This neighbourhood in Koramangala leads the way to “Swachh Bharat”

These few model streets of the city are every proof you’ll ever need to believe that if residents join forces to ensure a clean, lively and safe neighbourhood, dramatic transformations are inevitable

The 400-metre stretch between 1st Cross, and 8th C Main in J-Block, Koramangala, is a sight to behold. On any given day, it’s cleaner than the rest of the neighbourhood. Potted plants flank the L-shaped lane, and the boundary walls are nothing short of works of art – from Warli motifs, and butterflies in flight, to birds idling away, and cats about town. A keener look at the walls will reveal a map that reads ‘Welcome to our street’, and three pointers: ‘Enjoy the art; Use the dustbins; and, Use the pavements’. The latest notice to go up is, ‘Scoop the poop’, which urges the street’s 1,000-odd dwellers to dump the dog business in bins.

All this is the handiwork of ‘Friends of L Street’ – a group of 150 people staying across the buildings of Embassy Tranquil, Oakwood, and Raheja Residency, as well as independent houses. And it has taken them four years to make the street what it is today.

The tipping point was when they cleared a neighbourhood black spot ­­– a garbage dump. And then they had to ensure it remained clean: email reminders and WhatsApp alerts were sent out, notices were put up, door-to-door visits were made to instill civic sense, and even round-the-clock vigil was held to identify the non-cooperating ones. Address slips pasted on discarded envelopes and courier packages often led them to the offenders.

The beautification drive kicked off in 2014, bringing kids, working professionals, elderly, and artist residents together to paint over the weekends. “Why should we settle for only a clean street? Why can’t we have a beautiful one, something like the High Line of New York, the elevated, out-of-use freight rail line that has been turned into a public park?” asks a resident.

Change is in the air
The point that this Koramangala clan is trying to make is that each neighbourhood should take ownership of keeping itself in order. And it’s mostly a matter of looking around for the right set of hands in your area — there is always an engineer, an architect, a designer, a gardener, or a person of influence to set things in motion, or even inspiring examples such as 85-year-old TK Krishnaswami of JP Nagar 1st Phase. Every morning at 6am, he sets out to sweep the road outside his House No 1314.

In fact, the city is teeming with motivated individuals. We aren’t talking about Resident Welfare Associations alone, but informal groups, and the latter is on the rise. Success of one initiative has buoyed them into taking on more, from fixing civic issues (waste management, plastic ban, and clearing billboards), to drafting proposals for a model colony, and setting up herbal parks. They are also spending from their pockets to hire sweepers, and gardeners to keep their locality clean at all times. Crowdsourcing is the word.

May our tribe grow
The origins of Langford Civic Action Group, a WhatsApp group of 125 residents of Langford Town, can also be traced back to a black spot. Until February, there used to be a mountain of waste at the corner of Eagle Street and Berlie Street. Being an abandoned building, it became a convenient site for residents to dump all that they could on their way to work. Then Rani Desai and a few others reached out to the team of The Ugly Indian to fix it.

Next step was to see that the neighbourhood waste went where it was supposed to, and in the right manner — segregated into dry, wet and sanitary — as mandated under the 2Bin1Bag model by the government.

So before heading out to work, between 7 am to 8 am, the volunteers would go to every flat, with the BBMP garbage collector in tow, to make sure people didn’t come up with the ‘The BBMP guy didn’t turn up’ excuse. The watchmen of buildings across five streets of Langford Town have now stepped up to help. If the waste isn’t segregated, these men send the bin bag right back to the owner.

A proud Desai tells us: “It was definitely a challenging exercise initially. People said things like ‘What’s the point of segregating? It will anyway be mixed at the end.’ Call it our line of reasoning, peer pressure, or the increasing awareness about environment, today, 70 per cent of Langford Town segregates its waste properly.” The neighbourhood also undertook a tree plantation drive in June and now residents water the trees and prune it regularly.

No clones, please
In Sanjaynagar, there is yet another community with a plan. Called Citizens For Sustainability, or CiFoS, it comprises six people from wards 18 and 19. They are currently working with Directorate of Urban Land Transport (DULT) to redesign the Sanjaynagar Main Road — to standardise the width and quality of carriageways, build footpaths, install lights and signages, open parks, and earmark street-vending zones.

The group digitally surveyed the 6 sq km area, via the Mapunity Groups app, and shared the data about No Parking zones, and the number of vendors with the DULT, while consulting residents for six months.

‘Happy Routes To School’ is another one of their projects, wherein children are encouraged to walk, and cycle to their schools every day. Seven schools in the area have even adopted the programme. Earlier this year, schoolchildren also formed a human chain, urging adults to ‘Drive carefully’.

Co-founder Sathya Sankaran shares the vision of CiFoS: “If an 8-year-old kid can’t walk on the roads safely, and an 80-year-old man can’t use parks, a city is not worth living in. Our urban planning is flawed. Building infrastructure has always been about constructing roads for vehicles, and that’s pretty much it. The authorities must understand the demographics, ethos and lifestyle requirements of people in an area before building infrastructure, and not just set up clone colonies. We are trying to set that right.”

Work with the system
While the apathy of civic authorities, to varying degrees, has got the citizenry to take matters into their own hands, the latter is not completely bitter about the ‘extra work’. In fact, they are urging residential communities to work with municipal bodies, pitch in their ideas and suggestions, and keep the authorities on their feet. As Shashidhara Kumaraswamy, who is part of various volunteer groups in HSR Layout, says: “This liaison will keep the relationship between civic authorities and communities healthy, and dynamic.”

For instance, the 400-member-strong HSR Cyclist Group has been batting for an end-to-end bicycle infrastructure in their part of town. That includes 22 parking stations, open and roofed, every 500 mt, making it possible for HSR denizens to pedal from home to work and back, across the seven sectors. This proposal was shortlisted at the Citizens For City contest in 2015, and now even the BBMP has approved it, and work will begin next month.

Pass it on
While you might think dealing with civic officials and staff means running from pillar to post, these citizens have them on speed dial, and WhatsApp. So if garbage from their apartment complexes hasn’t been collected on time, billboards continue to make their riotous presence felt, or a broken sidewalk lies unrepaired, they take photographs and send messages to the officials, both as proof and nagging reminder.

To compound the impact, usually more than two to three members of an area bombard its corporator with the same messages and requests. Numbers matter, after all. It’s better to rally as a community than an individual. Frustrating it is when an authority passes the buck to another, but these volunteers aren’t one to give up easily. They have figured out the process now, and are more than willing to share their templates, and resources with others wanting to follow suit.

Nallurahalli Rising Forum (NRF), formed by occupants of Vijayasri Elixir Apartment in Whitefield, is a shining example. In almost two years, it has seen quite a few initiatives through. And now it has started exchanging its know-how with 10 other residential complexes along Borewell Road. To begin with, they have replaced the lighting system in their common areas with LED and solar power grids, cutting down their electricity consumption by 30 per cent. With Rain Water Harvesting in place, there is minimal dependence on water tankers. Sewage water is treated and used back in the gardens, and they are now piloting the concept of kitchen gardens. They themselves have picked this expertise from their parent forum, Whitefield Rising.

Beyond the walls
The goodness of some of these programmes stretches far beyond their boundary walls. For instance, three members of NRF, including its president Murugaraj Swaminathan, step out on the roads as ‘traffic wardens’ as and when vehicular congestion in their locality gets out of control. They have been trained by the traffic department to become a traffic volunteer, and have been given uniforms and arm badges to look and do the part.

Coming back to Langford Town, Desai’s team has requested all residents to wash disposable food packets before giving it to the collectors. ‘Why should they pick up something that stinks? We must respect the job they do, and cooperate,” she explains.

A mini village
What these initiatives have done subliminally is brought neighbours together as a community, from being just an aggregate of strangers sharing a piece of land. Yes, there are about 10 to 20 per cent of residents in each of these localities who have not yet turned around, but that’s a smaller number still.

Today, more residents know each other by their names, exchange greetings as they walk past, celebrate festivals, plan potluck parties over weekends, or bond over Cycle Day events. These neighbourhoods are becoming a “mini village”, where community living is key. As Chitra Aiyer of Friends of L Street (from Koramangala) puts it out: “Initially, we had just signed up to clean our area. But today the number of people we run into as we take a stroll down the road has increased. You know, those hellos, smiles and camaraderie beautify a neighbourhood so much. That is the neighbourhood growth in real sense.”

Credits Bangalore Mirror

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