Saturday, May 18, 2013

Water melons and Street space

There is ‘Street Space’ and there is ‘Virtual Space’ and watermelons are there both places. Some people find the time to walk the Street and to bargain over a watermelon purchase. Others prefer to sit at the computer and order it online at the click of a button. It is about how much time you have. What does this mean? Why is it that people in some cities have more time and some have less time? Why are people in some places called “laid-back”and are easy-going and unhurried? What gives time its value?

In his book, ‘A Geography of Time’, Robert Levine points out that cities and cultures across the world seem to keep time a bit differently from one another. In his research, Levine works towards getting objective indicators of the pace of life. He measures people’s walking speed, their talking speed and their work speed. He finds that places that have warmer climates tend to have a slower pace of life. Places that are economically vital tend to be faster. The vital economy puts pressure on people to make every moment count.

Coming back to the watermelons, when does one order them online? When we don’t have the time to go out to shop for them on the street? An image of it becomes available for us in virtual space, to see and to order. No real space is used. But, the watermelons that are delivered to our homes are real and they need to be stored in real space before the final dispatch happens. These watermelons occupy real space, but not street space. This does not mean that cities where the pace of life is faster have streets that are empty with everything being bought or sold in virtual space.

On one side of the Krishnarao Park at Basavanagudi in Bangalore, there sits a watermelon vendor occupying a huge part of the footpath there. Perhaps, it is the wide footpath and the proximity to Krishnarao Park that makes this an attractive location for him. It is anyway a matter of a few months only. Watermelons are a seasonal fruit and he will not occupy this space forever. But, these watermelons change the visual landscape of the street.

You walk through almost any street in the Gandhi Bazaar or Basavanagudi area and there isn’t a dull moment. We do not in India need to plan for an “active street edge” as some cities in western countries do. Here, we have them already. What we do need to do is to figure out how we can smoothen the conflict between what street space belongs to the car, what belongs to the pedestrian and what belongs to the vendor. How does one do that?