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Street Insights

Written by Khushi Khan | Edited by Sophiya Islam

The study of public places has always been an important element of architectural and urban studies. What acts as a pivot to the diverse theories in urban studies is the common urge to talk about 'ideal' public places and their subsequent implementation. A cross-border comparative analysis showcases that despite the foundational elements of studying and constructing public spaces being common, their societal understanding and political maintenance differ.

Delving deeper into this transnational public space phenomenon becomes a necessity to ponder over improving public places, especially for the homeless for whom streets are essential spaces of survival. Through this, we can identify possible interventions to improve the management of such spaces by assimilating the world's best practices, (with of course cultural tailoring) to suit our needs and demands. The improved management will help consolidate a reimagined identity of robust, inclusive, and porous Indian public spaces, especially for the homeless.

Temporary shelter on a footpath in Ahmedabad © Sophiya Islam

As per Real Stories, 8,00,000 children go missing in India every year. They either run from homes, due to conflict in families, abuse, neglect or are abandoned by parents due to lack of income to sustain them (as per World Bank estimates 21% of families ‘survive’ on $2 per day, in India). These children find shelter in shabby slums juxtaposing tall buildings in metropolitan cities. Due to the poor hygiene management of the slums, 2 million children die every year, i.e., about 1 child every 15 seconds.

But is this dark reality just an ‘Indian anomaly’ or is it a global problem?

Comparative analysis showcases that the conditions outside of India are also grave, if not the same. Since the issues of managing and maintaining public spaces goes beyond the Indian borders to enmesh into other Asian nations, there is a need to find inter-border solutions for the same. Also, since the menace of poverty and disorderly families is the foundational reason for abandonment in most countries, addressing these two key problems should be prioritised.

New delhi © EPS | The New Indian Express

Additionally, studies show that NGOs and religious organisations contribute largely to solving the problem of homelessness in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, thereby accounting for street children as 0.06% and 0.04 % of their population, respectively. However, in India, street children form 1.86% of our large 1.42 billion population. Striving to achieve the same in India will require the support of not only NGOs and religious bodies, but also the government. The ground issue of child abandonment should be addressed by strengthening punishment against child abandonment mentioned under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015. Safer mediums of surrendering a child, raising awareness about CARA, the MTP Act, and family planning must be initiated.

New Delhi © Nasir Kachroo | Al Jazeera

Enabling public places as temporary shelters

While the larger aim should be to provide a permanent housing solution, the first step should be to enable safety and hygiene in public places that provide temporary shelter for the homeless. Installation of clean public toilets, restrooms, and shower stations can improve the health and hygiene considerably. Along with this community kitchens can work towards providing regular meals. Government collaboration via food schemes can help in this regard. City administration must remain vigilant about the security on the streets. Smart solutions, like emergency calling devices, should be installed in public places so that any causality can be reported as the earliest.

It is important to understand that the idea of spaces will always be intertwined with power structures based on identities and discrimination, creating multiple boundaries and obstacles, often limiting the possible action and growth for underrepresented groups. However, if these spaces become a source of freedom as Foucault says, the possibility of these spaces will be defined by the ones living in them. In this sense, participation as freedom is not only the right to participate effectively in each space but the right to define and shape that space as per one's needs. It is high time we discuss this on the world stage because globalisation has undoubtedly made the world a ‘global village,’ but domestically in India there are millions still searching for a space to call ‘home.’


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