Indian cities, usually experienced in the daytime, are often missed out from dusk to dawn. While a lot of places are an unsafe junk of horrifying experience, a few cities find their way to define a positive outlook of the city at night. Varying from night trails to night markets, and safer places to walk, nighttime cities offer a rejuvenating and incredible experience to the user.
Manek Chowk, located in the walled city of Ahmedabad, finds its place in an axial historical context. Famous as a city-level shopping precinct once, the chowk adapts itself flexibly to cater to various needs. It is surrounded by a mix of commercial and institutional functions and a closely-knit residential fabric in the inner core zones. With a high percentage of daytime functions like education centers around, nighttime functioning becomes easier. The context also is flooded with religious, dilapidated buildings and historic monuments that attract tourists apart from casual visitors and shoppers.
The Beginning of Night Market
While today human wants have taken a front seat, historically, most of the developments and activities were a result of some very basic human needs of Maslow’s pyramid.
The intersecting Chowks have ever since been spaces of hawking, interaction and acted as social nodes.
Once a business center, this Chowk forms one of the most important public spaces of the walled city.
When the market expanded and evolved in the colonial era, vendors gained a license from Britishers to operate their food stalls at night, which acted as a security for the Manek Chowk’s jewelry shops especially. This was enhanced by the presence of cinema halls here that attracted the visitors at night and made the nighttime functioning successful.
Soon the Chowk emerged as a night food junction serving the night visitors of cinema shows as late as 2 am. However, Later all the cinemas closed here but the night market culture thrived and still exists.
Functioning of the Chowk
Manek Chowk sits as a dynamic urban space accommodating features of multiplicity, temporariness, and flexibility that form a prerequisite for a round-the-clock space. The diverse nature of activities gives an intense character to the environment.
The area is cleaned early in the morning around 6:00 am. Cows and buffalos can be seen wandering fed by the locals and residents around through organic waste and grass. The residents participate in feeding the cows as it is considered holy. Water is filled up in buckets for the entire day.
Either side of the central space is surrounded by jewelry shops, the catalyst of the night market here, with the central area used for parking by the shopkeepers. They function during the day, i.e. 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Informal vendors line up with their small errands.
In the evening, the transition phase takes place. Shopkeepers’ cars vacate the central space as they leave, for the food vendors to form a square that further demarcates a food junction boundary undisturbed by the vehicular traffic around.
The vending units have a symbiotic relation to the shops. The units derive services such as electricity and sanitation, from the shops at some cost. The shops also sell their wares through these vendors. The line gutters serve as washing areas for the vending carts.
The problem of visual imageability at night is countered by branding personally to passerby and verbally. The vendors also hire people who have the job of stopping people, giving them pamphlets, and inviting them. The food court functions till 3:00 am. The food vending area spills out beyond this central space to the southern square and also to the area near the northern parking lot.
Food aroma is an integral part of this space’s character. Multisensory dependence can be seen too, as a part of nightlife, where darkness is dominant.
The dynamic change of vending activities in public spaces is efficient, maximum utilization of urban space. The current system of sharing space and infrastructure works because of community-based understanding and shifting and setting up activities.
Urban Design of the Chowk
The Chowk is directly connected to the major Gandhi road. There is no formal segregation and the built kiosks and food carts form an edge forming a square food junction, accessed by pedestrians and vehicles through different lanes. The visitors prefer to park their cars at the lot and walk to the Chowk.No formal pedestrianization has been done, but has been proposed for the area.
The Chowk is not a conventional square and the night market is in an L-shape, hence the spaces formed are in different proportions forming a square, street, walkway, and corner junction in the small stretch of Manek Chowk helping allow varied activities. The staggered built form of residential blocks creates eyes on the street.
The presence of abruptly popped-up island shops helps in the segregation of traffic and the temporary food carts also define an edge making the space safer to some extent.
Shops are typically 3m –5m wide which relates to the pace and scale of a human being. This scale helps slow down the pace which helps meet, greet and accelerate commercial experience. It also allows for flexibility for future expansion. The vendor carts and floor vendors also do not look alien to the scale.
The closing of the external stimuli which led to the night market here did not lead to the shutting of the market. Food, moreover, took the primary function. It became an independent activity inviting people. There is an increased level of community-based interaction as space transforms itself throughout the day with a mutual understanding of shared space usage for varying activities. This space is developed in a manner to adapt to the changes that take place throughout the day, like a living entity.
Das, H., 2021. A study for Re-imagining/ Re-development of Manek Chowk precinct in Ahmedabad. [online] Academia.edu. Available at: <https://www.academia.edu/38108411/A_study_for_Re_imagining_Re_development_of_Manek_Chowk_precinct_in_Ahmedabad> [Accessed 30 July 2021].