Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We need Public Spaces!

"The measure of any great civilization is its cities and a measure of a city's greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares." -John Ruskin

Kerala's tryst with urbanism has an interesting history. Our urbanism has almost always been in places where cultures from 'elsewhere' have interfaced with the local. The Jews Street and the other inner street network spaces in Mattancherry, Kochi or Kalpathy Street in Palakkad are good examples. We do have interesting local urban places too like the Market Square at Changanassery or Ernakulam and the Chalai market at Thiruvananthapuram.
Our Temple grounds too aspired to be quality urban places, though they fell short most of the time. The pooram grounds at Thrissur could be close to a good one.

Lets admit that historically, we weren't so great in our “publicness”. The average malayali still finds it difficult to include his neighbourhood as part of his imagined territory. We are seriously confined to the boundaries of our plots, to our withins, to our familial bonds!

But, the need for urban space is a much larger issue. Its an expression of our culture, our civility, our togetherness, a reflection of the quality of our association with Nature around us and a lot more. We need to come to terms with this aspect. There is a feedback process too. A city with no open space structure or semblance of public spaces shall never produce people of quality. A decadence would set in and turn cancerous on the quality of our culture. Has it already?

Today, we gather together in our cultural referral space, the Movie Hall! A space that is closed and dark that makes do with an illusion of reality thrown in as compensation. Its a one way communication. There is no cultural exchange. The stars are our cultural artefacts!

We need public spaces. For ourselves, for our children, for the worth of the nature around us.


  1. I think you should also write about what constitutes good elements for a good public spaces in Present cities of Kerala. You are right, Malayalis arent known for active public space usage,as we consider it wasteful to spend time on streets, other than ofcourse, during political strikes. Our climate is not conducive to most western concepts. So what works? Gandhi Park in TVM would be one of the modern additions to the city, and it works, to a large extent, mainly due to the location, the strong pedestrian axis, need for organised parking in the area, and the shaded pavillions. Maybe you should pen a book on public spaces of kerala.

  2. Thanks for your comments Sony. It is worthwhile to explore whats a relevant expression of public space in our hostile day time heat and glare. A roof above throws up a whole lot of other issues. Colonnaded verandahs on street edges or add-ons passages to the building at the street edge can work provided there are Urban Design controls that encourage them and also, ensure quality onnectivity (like your example of strong pedestrian axis)