A city walks on footpaths. But where is the footpath?
By Vijay Phanshikar:
“A city rides on roads and walks on footpaths.” This is a remark by a well-known architect and town-planner on the sidelines of a national meet of town-planners from across the country held in Nagpur a few years ago. As Chief Planner of a State, this gentleman’s words carried the weight of gold. “The beauty of any city depends mostly on how it keeps its footpaths”, he added. This remark very well sums up the mentality of the people that govern or administer a city. In Nagpur, this one gets evidence of ill-managed our city -- or its road-system -- is, given the overall condition of its footpaths (or sidewalks, to use an American term).
Hence the current campaign by ‘The Hitavada’ highlighting the plight of the city’s footpaths -- “Where is the footpath?” The problem of the terrible management of footpaths, however, is not the recent issue in Nagpur. For years, nay decades, the city has seen a near-willful neglect of the footpaths, barring a very few exceptions where the footpaths appear to be better looked after. In most places, what is in witness is a near-total absence of understanding of why the footpaths should actually exist. Those who have seen well-managed cities not just in India but also elsewhere in the world realise that the civic authorities in Nagpur seem to ‘know’ the purpose of why footpaths should be there in the first. That is also why they have provided space for footpaths on most roads. Despite this, however, they also appear to have decided to ignore the footpaths altogether.
That explains why footpaths are in a terrible shape in most places along most roads across the city. Either the footpaths are totally neglected, or occupied illegally by the people without any fear of the the civic authorities who have made the law or the enforcers of the law -- the Police. Encroachment of footpaths, therefore, is so rampant, so widespread, so brazen. Because we -- the Nagpurians -- see the footpaths at various stages of bad management every day, we may not realise how terrible they look, or how they distort whatever good looks our city may boast of.
But let us take a good second look at our footpaths and we will realise what kind of a mess we have created on our roads, thanks to the way we neglect our footpaths, thanks to the civic authorities in a deep slumber, thanks to the comfort zones our Police force appears to be operating in ...! There is nothing political in this observation. Everything is related to bad civic management. Everything is related to the cloak of carelessness, callousness most of us -- the administrators and the people -- wear. And to make matters, we have also pulled over our face blind-folds that block our sight, let alone vision (which is too much of a far cry as far as our city is concerned).
That has necessitated the latest “Where is the footpath?” campaign of ‘The Hitavada’. Of course, there are among us quite many people who realise what kind of damage we are doing to the city’s persona as well as character when we mess up our footpaths. But such people seem to be in a minority, which is why their voices and their concerns and their lament do not reach the civic authorities. Such people -- who realise the damage the city suffers to its self-esteem because of bad management of the footpaths -- grieve every now and then. They also do not mind reminding the civic authorities of their basic duties and responsibilities. Alas, to no avail! Let alone this minority so conscious of how things should be, the majority among us cares a damn about the footpaths.
If the civic authorities are half responsible for the terrible conditions of our footpaths, the people in general must shoulder a bigger burden of responsibility in this regard. As a newspaper, ‘The Hitavada’ feels it its duty to show the mirror to the city, not in the manner of insulting our brothers and sisters, but by way of a necessary reminder of the fundamental citizenship duty. And we also show the same mirror to the civic managers of our wonderful city. For, the city must remind itself the remark of the celebrated town-planner: A city rides on roads and walks on footpaths. Thank you, so very much, mates.