-long event organized by Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation to promote public transport in the city. This is a social campaign where people are encouraged to use public transport for their daily commuting within the city.

The idea of Bus Day was conceived by a group of enthusiastic citizens of Bengaluru. The idea behind this initiative was to change peoples’ perception towards public transport and ultimately help in reducing the traffic congestion in the city and improve environment. The first Bus Day was observed on February 4, 2010 and since then, it has become a tradition to observe Bus Day usually on the 4th of every month.

The idea behind this initiative was to change peoples’ perception towards public transport and ultimately help in reducing traffic congestion.

Cycle Day

The Bus Day was followed by Cycle Day, an open street event to popularize the use of non-motorized transport. The event is conducted in various neighbourhoods across the city every Sunday for four hours from 6.30 am to 10.30 am. The format consists of a vehicle-free street of 500 metres to 1 km with street activities, a cycle ride around the neighbourhood (3 to 6 kms).

Cycle Day was initiated by Bengaluru coalition for open streets and anchored by directorate of urban land transport. The first ever Cycle Day was held on November 17, 2013 in Kasturi Nagar followed by one in Jayanagar in December 2013.

Since then more than a 100 Cycle Days have been held in HSR Layout, Sanjaynagar, Yelahanka, Rajajinagar, Malleswaram, Whitefield andSadashivnagar. It spawned local events. Residents of Sanjaynagar in North Bangalore, for instance, have started a “Walk to School” campaign on their own.

The highlight of the initiative towards open spaces is undoubtedly the open street carnival on M G Road on February 21 with at least 50,000 people participating. On that day a festive ambience prevailed on the stretch from Anil Kumble Circle to Cauvery Emporium junction on M G Road, while the road remained off limits for vehicles. No screeching brakes and shrill horns or the fear of crossing the road as the carnival raged from 9 am to 9 pm.

It was a revelry of sorts, reminiscent of the New Year revelry, to an estimated 50,000 people who participated in the carnival replete with fun, food, fashion and fantasy and a wide variety of performances and displays. There were many musical performances: instrumental (saxophone and violin), and rapid-fire Kannada rap. There was also a magic performance with the motley audience participating with great gusto. An elderly gentleman sang the evergreen Hindi film song, bar, bar dekho to karaoke music. Story-telling, stand-up comedy and dance performances were also there.
Experiencing a new-found freedom-2Children had a field day attempting hoola hoop, balancing poles, speed ball and mini badminton. People did something unimaginable on normal days - squatted on the median. Selfies were clicked by many.

There were dozens of stalls selling a lot of things: T-shirts, clothes, ethnic artefacts, handicrafts, terracotta and tribal jewellery, bumper sticker for cars and organic foods, among other things.

With fun around, can food be far behind? Food vans catered to every palate. A food van called Foodipa serving Punjabi and Sindhi dishes advertised its fare as “Lassi to phasee”, “khabhikushi, kabhicholegaram”, “dilwaleparather le jayenge” and “kahonapurihai.” Above the boulevard dozens of artists displayed their skills. People got their caricatures done.

The idea behind the fun and frolic, initiated by the directorate of urban land transport, is an attempt to encourage citizens to use public transport and get adjusted to the concept of inter-connected transport systems, expected to be in place with the completion of Phase I of the Namma Metro project. Prominently displayed were the words of former mayor of Bagota: “A developed country isn’t a place where the poor have a car, it is a place where the rich use public transport.” Another billboard said, “Wake up to walk. Prep up to pedal.”

To achieve this end the open streets organisers gave away 100 prizes to public transport users travelling by BMTC buses that day. Fifty gift coupons each worth Rs 500 and 50 special commemorative cards (3D cards costing Rs 500 each and pre-loaded with currency worth Rs 500) were given away to the lucky 100. These commemorative travel cards can be used for 10 years and the commuter needs to recharge periodically.

The open street day on M G Road, the third such carnival, emerged as the biggest of the three. The first open street was organized in HSR Layout on September 20 in 2015. Earlier this year, it was held at Commercial Street as well. Next in line is BTM Layout. Officials hope that this can be extended to Malleswaram and Jayanagar.

The open street concept has had a viral effect. On March 5, the residents of Raj Mahal Vilas 2nd Stage organized Namma Area Jatra(open street).  The Boulevard Park behind RMV Club wore a carnival-like atmosphere. Vendors showcased desi products. For a rustic touch there were bullock cart rides besides pottery making, tattoos for children and performances by folk artistes.

And the show goes on.  In the words of Fred Kent, founder and president of non-profit organisation Project for Public Spaces “if you plan cities for car and traffic, you get car and traffic.  If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places.”

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