The streets of India are filled with colors and commotion throughout the day. Squeaking into the tiniest space on the road available for livelihood, a street is a life for people and hawkers selling food, electronics, footwear, flowers, and services, name it and it’s available. Evoking all senses with extremes, streets are a memorable experience. This pandemic of 2020 brought a sudden halt on this life. Restrictions on public spaces, social distancing, and people advised staying home changed the paradigm of streets affecting millions.  

With the country holding on to each other, residents have felt the brunt with economic impact, ecological impact, and sociological impact. All being boon and bane in their way. Street vending remains a viable source of employment for many from several years. Millions of street vendors earned their daily wages on the streets in return for blood and sweat which was taken away overnight leaving thousands homeless and moneyless. However, this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise also for human destruction and intervention from years which had led to pollution of air, water, and land. Nature is healing with time. Environmental pollution reduced to 30% and mobility reduced up to 90%. The empty spaces, less noise, and no vehicular pollution lead to animals encroaching the roads amusing people. The sociological structure also got disturbed as the pandemic didn’t see religion, caste, race, or countries of the world leaving everyone scared. The human society felt the experience of confinement within four walls.However, It is a challenging task as not everyone has the privileges and luxuries.

‘Whatever good things we build end up building us’ ~ Jim Rohn 

People are surrounded by buildings at every step nowadays. This pandemic changed or altered each individual’s lifestyle and approach towards living. Some flew back to their hometowns and some got stuck at unknown places. Streets on its way have been a problem and a solution for many contributing to eased mobility, adding character and glow to the city, a visual delight from the balcony, and a one-stop-shop for commodities. The characteristics of the streets changed overnight amid the fear of the unknown and were left deserted with crucial aspects in the uncertainty of transforming sense of place and space affecting social and public relationships. The present streetscapes remain questionable and the future uncertain.  

Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet1
Always traffic-jammed and crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus chowk, Mumbai deserted ©www.indianexpress.com
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet2
Closed, deserted and clean market street, Chennai ©www.thehindu.com

Creative makeshift ideas and methods were seen on the roads, lanes, and streets of Indian cities encouraging and monitoring the code of conduct of the pandemic. The empty sidewalks are painted with circles and squares guiding people for queuing, plant separators for pedestrians, barricades, and restrictions on larger vehicles, an increase in the number of cyclists, and masked passersby. Some cities spread awareness with signage, paintings, and colorful graphic illustrations of safety measures drawn on the empty roads. However, the fear of contagion and boredom in closed spaces has increased the demand for green and open outdoor spaces in contributing to the mental and physical wellbeing of the urban residents.

The following image observes citizens queueing up for collection of government distributed food and daily required items. The roads filled with moving traffic, hawkers and parked vehicles have now become a part of tactical urbanism. 

Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet3
Homeless and stranded migrants queued on circles on the road for free food, New Delhi ©www.weather.com
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet4
Street illustrations for staying home guarded by barricades, Hyderabad ©www.tass.com

Emptied streets made us realise the amount of space available and the effective usage of street space have always been inversely proportional. The plain and dead roads with silence encouraged creative minds to turn roads and streets into canvases. Overlooking these designed messages or motivational graphics are not less than pieces of art from windows and balconies help raise awareness and refreshen minds to break monotonous views.

The life of pandemic questioned the current existence of urban architecture and city planning. The shift of life with basic aspects of survival, needs, and desires has changed its focus towards mainly survival and safety but humans are social animals and need their daily dose of social life with fellow friends and humans. The need to be present and also not to be present on the streets is a dilemma. All the time in the world has made life slow, making us ponder on our actions and reactions. Various individuals, groups, and professionals have participated collectively for developing fresh concepts for changing habits and lifestyles for remaking cities and its urban landscape. 

As the life of pandemic moved on, all spaces have developed a new way of life. From maintaining a 2 meter radius between individuals to avoiding touching handles, doors,etc; From using indoor spaces as gyms to contactless deliveries, we as humans have lost the social touch due to this pandemic. The streets for use have rather reduced to streets for visual connections. The following images express graphically human behavioural changes by opening up relaxation, chilling space and meditation space towards sheets with no air and noise pollution.  

Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet5
©www.admiddleeast.com
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet6
©www.itdp.org
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet7
©www.admiddleeast.com
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet8
©www.admiddleeast.com
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet9
©www.itdp.org
Effects of a pandemic of the streetscapes of India - Sheet10
©www.itdp.org

Conclusion

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink our everyday life through the streets of our cities. As life moves on, we will have to find innovative ways and plan our mobility through the city in a way that we remain safe and healthy. Through the pandemic, people have found new means of commuting on the streets at small distances for necessities. Walking, Bicycles, Scooters are the ones that are now used at regular intervals instead of motorized vehicles. This pandemic has given people a healthy and environment friendly life to move through the streets of our country.

As the country unlocks, this new lifestyle needs to be incorporated in our cities too through innovative designs. The streets need to be planned to allow these developments. 

Ruchi Kumbhani
Author

RuchiKumbhani is currently a final year B. Arch student at PVP College of Architecture, Pune. She is a curious mind & travel enthusiast. With few days of intense binge indoors to days of cycling outdoor, she loves to observeinterrelationship of different settings/spaces and penning her thoughts over it.

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