By Ritika Potnis:
On 24th January, the North Western suburbs of Mumbai saw more than 4000 people take part in events meant to reclaim the streets of Mumbai.
Kids, senior citizens, homemakers and just about everybody came out and participated in events that connected citizens with other citizens and the streets.“We got an amazing response from people this time. The event was divided into different zones namely Freedom, Appreciation, Love, Passion and Joy depending upon the nature of the activities,” said Ritika Arya, coordinator and organizer of Street Konnect. Programs such as belly dancing, Zumba, African community drumming, street theater, pottery, and yoga were the main attractions. Mumbai police also delivered a talk on how to be ‘street-smart’ and asked the citizens to be alert in their neighbourhoods.
Street Konnect is inspired by Equal Streets and Raahgiri. The event was tailored according to the vision of Equal Streets, ‘to reclaim the roads of Mumbai in order to correct the imbalance in how the roads are used in Indian cities.’
The Equal Streets movement was inspired by a project in Bogotá, Colombia where a similar experiment resulted in better public transport, cycling facility and walking infrastructure. Equal Streets vision statement explains that “Colombian cities like Bogotá, Cali and Medellin have shown the way where major arteries are thrown open to people every Sunday [morning]. It also has helped transform the neighborhood from drug wars fuelled to that of a world leader in the field of sustainable transport.”
In India, EMBARQ, a sustainable Urban Mobility project launched by World Resource Institute (WRI) took up the Indian leg of Equal Streets. WRI is a Non- Governmental global research organization founded in 1982. The organization seeks to create sustainable urban cities in countries like China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and the United States.
This movement was supported by NGOs that promote sustainable development and urban health and unity. Through this, the movement aims to bring about a change in the infrastructure and transport facilities in Mumbai and shift them towards non-motorized transport, women and children-friendliness and focus on road safety.
Based on similar lines is ‘Raahgiri Day’, an initiative of Raahgiri foundation in Gurgaon. Raahgiri Day lays emphasis on making the city of Gurgaon accessible to its residents and encourages the use of cycling, walking and public transport. To achieve this vision, the foundation organized activities that opened the roads to the public for activities such as walking, cycling and skating, dancing and yoga. This event has spread out to many places in North India including Delhi.
In a city like Mumbai, where the roads are engulfed in traffic and the footpaths by hawkers, this movement on a Sunday shut down traffic for four hours and reclaimed about three to six kilometers of the road as a platform for citizens to interact with government, NGOs and other citizens. Arya organization said, “we plan to have smaller but similar such events throughout the year to encourage community participation.”
Rashi Goyal, an Equal Street volunteer said, “this movement is not only expanding the importance of friendly roads but also encouraging community-based interaction.”
Megh Mittal, a 6th grade student, was excited to cycle on the roads for the first time. He said, “I was never allowed to cycle on the roads because of traffic but today I cycled for 2 km and enjoyed the freedom.”
This movement is fast catching up. Such events have already been conducted in many Indian cities including Pune and Navi Mumbai and will soon be expanding throughout India.