A call for safe, open spaces

They would not only add character and help bring people together, but also function as open markets and add economic value to our cities. Anupama Mohanram writes

When it comes to our urban spaces, the one key aspect that the pandemic has highlighted is the lack of social interaction outside our homes. We have now realised the dearth of accessible, open public spaces that would provide the kind of social interaction we need, albeit in a safe manner.

If designed well, such spaces could provide us an outlet during trying times. They would allow us to communicate with our neighbours, help participate in street life and also make way for or distancing and private ‘corners’. Brimming with greenery, these zones would be the lungs of our cities, providing us serenity in the midst of our hectic schedules and would enhance our overall quality of life. They would not only add character to our cities and help bring people together but also function as open markets to add economic value to the region.

Looking back in history, the Greek ‘Agoras’, Roman ‘Forums’ and Italian ‘Piazzas’ were examples of the classic open public space within the city’s centre. They served as a marketplace for economic activity as well as a gathering space for social interaction, thus forming the focal points of economic, social and even political activity. The zones provided an outlet to people to interact with others and helped foster creativity and innovation.

However, with modernism came the emphasis on functionality, leading to the fading away of such public spaces in the pretext of ‘development’. There was very little attention given to the open public space. Buildings came up with no connection to the rest of the city, leaving people with no escape from their enclosed built spaces.

Although government intervention is needed to ensure such central public spaces are brought back into our cities, they needn’t be contained in one area. We should look at our streets and neighbourhoods as smaller hubs that can be accessible to all. Planting and caring for a tree in front of our homes, building a bench for seating, and ensuring adequate lighting in our neighbourhood are a few small steps we can take to ensure safe public spaces.

As a result of this pandemic, people are more likely to invest in independent homes in lieu of apartments. Especially so, it is time we start re-imagining our cities and bring back safe, green and open public spaces, giving these unbuilt spaces as much importance as the built.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution,

a sustainable architecture firm

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