NEW DELHI: Fazlu, a migrant from Bihar, lives under the flyover at IIT Delhi, having quietly overcome the hurdles created by the grills erected to deter encroachers. “I take care of the children when the labourers go to work,” he says nonchalantly. A few kilometres away, the space beneath the Nehru Place flyover is similarly occupied by the homeless. These small stretches may afford beggars, daily wage earners, truck operators, even roadside vendors a home of sorts, but the government seems reluctant to acknowledge that these urban niches could be put to better use in a city that is starved of public spaces.
So while the government is investing crores of rupees in developing the city’s flyover network to ease traffic congestion, little thought is being put into how to effectively utilise the space lying in the flyover’s shadow. And this space is quite considerable, given that there are 80-90 flyovers in Delhi, with another 10-12 under construction.
“While planning a flyover, it is important to think of the space beneath the carriageway,” reiterates Anuj Malhotra, CEO of Ahmedabad-based Centre for Green Mobility . “It is precious urban land, which unfortunately is being wasted when so much could be done to utilise it optimally.”
Arunava Dasgupta, head of urban design, School of Planning and Architecture, urges the city planners to transform what he calls the “negative spaces” created by the flyovers into “productive spaces through effective design inputs”. Malhotra exemplifies this by pointing out how, depending on area and location, one could plan facilities like “open gyms, small playgrounds, nurseries, public meeting places and restaurants, art galleries or cafeterias”.
The government did plan a market under the Defence Colony flyover. But over time, it has become clear that the plan was poorly thought out. Nobody reckoned with parking, and it has become an almost unassailable problem there for both business owners as well as shoppers. Also, managed improperly , such spaces can become public inconveniences. At Nehru Place, Santosh, who works nearby , says, “The space under the flyovers is often used by pedestrians to cross roads. But the expanse under the flyover here is very dirty and poorly lit.”
The Defence Colony experiment hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. “Flyovers are located on busy arterial roads; it is difficult to create a public space with fast-moving traffic on either side,” maintains a PWD official. “We have instead constructed parking lots in some places.” But there is a need to consider the issue with more imagination.
For instance, at Sewa Nagar, the flyover area has long been used by rag pickers. “It can be developed as a hub for them, with space for sorting waste as well as for shelter and educational activities,” says Dasgupta. Similarly at the Sarai Kale Khan flyover, planners could consider the fact that it is the first entry point into the city for many migrants. “The space can be organised and developed as a point of refuge for such labourers, using basic design techniques and landscape work,” advises urban designer KT Ravindran.
In fact, as Dasgupta elaborates, these roadside areas can even serve as emergency response centres and used for parking ambulances and fire trucks in times of need. “This will assist in providing quick responses during emergencies,” says Dasgupta. But ideas like these need a collaborative approach. As Amit Chanchal, senior associate at Sustainable Urbanism International, a Bangalore-based research and urban design firm, points out, “All stakeholders should be consulted at the planning stage to ensure the space is rendered socially useful.”
Fazlu might not be happy at losing his temporary dwellings, but redesigning the flyover areas could actually give the city some public zones.
Credits ET Realty