‘Pune a safe, inclusive city but can do more for safer public spaces, last-mile connectivity’

Pune – the cultural capital of Maharashtra – fares well in terms of inclusion of people and public safety, revealed a multi-layered project and art exhibition titled ‘City For All – Sarvansathi Pune’, which was conducted earlier this week as part of the Bonjour India Festival. The project also indicated that for leisure and relaxation, Pune residents frequent the tekdis in their neighbors while Pune Camp emerged as the favored place for people from diverse economic backgrounds, gender and age. However, the need for last-mile connectivity and public restrooms for transgenders remain areas that require a lot of attention, the event highlighted.

The project designed by architect Swati Janu of Social Design Collaborative and urban anthropologist Chris Blache of Genre et Ville (Gender & Society) seeks to understand the interactions between the people of the city and public spaces based on factors such as gender, sexuality, ability, and socioeconomic status.

The project seeks to understand the interactions between the people of the city and public spaces based on factors such as gender, sexuality, ability, and socioeconomic status

“Most cities around the world have been designed primarily by cis-heterosexual men. We do not know many cities designed by a group of women and there is no transgender representation. Public awareness is required and our public perception needs to change but we are also looking at it from the point of view of city planning and design. We require stakeholder consultations and diversity in those occupying positions of power for taking decisions for city planning. These are exactly the kind of questions we are asking and aiming to have a dialogue around them, through the project,” said Janu.

“Most cities around the world have been designed primarily by cis-heterosexual men. We do not know many cities designed by a group of women and there is no transgender representation,” said architect Swati Janu of Social Design Collaborative

Janu along with PVP College of Architecture, Prasanna Desai Architects, Center for Environmental Education, MIST LGBTQ Foundation, Aarzoo and Alliance Française de Pune, visited six neighborhoods in Pune – Yerwada Slum, Koregaon Park, Mohamadwadi, Dahanukar Colony, Kasba Peth and Mukund Nagar – and asked the people where they like to go with a company or alone and why.

“With a map of the city… people sort of voted for their preferred spaces. It unpacked layers of narratives, history and perspectives to the spaces,” said Janu. The project started in Jaipur and traveled to Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. In Pune, the project will be exhibited on ITI Road (Aundh) till April 24.

In terms of preferred places to visit in the city, Koregaon Park and Z-bridge are places frequented by the youngsters while the Peth area, especially Shaniwarwada, is still a popular place among people living in the area. Forts especially Singghad were also seen to be favored by people seeking momentary adventurous getaways. “Pune has a lot of tekdis and people seem to enjoy going there. In the six neighbors that we have gone to, people frequent the tekdi near their area. In other cities, people go to city destinations, but Pune is more diverse,” she said.

As the city is spread out, the availability of transport and commuting options determine the movement of people. “People spoke about how Pune was once a cycle-friendly city, how public transportation is a challenge for them to get around and the need for better mobility choices for women and transgender people. Autos are expensive as Pune is very fanned out and buses are not something many people favor for last-mile connectivity. Secondly, compared to other cities we have explored, the bus fares are a bit heavy on the pockets and the fares are the same for both men and women. In Jaipur, for instance, the fares are subsidized for women to encourage more female mobility. While it is a good thing that reserved seats for the women, elderly and disabled strive for inclusivity, there are still no such options for the transgenders,” Janu said.

City-based architect Prasanna Desai said the week-long activity conjectured Pune as a safe city. “Safety is one of the key faces of public spaces. Architect Jane Jacob said that for a space to be safe, there need to be eyes on the street. Pedestrians and vendors are the eyes on the street and with more gated communities like the townships which are secluded, there is less room for transparency in public spaces,” he said.

In terms of preferred places to visit in the city, Koregaon Park and Z-bridge are places frequented by the youngsters while the Peth area, especially Shaniwarwada, is still a popular place among people living in the area

While safety concerns are always present, the women who participated in the activity felt that Pune is a safe city to move around, said Janu. “The city has an active nightlife and women travel during late hours but the catch is they are always accompanied by a male companion and not alone. The city feels progressive in many areas, but there is yet so much work to be done,” she said.

Janu highlighted that Pune is accessible to both heterosexual men and women, and while the LGBTQ community do get a space, the visibility is still through their safe spaces. “There is a lack of safe spaces for people who do not conform to the heteronormative structure. Speaking to individuals from the LGBTQ, it was concluded that they have fewer safe spaces – selected restaurants and bars or a friend’s house – for themselves. They also have to keep their spaces transient to not have anyone target them,” she said.

While safety concerns are always present, the women who participated in the activity felt that Pune is a safe city to move around, said Janu

As for public restrooms, the project saw that men and women have accessible choices. “For transgender individuals, though, there are no public toilets in Pune. Trans in the city say that they do not have choices for themselves – if they go to a women’s toilet, they feel scared of them while they get bullied in men’s washrooms. The ideal would be to have a gender-neutral toilet as well, but it is a long way to go from now,” Janu said.

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