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Ready, Set, Reality!

As a citizen, we definitely owe it to the urban infrastructure of the city that we live in; it not only facilitates our day-to-day activities but is also an underrated background that many of us fail to appreciate and observe on a daily basis. As someone who has a strong habit of watching movies and series, I have noticed how cities across the world have played an important role in shaping a particular scene or the movie in its entirety. When I was discussing the same with my friend a couple of days back, she said something along the lines of “The movies and series that you watch and the places that you travel either break you or make you!”. I do agree with my friend’s opinion on how these help us develop our understanding, have expectations, or put in a better way, helps us better understand what our thoughts and opinions are. And in more than one way, I have tried to understand what the journey of many such characters must have been. I am of the opinion that these have more than a way of defining us. Are you not able to relate to what I am saying? Maybe by the end of this post, you might!

My love for urban infrastructure began with all the familiar/ popular spaces that came up in the movies, right from Marine Drive, Chennai Central Railway Station, or the VT Station to Delhi as a city and the Marina beach. I would always cherish my experiences in these spaces. Have you watched the Tamil movie Ok Kanmani and fell in love with the amazing city that Mumbai is? Or imagined what it must have been like to live like a royal in the past through numerous documentaries and films? Or wondered if these buildings exist today? And if they do, in what state? Imagine doing a walking trail, visiting all the alleys, chowks, squares, parks, and buildings shown in the movies? Well, in more than one instance, the space that is captured on the camera (a part that's not a set), of an old building or locality, varies a lot in reality. I thought it was because the lenses and the spaces were a tad different, outside of India. But to my absolute shock, I realised that it was because most of the Indian urban spaces are less celebrated when compared to the spaces in the West or anywhere else.

It is from experiences of travelling by the metro, visiting airports, and vacationing in cities in the West I realised how, in reality, we have numerous resources but don’t celebrate them. I have always fancied having a well-functioning metro facility in the city I lived in and travelling via the metro. I always imagined how easy the commute would become; in the metro that I took in Dubai, the metro led me right into the mall, the destination I was traveling to. It took me by surprise, and I remember how I bragged about it to my friends when I returned from my trip. It was a couple of years later I saw the metro come up in Chennai.

To be honest, the whole process of the metro lines being laid, roads being diverted for this purpose, and the irony of the construction making it harder to commute when the end product was meant to offer a quicker and simpler mode of commute, resulted in me losing the interest and excitement I had for having a metro in my city. I gathered what little excitement I had and visited the metro, a couple of months post its inauguration. To my surprise, I could count the number of people who were using the metro that day and I started pondering over why an urban development like the metro finds much fewer users. I then gathered how it didn’t provide a point-to-point commute to local areas and people had to spend more time travelling to their place of residence. The smaller vans connecting the metro to areas in the vicinity were a much later addition, which has positively impacted the user numbers. Having seen this evolution in the number of metro users, I wonder if we use the urban spaces that were created in the past in the same manner as the designers had perceived them? Will we use these spaces in the same way in the future as well? Do we look for ways to evolve functionally, or do we value aesthetics equally? I wonder if it’s the idea of a ‘trend’ that a designer must oblige to in order to design a new urban space, or is it space’s purpose? In reality, do aesthetics trump over functionality?

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