As you walk down the street into “Friend’s Colony, Nagpur” where the University of Westminster design competition participants labour over the neglected piece of land, you witness the growing apprehension of neighbours, the excitement of children and a sense of pride in the eyes of the participants.
The work, taken up by the students of Priyadarshini Institute of Architecture and Design Studies, Nagpur, commenced almost two months ago. And since then, the interest and enthusiasm of the students has only gone up. Returning from school, going for a stroll, elderly and young all alike, seem to be waiting for this grand project to take shape and present to them the new garden on their doorstep, which they had been so eager to help construct.
The journey begins at the office of our municipal commissioner, Mr Shankar Hardikar, who when looked into the project guidelines, enthusiastically shared his ideas and encouraged such efforts to transform the urban pockets, left untended due to the rapid unplanned development of the city. The under-utilised spaces which turn into dump yards due to neglect is a great concern for not only urban planners but also the citizens living in close vicinity.
The site chosen lies within the locality of the residents in friend’s colony, which also has a slum abutting alongside. The residents, when approached for the first time, by the college students with the proposal to make their wasteland into a playing area for their kids, showed mixed reactions; some sceptical to the abilities of the students to complete the task by their promised sustainable materials, some warming up to the idea of participating in the process themselves and some enthusiastic to witness the change for their kids.
Once the site surroundings had been surveyed, authorities informed and support gathered, searching for materials which could be used for sustainable use and easy installation began. The site, triangular in nature with roads along two sides and the boundary wall of residential buildings on the third, was stripped off of what broken tiles, stones, and weed it had grown.
Every day, while the beautification of the boundary wall was underway, one could notice the curious eyes of the residents and the hesitation which followed seeing their kids interact with the slum children. The aim was to involve all kids without any heed to “who” belonged “where” and instil a feeling of this is “ours”. A place where everyone felt an ownership and responsibility to take care of what is theirs’. Thus, young, adolescent and adult alike, lend a helping hand in the plantation of trees, painting of the walls, gathering waste materials like broken tiles and bricks and painting of various stones and tires. One could see, the line of division between the communities, taking a turn to become the thread of friendship.
The play areas which had been designed by the students were tactfully thought of, to improve the physical as well as mental activity amongst the children. These include the “maze of tires” which were created by burying tires vertically into the ground halfway through. This game was enhanced by tying off ropes across the pathway of the route for children to find ways to cross over and under the ropes. The centre of the maze holds a very innovative installation made out of waste plywood, PVC pipes and metal sections which held LED lights in position. This interactive play area includes a placard which asks the children to gather various materials and further beautify the tree. Not only are they children made to think creatively, but also their physical activity is catered to by means of this maze. Another play area which has had a great response from the kids is the “monkey bar”. Made out of timber posts creating a cubical frame, many coloured tires hang from the ropes.
The sand pit, which is the favourite play area for the toddlers holds their interest in a such a way that kids forget the passing of time and rejoice their free will to do as they wish in the sand.
To invoke a sensitisation towards the waste produced in the locality, a compost pit is constructed which aims at converting biodegradable waste into manure. This pit is so designed that, the biodegradable waste is decomposed and its nutrients directly supplied to the adjoining plants. This kind of a pit is known as “keyhole gardening” and is prominently used in various areas of the US.
The very interesting and unique feature of this garden is the pathways which are constructed with the use of waste tires. The pathway is constructed out of 40% of waste tires, along with stone dust and broken bricks making up the filling material. This is an excellent example of economic yet eco-friendly construction. A bounce in the step is definitely seen in the morning walks of the residents out to enjoy the fresh and active vibe of the garden.
An enormous amount of people has been connected to this project via the college of the participating students. All faculty members, students from all years and surrounding neighbours have helped take this project to the level it is at now. It is a matter of great pride to see, such brilliant acceptance of change in the society and a yearning for ‘more’.
We all have this notion of making a change for our society, we all crave that what is not yet achieved, and dream about what can be done ‘better’ or ‘more’, but how many of us have had the courage, the spark to light the fire? How many have we seen who ‘did’ and become the ‘doers’? The ‘changemakers’?
Unanimous efforts to bring a better lifestyle to the people, irrespective of their state of living will lead our cities to grow better and healthier, not only in terms of surroundings but also targeting the deeper roots of societal norms and welfare.
We must all share the fire to be the change and thus consume all the preconceptions that hinder our path to a greater city, a smarter city in all its aspects.