Parks and public safety

I spent the last hour and a half working from a park near my house in Barcelona. It helped that I wasn’t using my laptop – I was mostly working with a notebook and pen. The incredible thing was that never once did I feel unsafe working in that park, and it has to do with the park’s design.

I got accosted by a human only once – by this guy asking me if I had a cigarette lighter and who walked away when I said no, and by dogs (of all shapes and sizes) multiple times. Despite the fact that I was in a park, and people don’t go to parks at 10 am on a weekday morning, there was a constant flow of people in front of me. There were, to put it in other words, sufficient “eyes on the street” which contributed to the place’s safety.

I’ve ranted sufficiently on this blog about the design (or lack of it) of Bangalore’s public parks (one with a name sufficiently similar to that of this post). The problem with the parks, in my opinion, is that they are exclusive closed spaces which are hard to access.

The sprawling Krishna Rao Park in the middle of Basavanagudi, for example, has only two or three entrances, and the number of trees in the park means that large parts of it are hardly visible, providing a refuge to unsavoury elements. This phenomenon of few entrances to parks is prevalent in other city parks as well, with the consequence that the BBMP (city administration) closes off the parks during the day when few people want to go in.

The park I was sitting in this morning, on the other hand, had no such safety issues. It helped that there weren’t too many trees (not always a positive thing about parks), which improved visibility, but most importantly, it was open on all sides, providing a nice thoroughfare for people walking across the area. This meant that a large number of people in the vicinity, even if they didn’t want to “go to a park” ended up passing through the park, because of which there was a constant flow of human traffic and “eyes on the park street”, making it a significantly safer space.

There might be (maintenance-related ) reasons for having limited entrances to parks in Bangalore, but the administration should seriously consider opening up parks on all sides and encouraging people to walk through them (after all, walking paths are an important part of Bangalore parks). Maintenance costs might go up, but safety of parks will be enhanced significantly, and it will be possible to keep parks open at all times, which will enhance their utility to the public.

Maybe Krishna Rao park, with roads on all sides and in the middle of Basavanagudi, might serve as a good pilot case for this.

Parks and Urban Safety

On Wednesday evening, I walked to Gandhi Bazaar for an evening snack. It’s not often that I do that, for it’s not a pleasant walk. Firstly, there is the Tagore circle underpass which was built after much controversy. The underpass has had the desired effect of clearing the traffic bottleneck at Tagore circle, but it has become a nightmare for pedestrians, for there is now unmitigated flow of traffic and footpaths are non-existent.

The second reason I don’t like walking to Gandhi Bazaar is Krishna Rao Park. Yes, you read that right. It’s a rather nice large park, and fairly well maintained. But the problem is that the structure of the park means that the roads around it don’t appear particularly safe to walk on, especially after dark. The presence of the park means that there aren’t enough “eyes on the street”. There is a third reason, too – the roundabout at Armugam Circle. Roundabouts are inherently pedestrian unfriendly.

If you ask anyone who grew up in or around Jayanagar what their favourite street is to drive on, the answer is likely to be one of “Rose Garden Road” or “4th Main Road” or “That nice road with Lakshman Rau park on both sides” or “The road where the metro has been built”. All of them refer to the same road, btw. However, if you were to ask the same people about their favourite road to walk on, you are unlikely to get that answer. For 4th Main (or Rose Garden Road or whatever else you call it) is simply unwalkable. The park on either side means that there are not enough eyes on the street, and for this reason, people prefer to not walk on this road, choosing one of the parallel roads instead.

While presence of parks is generally seen as desirable and creates valuable green space and makes the area more beautiful, careless design can mean that the roads around can be rendered unsafe. It mainly has to do with the entrances. In Bangalore, parks are usually fenced, with only the odd small gate here and there allowing for entry (a design element that is imperative due to stray cows). What this means is that while the area around the park entrance is usually crowded and well populated (and thus safe), there is little human traffic around the rest of the perimeter since there is nowhere to go to from there!

So the hypothesis is that for a road to be walkable, it needs to have a large number of “doors”, that is exits that get you somewhere – either a house or an office building or a park or a shop or whatever. Presence of a door means that users of the door have an incentive to step out of the door and walk along, which increases human traffic. Which makes the stretch a wee bit more walkable.

Absence of doors means that the only people who will want to walk along that stretch are those that intend to go from one end to the other, which means that there aren’t as many people. Absence of doors also means vehicles can move much faster along the stretch, making driving a more pleasant experience, but making walking even more unpleasant. And then you have positive feedback and network effects and all that, making such roads even less conducive for walking on!


Our cities here are simply not designed for walking, and features that ostensibly promote walking, such as parks, are so badly designed that they make walking even less pleasant!


Recently the Deccan Herald carried an article on how Basavanagudi was an extremely well-planned area. It showed the original plan of Basavanagudi (drawn up in the late 1890s in the wake of the plague that hit the Pete area), and showed how well planned it was – demarcating public spaces, market areas, clubs, schools and residential areas. What is remarkable to me is that an area that was drawn up in the late 1890s has roads that are mostly wide enough to take even today’s traffic (a contrast in Malleswaram, built in the same area, but with extremely narrow roads by today’s standards).

On Thursday, I had to go someplace in Gandhi Bazaar (in Basavanagudi) from my grandmother’s place in Jayanagar, and that was when it struck me how small Basavaanagudi is. South End Circle and South End Road actually demarcated the southern end of Basavanagudi, while the so-called “North Road” (also called Vani Vilas Road) marked the northen end of this area. And I ended up walking from my grandmother’s house (about half a kilometer south-east of South End Circle) to National College in about fifteen minutes – and if you go by the map shown in the article linked above, it is the entire span of Basavanagudi! If this was one of the “major” planned extensions of Bangalore in that era, it goes to indicate the city’s population at that time.

It is interesting to note in the plan (as published by Deccan Herald) that the area that is now MN Krishna Rao park was demarcated as a “public square”. While the area is still being put to public use nowadays I couldn’t help but think of New York’s Union Square, which is build on an area much smaller than Krishna Rao park, but which has multiple uses to different sections of the population. Krishna Rao Park, on the other hand, is now a typical example of a “Jairaj Park” (nomenclature I’ve come up with after the former BBMP Commissioner, who was responsible for populating the city with a certain kind of park). I wonder if people still play cricket inside the park.

Until I saw the plan of Basavanagudi I hadn’t realized the symmetry in design. If you notice, at each corner of the public square there is a large roundabout which is somewhat off-centre (Armugam Circle, Netkallappa Circle, Tagore Circle and Dewan Madhava Rao circle). Of these, Tagore “Circle” is actually a square which doesn’t particularly serve the purpose of the roundabout thanks to which an ungainly underpass had to be built recently. And if you notice in the map, beyond each of these roundabouts is a “diagonal” road. The symmetry in design is remarkable. As an aside, while I was walking back to Jayanagar from Gandhi Bazaar on Thursday, I realized that large roundabouts are pedestrian-unfriendly! Unless they allow the pedestrian to cut across them (like in New York’s squares), of course.

For a long time I used to wonder why there is a Muslim Ghetto in the south-eastern quadrant of Basavanagudi (area between RV Road, Patalamma Street and the extension of BP Wadia road towards “teachers college”). The plan explains this. In line with the sensibilities of those times, Basavanagudi had dedicated areas for different castes and communities, and this sector was probably the area “reserved” for Muslims. It is the same with other areas developed in that time – for example Malleswaram also has a “Mohammedan block”. What is interesting, though, is that even Jayanagar, which was planned post-independence, when secularism was in vogue, has its pockets of Muslim Ghettos. I wonder if they grew organically or were by design. Also, read the map carefully. You will see that different parts of Basavanagudi have been earmarked for different castes!

It would be interesting if someone were to dig up the original masterplans for different localities in Bangalore, and also in other cities. It would be instructive to see how cities were developed at different points in time (for example, immediately after independence came the massive localities of Jayanagar and Rajajinagar – neither of which can be walked across in fifteen minutes). Also, this plan for Basavanagudi indicates that there were no villages in the area where it came up – which was not the case with areas such as Jayanagar which were planned around such villages. Again it would be interesting to see how villages were co-opted into the city.

I can go on but will stop here. I encourage you to also take a close look at the map and make your own inferences, and share them in the comments section.