'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.
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
do these ‘innocent’ looking pavement stones get to become so dangerous?
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
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
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).
example documents a dramatic falling apart of a pavement. In two
years since the pavement was constructed, its edge has completely
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."
Ground Below', First City, May 2008
Pedestrians forced to walk on the road due to cluttered and uneven
Classic example of tiles caving in on a footpath due to uncompressed
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.
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.
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.
this article, we take a closer look at the actual construction of
one of these spaces, the pedestrian walkway -- the ground below.
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.
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.
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?
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!
"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
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.
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.
them Drive: Erasing the Pedestrian ’, First
City, March 2008
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.
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.
corner where pedestrians go headlong into incoming traffic,
as the pavement has been removed to accommodate colony gate.
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.
"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.
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.
In this column I'd like to share a few elements that have
eaten into the pavement space in my neighborhood, i.e.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of cement poles blocking entry to pavement along
Tikona Park in Hauz Khas.
low cosmetic wall leading into G-Block Hauz Khas
that serves no purpose and obstructs pedestrian
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.
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
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,
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
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
in the City’, First
City, February 2008
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.
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
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.
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.
activity is meant to equip the student with an additional skill
to document the element through a new medium and with a revised
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)