Seeking nature; embracing the city

Delhi. A warm April day. The buzz of traffic. The chirping of birds and the bright green foliage of spring. I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience nature in one of the most populous and polluted cities in the world.

For those of us who have chosen, for whatever reasons, to live in and around metropolitan cities in India, the loss of nature is perhaps the most regrettable manifestations of our choice. In part, the actual reduction in the flora and fauna of our environment means less chance to experience and encounter birds, insects, shrubs and trees. It also means that we are less informed about nature and our curiosity reduces with each passing year. As a result, our children are growing up treating nature as an academic curiosity, with fewer opportunities to experience the natural world well ‘naturally’.

Experiencing nature is also categorized into one of those organized, deliberate, do-good experiences for our children. They see animals in cages and plants that try hard to survive the hostile environment. They rarely dig in real mud, but are rather exposed to relatively sterile sandpits that dot the designed landscapes of our housing complexes.

Clearly we do long for nature. Look up casually at any multistory housing complex, drive through Delhi’s residential colonies. Families have greened whatever bits of spaces they can. Healthy potted plants and well-kept gardens are the norm rather than the exception.

Why not, then, make a more concerted effort to create and nurture havens of wilderness and nature within our cities? And to use the ones that exist!

The ridge, for instance, offers the rare opportunity to the residents of Delhi to explore nature within the city and yet, the ridge lies largely neglected and unfortunately, unused. I was struck, recently, by the enthusiasm of an American expat newly arrived in Delhi to walk from his place of work to where he lives by finding new nature-filled routes. I recall trying to do so when I lived in south Delhi several years ago, but my enthusiasm was muted and I soon gave up. The idea of crossing traffic-filled streets to reach a green belt was nauseating and the idea of driving there even more so. Access, therefore, is one deterrent. Visibility of the access points may be another issue; easily solved by signage design and placement.

What’s more worrying though, is the disconnect between thought and action, desire and aspiration among the middle classes that inhabit Delhi (or indeed any Indian city). Healthy living is an aspiration that has not yet been internalized; rather, it is a concept thrust at us by doctors, newspapers and social pressure. Paying for a gym, or for a dieticians services, can easily address the guilt of not attempting to be healthy. However, utilizing the outdoor spaces in the city seems impractical to most of us. Do we perceive these spaces as hostile and unfriendly? Unsafe, perhaps?

There must be some way to marry these separate ideas together. The quest for nature on one hand, the quest for fitness on the other. Let’s Walk Gurgaon, an enthusiastic group of walkers in Gurgaon have accomplished this balance. The group, which has maybe 40-odd active members and hundreds of ‘like’ on facebook (!), walks twice a week- a shorter urban walk on Wednesdays and a longer walk on a weekend morning that gives them a chance to explore some of the rural and forest areas surrounding Gurgaon. It’s a great initiative and I have seen the group bond, grow and really experience a unique kind if happiness in the few months I have known them.

Its time to get out of our complacency and really see the city around us. Its time to stop feeling alien and actually walking the streets, embracing the reality around us. Its time to show our kids whats real and not offer them the view through the car window as their only choice. If cities are our future, lets face our future squarely and act to make it greener, more beautiful, more akin to the future we fantasize about 🙂

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on April 22, 2011, in Urban Planning & Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. you know what, you touched a raw vein in this post….My earliest to latest childhood memories of living inside the St. John’s College campus in Agra was to thank my garden everyday, because the only “green” that I could see and experience was inside my own house and the college campus…and I would read Enid Blyton, and wonder why my agra is so different!!! why cant the streets in my city be tree lined, why cant there be big green spaces in my city….

    and when I landed in Sydney, the first day, and everyday since that day, this is one thing I give thanks for – the amount of blue and green that I see everyday. I do miss India in so many ways, the prime reason being missing talking to and seeing and spending time with family and friends (ask Mono about how much we missed you in these past few days), but one of the things I deeply feel India needs, that I always felt the lack of, was people appreciating or valuing or even thinking that “we need green around us”….or the idea that great public spaces are needed in cities…..

    I have been checking your blog almost everyday now… 🙂

  2. Som and I have talked of effective public spaces through all our walks in Sydney. I understand the paucity of space we have in India versus the abundance of space in countries like Australia, but that does not give us an excuse to demolish and eradicate any semblance of workable public spaces – green public spaces that all large cities of the world need and which is the mark of any great city of the world. While our Mumbai and Delhi vie to be the next Shanghai/ Singapore or New York, there has been virtually no new green parks, playgrounds, public spaces that any of our new cities have seen. All newly developed areas from the 90s boast only of Malls as their public spaces. Its sad that our children dont get a place to run around in green fields, but are instead exposed to a huge amount of commercial environment, of aggressive market economy and a bombardment of advertisement and fast food on their days out. While we spend millions of dollars in hosting the Commonwealth Games, we dont put aside a budget to redo our zoos or our nature parks. My trip to Australia was a revelation as to how experiencing nature can be made integral to city life (while there are many other things I found abominable there).

  3. Mukta…just read your blog post…and I must say after having lived in Mumbai 6 months last year….I took on a whole new appreciation for green spaces and the simple joy of walking in peaceful clean surroundings. I lived in the old mill district near Worli and there is a huge multistorey housing complex coming up at every street corner! Never mind that the city is already terribly crowded with cars and trucks and what have you and that it really doesnt have the capacity to accommodate that many more vehicles on its choked lanes. One wonders what happened to the urban planners in Mumbai!! People still walk everywhere in Mumbai – but for me it was not pleasurable at all!! Now that I am back in the US in my lovely highly walkable neighborhood….I can appreciate it even more 🙂
    Just wish, people in India could somehow be mobilized to demand more green spaces and places for kids to play!!!

    • hey anj!! totally understand. delhi is a tad better in this respect though, but sadly, safety can be an issue as well as the perception of safety. very few people, in the end, bother. i have a bostonian colleague who has been in delhi for the last few months and enjoyed walking through the city’s greens at every opportunity. he tells me its super and i loved to hear that 🙂

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