Participatory planning is an essential element of all project planning and implementation processes. It enables concerned parties to understand each other’s requirements and limitations and allows them to work together to reach solutions in consensus.
On July 6th, Transparent Chennai held its first design workshop for walkability with the community of Nanganallur where citizens worked together to design footpaths for their neighbourhood. Nearly 50 residents of the community, including the ward councillor, representatives of resident welfare associations and other local organisations, school students and teachers, and also people from the media attended and participated.
A few weeks ago, this community had surveyed and mapped a few select streets in the neighbourhood and the meeting started with a presentation of the data collected from that exercise. The data showed the present conditions as well as Indian standards of the various parameters that make up good pedestrian infrastructure like footpath continuity, footpath condition, presence of amenities, etc.
Following the presentation was a hands-on activity session where participants were divided into groups that were to design ideal street sections. Each team was given a blank street section that spanned property lines on the two sides of the street. They were also given a set of scaled images of components that make up a section of a footpath – frontages, pedestrian zones and furniture zones, and also given images of vehicles, trees, vendors, street lights, electrical poles, utility boxes, dustbins, etc. Using these, the groups designed street sections with various footpath widths and amenities that they thought would be ideal for their street.
The exercise generated lively discussions about current problems and ideal solutions that could be incorporated into street and footpath designs to make both pedestrian and vehicular traffic move smoothly and efficiently.
While design ideas surfaced through this interactive workshop, the most important aspect of the workshop was a better understanding of pedestrian infrastructure by the community. Initial design attempts reflected peoples’ limited understanding of footpaths where groups started with the complete removal of street parking and vendors. But when design options were explained to them, they were open to cooperation with the vendors and willing to provide space for vending and parking. This level of awareness and understanding by the community and the government is essential for providing and maintaining pedestrian infrastructure in Indian cities.
The design suggestions that surfaced during this workshop will form the basis for the pedestrian infrastructure design for Nanganallur. This will be presented to the government along with an implementation plan so that ideas that are best suited for the neighbourhood can be put in place.
Written by Kadambari Badami, researcher, Transparent Chennai
Photographs by Lalitha Selvarajan and slide image by Ranjeet Joseph