This post is going to be a little away from the subject of policing. Yet not entirely away if use of public spaces is looked at as an issue requiring a look from the police viewpoint of public security.
The process of town planning is typically seen as a subject entirely within the expertise of engineers and architects, with no need felt for non technical inputs. So typically, after initial administrative decisions on creation of new urban centres, the identified landmass is plotted into neat blocks and assigned for future uses like parks, schools, police stations, residential and commercial areas. And construction begins vigorously towards what looks in brochures to be lovely, happy places. The reality however could turn out different.
In Maharashtra, the government, as early as the 1970s, formulated a policy to de novo create new towns outside growing industrial cities, to accommodate the growing migrations into these cities, in a planned way. So fringe cities were set up outside Mumbai ( Navi Mumbai), Aurangabad, Nasik, Nanded etc. Wherever the pressure of population migrating into these new towns was intense, the new, well planned cities were quickly well populated. A lot of futuristic thought went into laying out wide roads and building large railway and bus stations for the anticipated traffic, creating the underlying infrastructure of office and commercial spaces for the future business needs and also creating public parks and large sports stadiums, community halls and other welfare facilities.
Few issues in these planned cities stand out for me:
1. The operative word for Engineering creativity being ‘large’, one does not see ‘small’ or local level models for say, garbage disposal, sports facilities etc. The users could probably feel more civic responsibility towards local level maintenance activities in certain domains than the more centralised approach currently followed.
2. Utilisation of public spaces does not necessarily follow because they are built well or the space is in abundance. In a recent visit to one of Maharashtra’s ‘new towns’, I saw vegetable markets and bus depots built decades ago, still unutilised. Such places look dead if they are not frequented by people. Such spaces also have serious implications for public safety and security. Some thought needs to be given at the planning stage, on what will make the proposed built public space, friendly and therefore more used and safer. Town planning will do well to be more people-friendly instead of only engineering-friendly.
3. Gardens and horticulture are seen as non core departments in city planning. To me, it appears, they should occupy centre stage in planning, if beautiful cities are to be created and maintained. Avenue trees, greenery and water fountains are known to reduce road rage and violence in general. Why not plan for peaceful citizens in a newly emerging city?
4. Once built, the city planners believe their job is done. But there is enormous learning for future projects, by understanding the public safety issues of usage in roads, bridges, mass congregation points like auditoriums, temples, bus stops etc which could be had from coordination meetings with the law enforcement agencies, over the lifetime of the utility. This learning is presently missing due to lack of formal coordination mechanisms.