I think that automobile today is the near equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; by this I mean the creations of an age; passionately conceived by anonymous craftsmen, consumed in image if not in use, by an entire people who aspire to it as a perfectly magical object.
- Roland Barthes (Mythologies 1957)
Transportation has been existing through automobiles since a long time.Automobiles are considered as objects to take you from one destination to another. But isn't that a narrow definition.
The mega cities as we know it today are referred to as a megalopolis and not a metropolis. The city is formed with a long chain of metropolis stringed together to work cohesively. Mumbai, now doesn’t represent only the southern region but is a part of the growing suburbs, ie mira-bhayander, vasai- virar and the navi Mumbai area. This sprawl of the city, though a hindrance has become a norm. The sprawl can be identified as a geographic and morphological phenomenon that has triggered anthropological mutations. Sprawl continues to grow for various reasons, people were initially attracted to the edges of cities because of cheap land, lower taxes, better access to automobiles, fewer legal restrictions, and the myth of living in contact with rural settings. But the sprawl unlike the walled cities continues to grow. The idea of boundary is vague in this form of urbanism. Approach to this phenomenon can in no way be idealistic, for being idealistic would mean to stop the development of fringes and create boundaries. The only option that remains is to adapt to this development.
‘ The polis was a city based on dialogue; The sprawl is conducive to escapist monologues’
-Richard Ingersoll (2006, Princeton architectural press)
In the Greek Synoecism, the polis or the city centre was known for dialogues and public interaction. The word literally meant ‘to unite together under one capital city’. A city was important because of the dialogue it created amongst its citizens. But today, the city centre is more for tourists with its historic city frozen in time, preserved and sometimes re-created with mystification. The well intentioned codes of civic pride and hospitality inadvertently help to convert the function of public space, from the theater of civic life into a spectacle for tourist gratification. And the citizens and residents are pushed to the fringes due to increase in land rates and services. This causes two negative implications. The first being the city spaces that were important for their role in public interactions have ceased its functions and now perform the function of being a tourist site. The second being the citizens themselves have ended up becoming tourists in such spaces. Tourism in that sense becomes the death of the evolution and meaning of the site. So where does the so called interaction between citizens occur in a megalopolis.
In Mumbai;the most likely place where citizen to citizen interaction can take place is at the transportation hub. The suburban railway system carries more than 6.6 million commuters on a daily basis and constitutes more than half of the total daily passenger capacity of the Indian Railways itself. It has one of the highest passenger densities of any urban railway system in the world. Whereas, the BEST buses runs a total of 3,480 buses, transporting 4.5 million passengers over 365 routes. It is not uncommon to find people waiting for and meeting their friends in such places, or making new friends, or interacting with strangers. Places like these have increasingly become the places of interaction for a city with people on the run.
Concepts like the shared taxi or rickshaw, where an automobile picks up commuters from stations and drops them to fixed locations are increasingly used. These functions occur at the edge of the roads near the railway stations. Automobiles line up against the road, waiting for customers to sit. The function works on per seat basis and each automobile normally goes to different part of the suburb depending on the number of passengers. But unfortunately no space has been assigned to them. So they end up waiting at the entrance of the station or occupy most of the road. This causes alot of hindrance to the vehicular traffic and to the pedestrians.
The added installation of skywalks near every station have added to the already present sense of suffocation. They have wiped of the sense of sky, and left the place darker and closed. The space below the skywalk has become a residual space of vegetable markets, single-room shops and a clutter of auto-rickshaws, taxis and buses. A lot of functions occur in and around these transportation hubs. Since places aren’t assigned to them they occur in default locations and are tucked in existing structures, causing alot of interruption. For instance right outside the dadar station their lies a flower and vegetable market at the underside of the flyover. The existence of market, the oncoming rush of commuters, the presence of automobiles doesn’t favour the situation.
The presence of the clutter around stations can be accounted for the fact that many of these businesses and programs are based on the concept of travel. It is mandatory for them to use the existing mass transit for their functioning. Or they target the commuters that bypass that space on their daily ride home.
The three main road arteries for western Mumbai , the link road, western express highway and the S.V road try to connect this sprawling city in a feeble way. It is, for most hours, congested, exhausting,slow, and a waste of time. Wouldn't it be nice if the road housed a structure that can be accessed through the car. You can pay your bills, get something to eat, and maybe even watch a movie from the comforts of the car, while driving home.
This existing transportation line is the piazza and dolce far niente of Mumbai, and designers, planners and architects have to start treating it like that.
[P.S- Abrupt ending.. sorry got bored!]