Written by Pranita Verma | Guided by Sophiya Islam
How often have you enjoyed street shopping and the vibrancy of marketplaces? How often do you see streets transforming into food havens? Have you reflected on the activities that invigorate streets in our cities?
Streets have been a traditional public space in India. As a renowned critic, A. Appadurai said, “Streets and their culture lie at the heart of public life in contemporary India. Especially in those many cities where urban housing is crowded and uncomfortable, and the weather is never too cold, streets are where much of life is lived“.
When we talk or read about Indian streets, it is often to criticise the condition of the road, the traffic, the noise or the congestion. While there are a lot of unresolved issues, Indian streets are great examples of vibrancy, synergy, and new experiences.
Backstreets of Mattancherry, Kerala © www.david baxendale.com
We often forget to recognise the everyday activities, people and physical character that give streets their identity. People use the streets for numerous activities - to socialise, spend their leisure time, play, walk, shop, eat, celebrate, and more. Streets are the places for businesses to thrive and are the source of income for retail, vendors and the city.
Street hierarchy in a city determines various functions of a street. The arterial streets enable heavy traffic flow whereas the collector streets host markets. Local streets are filled with everyday activities and contribute to the neighbourhood's social life.
The intersection of various necessary, optional activities and social activities make the streets a high-quality public realm and enhance our experience of the city. This article talks about three types of Indian streets - neighbourhood streets, market streets and food streets.
Mylapore Festival, Chennai © B Balaji
Neighbourhood streets are filled with a variety of activities. You can see people sitting on their verandah and talking, having a cup of tea, observing children playing in the street, bargaining with vegetable vendors and more. You may even find small tea stalls at the junctions, where people often socialise. Thus, neighbourhood streets hold different meanings for different user groups; playground for children, place of business for local vendors, social space for the elderly and more. Neighbourhood streets are full of stories, and play a strong role in creating vibrant communities.
A neighbourhood street in Puttaparthy, Andhra Pradesh © Herry Lawford
Market streets are usually full of people, as they offer an engaging experience, usually with a mix of permanent retail stores and street vendors. Occasionally during a particular season or festival, these streets become the location for temporary flea markets that sell specific items for cultural demands. An observation on market streets is the role of tree cover and temporary shade elements in determining the location of vendors. The display of items on these streets is also worth observing, as it is the most important aspect of market streets. A striking display of clothes, accessories and decor catches the eye during the day and glitters with lights by the night. Such active market streets are great examples of safe public places in the city.
Law Garden Market, Ahmedabad © Shreni Dand
India's street food culture is very well known. From small 1sq.m. stalls to food trucks at the street corners, the street food business has always attracted people due to its affordability and variety. Often streets that are a hub of permanent retail shops transform into busy food streets in the evening after the closure of shops. These streets are a delight for the users as they enjoy the aromatic smells of food and the vibrant night life. Hence, such food streets are always swamped by people and become a go-to place in the city, for locals as well as tourists.
Sarafa Bazaar, Indore © Indian Tripster
While Indian streets still have many issues to be resolved, they often offer a vibrant public place for the people. These streets go through numerous transformations to respond to the changing context.