It has long been our position that beautification of footpaths cannot be done at the cost of pedestrian rights, although even some citizen sector organisations take recourse to such cosmetic changes in a bid to satisfy the middle class penchant for superficial cleanliness. To be fair, it seems to have some resonance with the political class also, as the previous AIADMK regime in its last days in 2005 also spoke of citywide beautification plans.
However, the real problem lies not so much in the attitude of the more affluent residents, as in the complete disengagement of the Chennai Corporation from the issue. It is common knowledge that the street level staff of the civic body allow encroachment of public space in return for filthy lucre. Invariably, this does not help Thus we find horrors such as T.Nagar’s Ranganathan Street where wealthy shopkeepers have taken over the footpath space.
Today’s Times article highlights the danger of allowing beautification to become a mainstream pursuit, at the cost of more sustainable uses of the footpath. We hope the civic body and the Police will wake up quickly to the need for safe footpaths to create a safe and sane city.
And we would urge citizen sector organisations to press for a balanced view of beauty by adopting the well-researched consensus on sharing public space equitably — among walkers, cyclists, regulated hawkers and other stakeholders, in that order of priority.