Reclaiming Public Realm to Improve Human Health and Environment in Indian Cities: Shaping ideas of public realm conducive to non- motorized modes of travel
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This study examines how the public realm can be redesigned to improve human health and environmental conditions in Indian cities. Indian streets have traditionally been a significant part of its public realm as they were the primary places to congregate, celebrate, and interact (Fyfe, 1998). Yet, in the past two decades, rapid increase in vehicular traffic have crowded out most forms of non-motorized human activity on public roads. The high levels of congestion and pollution from vehicles are engendering serious human health hazards. This paper first describes how the growth of private automobiles in past few decades have intensified the environmental challenges in Indian cities. It then argues that the control of vehicular traffic together with the promotion of walking and non-motorized transportation are essential for improving human health and the public realm in Indian cities. The paper then outlines potential design strategies for integrating walkability and bikability in different types of streets through global examples and case studies. Finally, a key commercial and residential area of South Kolkata is chosen as a case for examining the principles outlined through a redesign of its street network to improve walkability and bikability that could serve as an example for similar urban transformations in other Indian cities.