Past Issue
 
To sensitise people towards their urban environment, Navtej Johar has started writing a regular column on 'Power of Seeing' in First City, Delhi's city magazine, starting February 2008.

'Hemming the Way: Our Un-tethered Pavements', First City, June 2008
By Navtej Johar


Example of blocks placed without preparing ground or applying any adhering treatment to secure them to the ground.


April 2006: The tarmac on the road is not laid evenly to bleed to the edge so as to reinforce the side of the pavement.


November 2007: In time, the unsupported blocks begin to graducally fall, resulting in cracks on the top of the pavemement.

 

A pavement stone/s sitting along the edge or lying in the middle of the road causing grave danger to motorists, especially during night driving – this is not an uncommon sight on Delhi roads. However, in case of accidents caused by these wayward pavement stones lying on the carriage way, the onus may often be placed on the driver and the case registered as one of "negligent driving".

How do these ‘innocent’ looking pavement stones get to become so dangerous?

Reason: They are no longer anchored or adhered to the ground they were meant to stand upon!

These days Delhi pavements are being redone with new asphalt blocks lining the edges; these blocks when neatly lined can give definition to the pavement and also help in hemming-in the raised pedestrian surface. Thus they are not only cosmetic but also serve the purpose of containing the pavement, for which they must be securely anchored.

In this issue we focus on the anchoring of pavement stones, looking at ways in which they are (a) anchored or adhered to the ground they stand upon, and (b) reinforced by material or surfaces that come in direct contact with them.

The principles of sound construction require that all materials used, i.e. the tarmac, asphalt blocks and adhering agent (cement) must all work in conjunction with each other, keeping in mind the properties of each material, to result in a secure and long lasting pavement.  

A pavement stone/s sitting along the edge or lying in the middle of the road causing grave danger to motorists, especially during night driving – this is not an uncommon sight on Delhi roads. However, in case of accidents caused by these wayward pavement stones lying on the carriage way, the onus may often be placed on the driver and the case registered as one of "negligent driving".

How do these ‘innocent’ looking pavement stones get to become so dangerous?

Reason: They are no longer anchored or adhered to the ground they were meant to stand upon!

These days Delhi pavements are being redone with new asphalt blocks lining the edges; these blocks when neatly lined can give definition to the pavement and also help in hemming-in the raised pedestrian surface. Thus they are not only cosmetic but also serve the purpose of containing the pavement, for which they must be securely anchored.

In this issue we focus on the anchoring of pavement stones, looking at ways in which they are (a) anchored or adhered to the ground they stand upon, and (b) reinforced by material or surfaces that come in direct contact with them.

The principles of sound construction require that all materials used, i.e. the tarmac, asphalt blocks and adhering agent (cement) must all work in conjunction with each other, keeping in mind the properties of each material, to result in a secure and long lasting pavement.  

In our attempt to examine the pavements and see how they become unfriendly to pedestrians and dangerous to motorists, we share with you a few close-ups of Delhi pavements, pointing to factors that result in the asphalt blocks along the edges coming off:

· First and most basic omission lies in the fact that these blocks are simply placed on the ground without applying any adhering treatment that would anchor them.

· In the second example we revisit a pavement where the tarmac did not bleed to the edge of the carriage way thus supporting against the base of the asphalt blocks, reinforcing them. Sure enough, as suspected, within a year we see a wide crack developing at the top (there are other reasons too that result in these cracks, but we will addressed them in later articles as they do not pertain to the current focus of adhering the blocks to the ground).

· The third example documents a dramatic falling apart of a pavement. In two years since the pavement was constructed, its edge has completely come off.

 
 
   
   
 
 
   
 
 
Photo document of an edge of a pavement on Aurobindo Marg that has been slowly faling apart over the last two years,
littering the road with cement blocks.


It is important to note that we now use specially commissioned expensive material on our roads. However, since a few common-sense details are consistently overlooked in the actual placement and adhering of the material to the site, this material becomes hazardous rubble in the path of both pedestrians and drivers.  

Through our "Power of Seeing Project" we attempt to look closely at our urban environment, our streets and public spaces, with the aim to identify and list factors that may be contributing to urban chaos.

At this stage the project involves inviting school and college students to adopt a street element in their immediate neighbourhood and document its history over a period of time, and in the process discover factors -- big and small -- that make our streets and urban spaces inconvenient or even unsafe.

In a way this exercise "states the obvious" - the obvious factors which are actually glaring and open to the eye, and yet have the potential of going undetected and thus unregistered for generations. The collation and comparison of our collected urban case histories reveals that these detected flaws are not isolated instances but are replicated endless number of times all over the city, and thereby they constitute patterns that permeate techniques of city-building.    

Through this column, we invite your participation in the Power of Seeing Project. All we are doing at this stage is listing and documenting factors that lead to chaos in our urban spaces and further force a disconnection with our environment. If you see these flawed patterns permeating into your neighbourhood, please document them. These will both add to our bank of case histories plus widen the network of "seers" within the city. We need to see, and we need to see together. That is the first step. Documenting case histories excites a considered and concerned act of looking, seeing and connecting with our immediate environment, which happens to be our city. We need a better city, but we don't need to superimpose foreign models upon ourselves, aping the West or a Singapore. We can create our own indigenous model that is friendly to humans and in harmony with nature. But for this we first need to express and excite that initiative to connect and it actually begins with "seeing."  
 

'The Ground Below', First City, May 2008


Pedestrians forced to walk on the road due to cluttered and uneven footpath.

 


Classic example of tiles caving in on a footpath due to uncompressed ground below.

 

The Power of Seeing is a project that looks closely at the obvious and the not so obvious reasons that contribute to chaos on our streets. A street comprises of a number of elements, and all these elements need to be properly defined and allocated a definite space in order to insure order on the street, demarcations being crucial to urban design. Thus, a) these spaces need to be first defined on the drafting table, and b) then they need to be executed on the ground in a way that they stay contained within their parameters. If street elements begin to spill out of their marked territory they begin to blur boundaries between and contribute to chaos.

Let us identify the two most basic spaces on the road, one being the carriage way or that part of the road on which vehicles run and the other being the footpath on which pedestrians walk or wait. Both these spaces share two common features, one being the quality of the surface and two being their demarcations. The first determines the flow of traffic upon it and the second aims at segregating the two types of users, the wheeled as opposed to the legged. And it is important to maintain this distinction in order to ensure the free flow of traffic and safe human movement.

However, in Indian cities it is commonplace to find pedestrians walking alongside the moving vehicles on the carriage way. This mixture of two distinctly different kinds of bodies moving through the same space and at varying speeds is extremely hazardous as well obstructs the free flow of traffic. But this is our reality. In fact pedestrians and vehicles moving side by side has become part of our urban-ethos or even culture. This is a direct result of haphazard planning, designing, demarcation and construction of these two spaces.


In this article, we take a closer look at the actual construction of one of these spaces, the pedestrian walkway -- the ground below.

There are many reasons why pedestrian pathways are not suitable for walking. Reasons that either force or prompt the pedestrians — by simply not being walk-friendly — to walk on the road: one primary factor being the uncompressed ground beneath the pedestrian footpaths.

The quality of the surface upon which we walk determines the flow of our movement. Most of us tend to take walking for granted and may tend to ignore the condition of the surface but we have all have taken care to tend the surface whenever the user has been a toddler, an elderly, disabled or injured person.

In order to achieve an even pedestrian surface, the first thing to look into is the leveling of the ground below, the very earth we stand upon. Of course this is very obvious and does not bear mention, leave alone reiteration. None of us will let a contractor get away without leveling the earth before he lays the flooring of out house; but we not only let the local authorities get away without doing it, most of us don’t even notice it. Is it because we don’t care, or we are simply overwhelmed by the surrounding chaos or we don’t expect anything better from the local authorities?

All over our city, very expensive tiles are being laid out without effectively preparing the ground below. This preparation requires evenly compressing the earth upon which the tiles are laid. The earth is not compressed and is left still soft or soggy when the tiles are laid atop it. As a result, virtually within days it begins to dry or collapse under the tiles, the tiles cave in. The cemented seams joining the tiles crack, the tiles come apart and begin to come loose, and within no time the pavement is undone. The very tiles that are meant to offer smooth passage for pedestrians now break, litter the space, and become garbage dumps. Thus becoming obstacles in the way of the pedestrian!

The "Power of Seeing Project" is a guided exercise in identifying elements in detail that contribute to chaos in our urban-scapes. It involves not only the government and the municipal corporations but a proactive involvement of the citizens who need to look, see register and thereby begin to identify with their environment. We invite community participation, if you can detect similar examples in your neighbourhood, please send us a photo with a brief map of the location so that we may add to the bank of our urban case histories.

"The Power of Seeing" is a Studio Abhyas project initiated by dancer and yoga exponent Navtej Johar. It questions the absence of the human body as a central point of reference in urban design, making our cities inconvenient, unsafe and hazardous. (www.abhyastrust.org).

 

 


A side view of the uncompressed loose rubble which cannot evenly support the footpath tile.

 


Tiles dislodged as a result of sinking in of uncompressed ground below, invite garbage collection.

 


Loosened stray tiles that litter the road creating obstruction to traffic flow.


 

To sensitise people towards their urban environment, Navtej Johar and Dr. Mona Mehta at Studio Abhyas have started writing a regular column on 'Power of Seeing' in First City, Delhi's city magazine, starting February 2008.

‘Let them Drive: Erasing the Pedestrian ’, First City, March 2008

By Navtej Johar


Cities are built for people, rich and poor alike, who have bodies that need space. In India the majority of these bodies traverse through urban spaces on foot, on two-wheelers or public transport while a privileged few move around in four-wheeled vehicles. But the urban spaces seem to be designed from the point of view of the four-wheelers. A jarring example of this is the AIIMS flyover, a very proud PWD fixture, which has made life for many of us very convenient, but has totally obliterated the pedestrian who has to cross over from AIIMS to INA market. There is absolutely no provision for any pedestrian crossing over that maze of fast moving curvaceous lanes, forcing the able and the disabled two-legged to walk on the divider or the carriage way braving the impatient Delhi traffic.  I've actually seen a patient being wheeled on a chair from the hospital to the INA bus-stop amidst speeding cars. This cannot be seen as a mere oversight, this is a design-crime. Just as we now have tribunals to book war-criminals, we need to start a tribunal against design crimes in this country! God alone knows how many citizens succumb daily to faulty design and poor maintenance of urban spaces.

There are death traps strewn everywhere in this city and these are direct results of unpardonable, gross negligence at every stage from pre-planning to execution of urban design. Do pedestrians find no space on the designing tables of urban designers in this country?  Surely that is not entirely the case, because there are many pedestrian subways that are cropping up in the city, although many of them seem to be either an after-thought or built without any real survey or thought. What is questionable is the amount of care, attention-to-detail and the quality of maintenance that goes into it.  


Blind corner where pedestrians go headlong into incoming traffic, as the pavement has been removed to accommodate colony gate.

Like most Indian cities, Delhi is continually growing upon and within itself; so it is understandable if there are areas where it is truly difficult to allocate separate spaces for pedestrians. But if we begin to focus on the condition of pedestrian spaces that are specially allocated for that purpose, it will begin to reveal our attitudes towards our bodied-selves.  One look at the pavements in your area and it will tell how convinced we are about the importance of pedestrian spaces.

The "Power of Seeing Project" is about seeing, adopting and documenting elements in our immediate urban environments. We don't want to be overwhelmed by the larger picture of chaos that surrounds us but focus on one thing at a time that lends to the surrounding disorder. And of course as is the nature of seeing, the more carefully we look the more we learn about the object of our focus, and that is—as we have realized through the course of this project—both informative and empowering.


In this column I'd like to share a few elements that have eaten into the pavement space in my neighborhood, i.e. Hauz Khas.   

  • The turn from Ch. Dalip Singh Marg (or the HZ Police Station road) to the main HZ market, is a very dangerous curve for pedestrians, it is (a) a blind curve by design and, (b) the narrow pavement that around the corner house has been sacrificed to accommodate a colony gate-post in the middle of the road; so pedestrians making a right turn on to the Police Station road walk headlong into incoming traffic.
  • The mouth of a rather nice pavement that runs along the length of the Tikona Park has been clogged with a pile of huge cement poles while the side has been nicely fenced in, thus making the pavement un-accessible and invisible to the pedestrians. So, the ample pavement has been cordoned off forcing the pedestrians to walk in the middle of the street.
  • The RWA has decided to build a cosmetic low wall leading into G block which serves no purpose but adds one more element that obstructs the way of the pedestrian.

When we run the eye along our urban-scapes, the disorder is relentless. Literally every square yard tells its own story of disarray. And it is important to begin to look at the specifics carefully, to register them and collate the information.  We encourage you to take a look around, adopt an urban element, send us a photograph along with a report of its condition, stating if is potentially hazardous and including instances of minor or major accidents that it may have caused.


Pile of cement poles blocking entry to pavement along Tikona Park in Hauz Khas.


A low cosmetic wall leading into G-Block Hauz Khas
that serves no purpose and obstructs pedestrian path.
Reporting urban faults to the authorities may or may not be an effective means as yet; in spite of the RTI factor, we may be still up against a very opaque body of government agencies that decide and control our fate.  In fact one of the aims of our project is to have the authorities publicize numbers of agencies that are responsible for the maintenance of urban elements, so that if we see a hazardous element we can pick up the phone and report. But till such time that this remains a dream, we are at Studio Abhyas, have started a citizens' initiative of reporting these elements to ourselves and creating a bank of information.  There is a case for pedestrians, for ourselves, and we need to make a bank of case histories. More comprehensive our case histories, the stronger our case, and the more empowered we are to ask for and envision a sane environment.

Over the next few months we hope to draw attention to a score of elements that lead to a "methodical" manufacturing of debris that invades our environment and makes negotiation of urban spaces hazardous. We invite your involvement and contributions.

 

PROJECT NOTES

"A divider is built to partition the road and make space for people to walk… but part of it is broken and no one is there to complain about it." - Sarthak Arora, student, Bluebells School International, New Delhi, on spotting a broken divider, a common sight in the city.

PROJECT NOTES
"We should not put rubble on footpath or outside on the road, it is dangerous for children and can cause much damage…" - Daksh Mathur and Brijender Singh, students, Bluebells School International, New Delhi.


About the Author: Navtej Johar is a Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and a yoga exponent (www.navtejjohar.com). He is the founder of Studio Abhyas, a non-profit organization dedicated to yoga, dance, urban design and the care of stray animal. (www.abhyastrust.org)

 

To sensitise people towards their urban environment, Navtej Johar and Dr. Mona Mehta at Studio Abhyas have started writing a regular column on 'Power of Seeing' in First City, Delhi's city magazine, starting February 2008.

‘Body in the City’, First City, February 2008

By Navtej Johar

I am a dancer and a yoga practitioner, so what am I doing with urban design. This is the first question I am asked each time I introduce the "Power of Seeing", an urban design project that we have undertaken at Studio Abhyas over the last three years. The common denominator that ties dance and yoga is the human body, and it is the absence of the
"body" as the central point of reference in our urban design that draws us to take up the issue.

POWER OF SEEING

Most Indian cities are made without any consideration of the human body; our urban spaces are downright disrespectful, if not dangerous, to the human body, as though holding the body in contempt. And both the authorities and the citizenry are equally culpable; in fact, the first ground rule of this project is that there can be no finger-pointing! We are all responsible for the urban chaos that we live in; and somewhere, somehow we collectively allow, facilitate and endorse it.
The Power of Seeing Urban Design Project (UDP) examines our urban environments from the view point of the human body, of how it relates to the needs, comfort, convenience and safety of the human body.
Unfortunately, in times when ergonomics has quite become the norm for designing world over, the body is yet to occupy the center of our urban design initiative. The UDP is divided into a series of exercises, beginning with an exercise in "seeing". According to the Yoga Sutras, a text that has obliquely inspired this project, if one trains focus and attention upon a particular object over a period of time, then that object may reveal itself, its dynamics and its story simply due to the result of sustained observation upon it.


UDP Report card which includes remarks, photo and map of adopted street element


The UDP outreach program requires each participant to adopt one civic-element in his/her immediate environment, i.e. an "element" that has been designed and provided to serve in the interest of the public, but is in effect either inconveniencing or is downright hazardous, e.g. a malfunctioning traffic light, a confusing or misleading road sign, a dangerous turn, a broken pavement, an unpainted speed-bump, an uncovered manhole, dangerously located bus stop etc. The child is then required to document the element in detail through photographs, maps, narratives, reports, news-clippings etc. over a period of at least six months.

A range of methodologies of documenting, researching and writing are taught to the student through a variety of activities including workshops by experts from different fields: architects, urban planners, designers, journalists, photographers, writers, sociologists, government policy makers, MCD officials, etc. They are taken on guided field trips to inculcate observation skills. Students are also taught how they can use the RTI Act to seek answers and solutions.

Each activity is meant to equip the student with an additional skill to document the element through a new medium and with a revised perspective.

The result is: (a) the child learns to strike an affinity with his/her environment, and (b) it leads to very revealing case histories of these street elements.


Jaya Vohra, St. Mary's School

The plan is to send the collected information which is meticulously documented with photographs, maps, dates and remarks on the report cards to the concerned officials heading the DDA, NDMC, PWD or the MCD.

Some schools have offered the use of their compound walls to display phone numbers of concerned government personnel directly responsible for civic amenities in that neighborhood.
Based on this process of documentation and the input of experts, the UDP further proposes to develop communications material: a traveling exhibition, short educational films, a game of flash-cards and a street-spectacle. The workshops, exhibition and the performance-spectacle will all address and seek alternatives to faulty and dangerous urban designing, plus examine the callous attitude of both the authorities and the public towards public property.

We hope to create prototypes of communication materials and methodologies that are being developed so that they that could be replicated in schools in Delhi as well as other cities, thus broadening the outreach of the "Power of Seeing" project.

The idea is to tap into the observation and creativity of children and engage them in imagining solutions to the urban disorder. Our vision is slowly becoming a reality and we hope that it will in time become a movement. We invite all of you to support us and join us in this endeavor.

About the Author: Navtej Johar is a Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and a yoga exponent (www.navtejjohar.com). He is the founder of Studio Abhyas, a non-profit organization dedicated to yoga, dance, urban design and the care of stray animal. (www.abhyastrust.org)

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