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Can we leave the decision of how our public spaces should evolve just to politicians?

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For those dazzled by the Palika Bazaar in New Delhi, the-re's something to look forward to right here. BBMP is mulling over the construction of a similar bazaar below Freedom Park. The underground Palika Bazaar impressed mayor D Venkatesh Murthy who visited the place on May 19. "It has been maintained very well and Bangalore needs one such market in the Central Business District," he told TOI. BBMP has plans to construct an underground parking complex beneath Freedom Park. "One more floor for parking, in addition to the two planned, will be added. The project will be included in the budget," he said.

For the full report in the ToI, click here.

Freedom Park, I would consider, is the only decent public space created by the city in recent history. Do we want to destroy that now by this hare-brained idea of a Paalika bazaar type shopping complex?

In this context, the following excerpts from a reoport in the New Indian Express (for the full text, click here), quoting Sri C S Krishna Setty, chairman of Karnataka Lalithakala Academy, commenting on the newly built horse sculptures across the city, comes to bear:

"These grotesque statues do not represent anything. They are destroying the image of the city and show the artists in bad light. They are cliched statues put up in various parts of the world. The government should remove them immediately. He expressed the urgency for the formation of Karnataka Art Commission which would consist of eminent and experienced artists, sculptors, art critics and architects. “The commission must also be given the rights to make any decisions related to the field of art. By taking up such steps, we will be able to bring out the real beauty of the city,” he added.

Back in Sept'08, when a proposal for a "Rs 1,000-crore, 45-storey interchange terminal where BMTC, KSRTC and Namma Metro services would converge, at the Majestic bus stand" came up, I had commented as below (for the full text, click here). Don't know what is the fate of that, now.

Now, the old jail complex became the 'Freedom Park' (yet to be completed) following a fairly transparent ideas/ architectural competition. With that kind of a precedent in place, I think we should now be demanding that all future developments relating to public places should go through a similar process. Prem Chandavarkar, a leading architect of Bangalore, had some time back suggested that we should have something on the lines of New York's Design Trust in Bangalore also.

We already have institutions like the Lalit Kala Academy, Urban Arts Commission, Bangalore Environment Trust, Namma Bengaluru Foundation, etc functioning in the city, apart from numerous environment protection groups. Shouldn't the government be involving all of these to form something on the lines of New York's Design Trust to decide on how our public spaces should be developed, rather than leaving it to a one-year Mayor, or the odd politician, to pursue his/ her pet schemes, however grotesque, apart from unviable, they may be?

Muralidhar Rao


idontspam's picture

Very good topic, Freedom park

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Very good topic, Freedom park is an excellent example of the benefit of having open competitions for public spaces. There are so many creative people & architects in the city who can provide excellent designs. Consititue a committee with citizens & architects who can pick some intelligent designs from an open competition. Since when was BBMP capable of designing public spaces, they cant even paint straight lines on the roads.

Ravi_D's picture

Politicians are needed....

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I don't necessarily like the types we have in power, but, if not them, who will initiate? It is their job, isn't it?

Real question I guess is: Do we have enough checks in our system to validate their proposals?

Specific design issues - not their cup of tea. I'd rather have the politicians come up with an intent (need a paalika bazaar type thing in BLR CBD, beutify BLR CBD intersections) and may be a potential budget. Then get an expert team to decide on possible options and designs.

silkboard's picture

go a bit deep, talk local

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If you think about it, the real issue with Bangalore is the concept of BBMP itself. There really is no Bangalore as such. There is Indiranagar, Ashok Nagar, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Malleswaram, Rajrajeshwari nagar etc etc. We should define a locality by a combination of history, poulation and geographical size. A public space belongs to a locality first. They should have their own council to decide what they want to do with it.

For interests with larger geographical spread, like transportation, there could be facilitating agencies who would make multiple city councils sit and talk on one table and make them agree to larger projects, but these agencies would be run by a group of people picked from elected councils of each locality.

If you let me run our city, there would be no BBMP. There would be about 30-40 cities inside what we know as Bangalore. And councils of each these 30-40 cities would decide how many more houses should be costructed in their area, how much public space they should or they should not have, what fonts and languages they should use on the sign boards in their area and so on and so forth.

Not that we don't know all this. But think a bit, and you may realize that the reason BBMP is so dysfunctional is because there is no such single administative unit as Bangalore that we can connect with. I don't want to elect a representative for ward #xyz, who would be just one vote in this so called BBMP council. I want to elect a rep from my 4-5 streets for my Mahadevapura or Whitefield council. I can connect better then. Chances that I will 'participate' more would be higher. And chances that I will take a baby step into public life myself would also be higher. Build on from this, and you may get better politicians :)

And then we will see the who and how of deciding about these "public spaces".

Promod Kapur's picture

Public Spaces-go a bit deeper

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I like the principle behind silkboard's idea. Decenralisation achieves more participation of people  willin the mangement of their neighbourhood. After all they are the principal stake holders of t heir neighbourhood. It also brings in more transparency and accountability in the management of the local issues. However there will be issues that are beyond local management and for that we will need another tier of  body. Current set up of a large Corporation (BBMP) is not only dysfunctional but is does not have the structure to handle myriad problems that citizens have to confront on the ground.

s_yajaman's picture

SB - not so sure

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Yes - local people ought to have a say in what goes on but am not so sure about the rest of the stuff.  A rose by any other name is a rose.  If not BBMP it would be JMP.   

I lived in Chandigarh and it was possibly the best kept city I have seen but managed by the Union Govt!!!  In fact I could argue that two levels of corruption did not exist (the corporator and the MLAs).  There were parks in every sector, open grounds, cycle and cycle rickshaw lanes, well maintained roads, markets for each sector with ample parking, etc etc.   

Some years back the solution that was touted was the corporation elections and how that would bring more local participation.  That has not worked as well.  Why? There are some 180 wards (which come close to your defn of localities).  Why are we unable to participate where the average ward size is 3 sq km and population is 40000?  

(Jayanagar, JP Nagar, etc are all creations of BBMP.  Essentially from a historical point of view there is the cantonment areas and the Kannada dominated areas - Malleshwaram, NR Colony and Basavanagudi.  All the rest is BCC's creation anyway.  Bangalore was decently managed then - the roads were tarred, footpaths were in good shape, no garbage problem of today's scale.)

What stops public spaces from being "owned" by the locality today?  The indifference of people.  We can keep blaming the sun, the moon, the parliamentary system but we are an indifferent lot for the most part. My wife and a few others have worked with the BBMP to revive a lake.  When it came to contributing something to its upkeep the most stingy were the apartment complexes in the neighbourhood!  So much for local participation.

Near my father's house was a playground - the only one for children of that area.  In no time a temple came up (this on a secular public space) and there is no space left to play.  Would that be a fair use of space no matter that a majority decided it.

BBMP is a scam no doubt and was done so that more tax could be collected for a government that knows only two sources of revenue - stamp duty and car life time tax.  But I fear that you are being a bit rosy eyed about how small localities will take us to some Indian version of small-town America where every one lived happily ever after.  Ever seen apartment committee politics?


Drive safe.  It is not just the car maker which can recall its product.

kbsyed61's picture

Notion of small is beautiful!

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The notion of small councils would be better for managing and ensuring development that makes sense might not be true. Any form of govt or council needs financial stability to succeed. On top of it if democratic traditions are to be followed, members have to be elected.

The state of smaller created in past 2 decades are testimony to political instability and financial viability of these states is point in the case.

Another aspect to be kept in mind is, if the smaller councils to be considered, richer areas would be able to more dev activities and not so rich will not able to do so.

Take the example of of Los Angeles City - Actually has smaller cities manged by their own civic agency  - LA City, Hawthorne, Torrance, Lomita, Graden Grove, Irvinne, Cerritos, Artesia, Culver City, Hollywood, Palos Verdes etc. to name a few

Each of these cities presents different looks based upon how rich each of these cities residents are and how much revenue each civic agency garners.

murali772's picture

Urban Commons

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Urban commons have radical potential – it's not just about community gardens

A rise in commonly owned spaces and services hopes to reclaim the city for the public good, providing a participatory alternative to exclusive urban development. But how can it be upscaled from local garden projects?

For the full text of the article in The Guardian, click here.

An interesting read alright

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