At a time when rape cases are reported with alarming regularity across Gurgaon, a motley bunch of women's organizations have taken to the streets of Millennium Cityby night in order to carry out a safety audit of Gurgaon. Walking down dark alleys and dimly lit pavements, their study throws up a whole host of obvious flaws in urban design.
The study was headed by Jagori, a pioneer in researching gender and space in Delhi, and included groups such as Let's Walk Gurgaon, Saksham and Girlcott. Their findings show that, if a woman is cornered on a dark street and wants to flee from her assailant, chances are she will trip on bad quality pavements or run into a series of obstacles from parked cars to poorly placed street furniture.
Urban designer Rwitee Mandal points to the huge, opaque boundary walls between streets and private properties, isolating those walking on the street. Instead of opaque walls, she suggests fencing that would allow people in housing societies to see what is going on outside.
"There is no semblance of planning or design in Gurgaon, with builders constructing whatever they wish to. But with Gurgaon turning into a larger, cosmopolitan city, there is a dire need to plan for public spaces," says Kalpana Viswanath of Jagori.
Take for instance the stretch between Grand Mall and Bristol Hotel, where both pavements between the main road and service lane and between the service lane and mall lane are sandwiched between two vehicular roads with moving traffic and parked cars. This makes pedestrians feel particularly vulnerable. The report suggests a green strip along the 'vehicular edge' of the pavement, at the right height to cushion the pavement from the road, while at the same time ensuring the pavement is not blocked from view.
The same stretch, says the report, has "discontinuous pavements with missing pavers, broken kerbs, gaping holes, encroachments and visual & physical hurdles made with randomly placed street furniture." Add to this the fact that the pavement is so narrow that two people cannot walk past without brushing each other. There are no pavements along the road between Sikanderpur metro station and Bristol Chowk.
According to the report, the stretch between Grand Mall and Bristol Hotel is "vehicle friendly and not pedestrian friendly," with light poles oriented to throw light on the roads and not pavements. The recommendation made by the report is simple. "Prioritize pedestrians over vehicles." The report suggests street lighting for the pavements, too.
The presence of hawkers is found to make streets safer for women. Take for instance the informal fish market near Sikanderpur Metro Station which functions all days of the week till 10pm. "It is set up every evening on an unused parcel of land, well lit by the fish stalls' yellow bulbs and is bustling with buyers and sellers. Since the market activates a part of the street by forming a vibrant edge with its merchandise, it automatically generates what is called natural surveillance for its immediate setting. People feel safer by numbers and the surrounding has more pairs of eyes watching/overlooking it..." says the report.
A number of areas surveyed in Chakkarpur have poor public lighting, with shadows created by trees, parked cars and light intersections across the street. Several stretches have 'entrapment' areas such as the small spaces kept by the mall around JMD Regent Arcade, many of which are dark zones that often lie unused. Plugging obvious flaws in public infrastructure in order to make the city safer for women is not on anyone's priority list, added Vishwanath.