Friday, April 21, 2006

Becoming street smart

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Street furniture is making its presence slowly but surely in Mumbai

Shevlin Sebastian

On a Monday evening, the Dadabhai Naoroji Road is chock-full with cars, buses and taxis. The pavements are clogged with people hurrying past, heads down, all heading towards Churchgate station. So, it become a little difficult to note the unusual street furniture: the black iron railings, Victorian style dust bins and a red glass-paned telephone booth, which seems to have been imported straight from London. But thankfully, there is an Indian touch: a white piece of paper which is stuck on one of the panes has this hand-written legend: ‘Phone out of order’.
“D.N. Road is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city,” says architect Abha Narain Lambah. “So, you need something of a particular scale. Historically, and architecturally, the scale is more Victorian and Edwardian. The aesthetics has to conform to the cast iron. Otherwise, there will be a disconnect between the street and the furniture.”
The idea to have street furniture that conforms to the historic sensibility of an area was first mooted by Lambah, in 1998, to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which had set up a heritage conservation society. “We felt the beauty of the heritage should be maintained in the existing fashion,” says G. S. Pantbalekundri, who was secretary of the heritage conservation society and has since retired. Adds Lambah: “Till then, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had a standard system all over the city. So, if they were putting penguin litter bins or concrete benches, they would do it all over the city.”
Using the catalogue of the Westminister City Council in England, as a reference point, Lambah prepared a pilot project of 100m of D.N. Road. “She made a presentation and the MMRDA produced a beautiful brochure and we were convinced about the project,” says R.H. Mendonsa, the managing director of Lawrence & Mayo, which has their headquarters on D.N. Road. Following that, The Citizen’s Association of D.N. Road took it upon themselves to make it a stakeholder-driven project; the shopkeepers contributed for every stretch of railing or litterbin along their stretch. “There are about 20 banks on this road, and they were all keen in the beautification,” says Mendonsa. So far, for 500m of renovation, it has cost Rs 30 lakh. To complete the western side of D.N. Road, the MMRDA has promised to defray 25 per cent of the expenses while the rest will again come from local fund-raising.
However, when you look at the railings and the dustbins on D.N. Road, it is clearly fading and losing its attractiveness. “In five years, it has not been painted once,” says Lambah. “The BMC should take up some responsibility. In other parts of the world, the municipal corporation gives a coat of epoxy paint on street furniture every six months. How long will the citizens keep pitching in?” Interestingly, the street furniture has won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Merit for 2004 because it was one of the earliest street furniture done by a private agency in Asia.

Further away, in Walkeshwar, on the stretch from Chowpathy to Raj Bhavan on Marine Drive, steel benches, some with a back-rest, some without, have been set up. On the evening of Republic Day, there are plenty of people who are sauntering about on the promenade, their spirits high because of the mid-week holiday, and quite a few who are sitting on the steel benches. The steel gleamed in the evening sun and the words Jindal Foundation could be seen on one side. “Earlier, there used to be concrete benches and it had completely rusted. The seats were all broken and damaged,” says Lambah. “Every time, the government would install something, they would use low-quality material and it would corrode within six months because of the high salt content.”
Lambah received support from Sangita Jindal of the Jindal Foundation. “I wanted to set an example to the government that street furniture should not always be of a low quality,” says Sangita. So Lambah was encouraged to go in for high quality stainless steel in combination with slame-finished granite. “We wanted to put up something which would last,” says Lambah. Three years have gone past and the benches still look as good as new.
Bespectacled Vipul Rane, 27, an IT engineer, is sitting on one of the benches. “The design looks good,” he says. “It is comfortable and durable. When people see concrete benches, they always try to chip off part of the cement.” Rane suggests that these benches should be replicated all over the city. “However, the BMC should keep an eye,” he says, “as drug addicts will try and steal them.”
A little ahead of Rane sit two young PR professionals, Arushi Agarwal and Poonam Nikam, both 24, leaning back and placing their legs on the parapet. They are, however, not too excited by the design. “The concrete benches were better because they had a different feel,” says Arushi.
Agrees Poonam: “These steel benches give a very upmarket look but this is actually just a place to chill out. I guess, we have been so used to the other type of benches, it is going to take time to get used to the new ones.”

What is street furniture?
Street furniture is a collective term for objects and pieces of equipment installed on streets and roads for various purposes, includingbenches, post boxes, phone boxes, streetlamps, street lighting, traffic lights,bus stops, taxi stands, fountains and waste receptacles. An important consideration in the design of street furniture is how it affects road safety.
Street furniture itself has become as much a part of many nations' identities as dialects and national events, so much so that one can usually recognise the location by their design; famous examples include:
The red telephone boxes of Britain
The residential post boxes of the US
The street lamps and metro entrances in ParisSource: Wikipedia

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