Can Pune be a Case Study for Indian Cities to Improve Pedestrian Infrastructure?

Commentary / 1st Quarter 2023

Can Pune be a Case Study for Indian Cities to Improve Pedestrian Infrastructure?

by Bhawna Jaimini

March 21, 2023

Pune used to be a quaint town known for its pleasant weather, shaded streets with overarching trees, and the heritage old city quarters till the 1990s.

Unlike the closely situated Mumbai, which is a post-industrial city established by the British during the colonial era, Pune was established in the 8th century, according to archaeological sources. It was the headquarters of the Maratha empire, remnants of which can be seen all over the city. In the last three decades, the description of Pune has rapidly changed since the IT boom reached Indian shores after the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. Cities like Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Gurgaon became the choice for these companies as the land was cheaper than the metros, but their size would still guarantee a steady supply of cheap human resources needed.

To boost job growth and the economy, the Indian government supported the companies to create infrastructure for their base. In the late 1990s, the Government of the state of Maharashtra began developing Rajiv Gandhi InfoTech Park over an area of 2,800 acres to invite multinational companies to set up their base in Pune. The IT park now has 250,000 employees travelling to work daily.

This growth, though hailed as a success story of transforming a sleepy town into a throbbing metropolis, has not come without its challenges—transport being one of the major ones. According to a report on traffic index that came out in 20201 Pune was ranked as the fifth most congested city in the world.

Autonomous urban local body and active citizenry

Pune is perhaps the only city of its size—in terms of both area and population—that is not a state capital, which means the city has a large and independent Municipal Corporation with steady inflow of taxes, but does not have presence of the state or central government making parallel decisions and thus leading to contests.

Map of Pune city showing a proposed street typology; adapted from Urban Street Design Guidelines

This is in stark contrast to Mumbai and Delhi, where multiple government bodies have varied jurisdiction over different parts of the city, which makes it difficult to get approvals to implement citywide policies. “I don’t think we would have been able to succeed if this was a state capital. Pune has an informed and independent Municipal Corporation, which is in charge of all development that happens in the city that makes it easier for us to advocate and work with them,” Gadgil credited Kunal Kumar, the Municipal Commissioner of Pune between 2014 and 2018, for supporting and expediting a number of proposals related to non-motorised mobility in the city.

However, even before Parisar and its partner organisations actively started to make a case for such proposals in front of the Municipal Commissioner, they realised that comprehensive citywide street guidelines were required for Pune.

Reclaiming streets, 1 kilometre at a time

Sujata Hingorani started her firm Oasis in 2001 with her husband and partner, Akash Hingorani. They were both appalled by the state of public realm design in Indian cities. “Cities grew very rapidly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the state of public infrastructure deteriorated.

Roads were being widened; flyovers were being built without any thought to how they will affect public life in the cities,” Hingorani talked about starting Oasis right after college. Hingorani’s firm was one of the few firms empanelled to redesign the network of nine streets in Pune. JM Road and Ferguson Road were the two major commercial roads that were allotted to Oasis.

READ MORE: Streetscaping of JM Road by Oasis

The entire stretch was transformed into a thriving public space with accessible footpaths, neatly laid out parking, punctuated seating spaces with public gym areas, as well as designated areas for street vendors. In Indian cities, where contestations around space are multifold, to achieve something like JM Road is a success on many levels.

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Bhawna Jaimini is a writer and urban practitioner based in Mumbai, India. Trained as an architect, she currently works with Community Design Agency on projects that seek to improve the built habitats of some of the most marginalised communities in India’s urban areas, using participatory tools. She is deeply passionate about gender rights and using architecture and design to address issues of social inequality and inequity in these areas.

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Read more stories from FuturArc 1Q 2023: Mobility & Transport!






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