Art Culture Society / Ecology/ Environment / education

Shared spaces: enriched culture, community and civic life

With increasing pressure on urban and rural spaces, there is a looming crisis ahead of us in the next few decades. How will we negotiate scarcity of physical spaces with our cultural, emotional and spiritual spaces for “the other” getting squeezed more and more. There is a major onslaught on pluralistic vision of future living in urban and now, also rural spaces. There is less and less accommodation shown for sharing our spaces with in and outside with those who may need it but can not access it or afford it.

Let me begin with clean drinking water taps on the walls of public and private  institutions outside their boundaries for pedestrians to quench their thrust. Public health experts will tell us that not drinking enough water is one of the major reason for accumulating toxins in our body causing various adverse consequences. But those who can not afford spending 10-15 rs per litre, work hard, perspire, but can not get enough water to drink, suffer because of stinting behaviour of those who any way use more than 200 litre per capita per day. Why do not architects include some of the common functionalities of public wall as a part of public responsibilities, positive externalities for all the privatization of natural resources we do: a) providing at least one public water drinking tap, preferably covered with  a small shade from sun, and rain; b) display of daily energy and common water used per capita, recycled and reused, so that some is left for other less resourceful to use ( municipal corporation must make it obligatory for every one seeking water from it to share this information; c) temporary sheds protruding outside of wall outside during rains for people to stand for a few hours and d) at least ten percent common spaces to be left by every housing society for street children and elderly, outside their wall etc. How do we make the urban society more inclusive without specific steps taken to make city liveable for every section of society. Almost entire discussion on smart cities is devoid of sensitivity about need to share spaces with disadvantaged citizen? When have we seen playgrounds for children on street corners.  Mexico  city provides such spaces in majority of localities. Even the privileged families come here and let children mingle with the less privileged ones. It is such shared spaces which help in constructing communities. If we don’t get into each other’s way, why will we learn to negotiate and give and take; how else the foundation of civic society be laid. Spaces under flyovers be used for setting up tinkering lab for street vendors, children and other women and men workers. NITI Aayog,  better pay attention to such unmet social needs and reduce the ever increasing gap between haves and have nots lest social amity becomes difficult to maintain.

As a part of CINE course at IIMA, I take students for a walk behind the houses of class 4,3,2 and 1 employees in our campus. Where would one find common spaces be most clean, well preserved and shared amiably? Of course, behind the houses of class 4 employees. They have no choice. If ladies of the house have to cook in one room apartment, elders of the family have to sit in open space, cleaning it becomes imperative. But compulsive sharing has to be complimented by voluntary sharing. In the morning, several staff members go around the campus plucking flowers for their morning prayers. No body minds it. May such practices increase. Some staff still use firewood and one can witness gathering culture in the morning, when fallen/thrown wood and twigs are collected by such people.

We need to prioritise development of common shared spaces in all the parts of the cities to make them smart, free wifi in such places, free film shows, music performances by bands of college students will make city more liveable. IIMA cultural club in the past performed in orphanages, old people house and other such spaces. I hope such cultural practices continue even when I retire next year. In fact, I hope all colleges will start enriching shared spaces in the cities and rural areas. Civic-ness of civil society needs to be reinvented every day to sustain its vibrancy and cultural richness, diversity and pluralism.

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