May 25, 2007

Master Plan for Chennai

An important process is on in our city. And it is for our city.
The draft of the second Master Plan for Chennai is open for discussion.
This is an important document; it guides the state in planning for the future of this city and its people.
A very positive developent has been the willingness of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), and commonly regarded as the place you go to to get a sanction for building plans, to invite the people of this city to share their views and offer their suggestions on this plan. The CMDA is also willing to incorporate all the key ideas.
This in itself is a major step forward in a climate where few state bodies are willing to even disclose their projects for our neighbourhoods.
CMDA is earnest in holding consultations in different parts of the city and in the suburbs. In some places, the participation has been enthusiastic.
I attended one such meeting last weekend. CMDA's vice-chairman, R. Santhanam, a respected officer, presented the salient features of this document and the suggestions that have been made.
Here is a sample of interesting details gleaned from the presentation.
- While there has been an explosion in the number of vehicles ( a majority are two-wheelers), most of the pavements have been done away with. Interestingly, 40% of employed people in a neighbourhood either walk or cycle to their workspot and state agencies just do not provide for their transport needs.
- The city has over 200 parks and playgrounds, and hence the 'open spaces' seem fairly widespread but such spaces have not been developed in the suburbs of what is called the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA).
- There is a strong suggestion to encourage construction along the MRTS corridor (rail system) and hence, an incentive to raise the FSI (Floor Space Index). The assumption is that people would like to live close to a transport network for obvious reasons. Some architects question the assumption though.
- Modern neighbourhoods are foreseen in two corridors. One is Sriperumbudur, which is home to a large spread of modern industrial activity. The other is Sholinganallur, along the IT Corridor. Civil society activists however, question why the IT industry and the people who work in it are being pampered.
When you have some time on your hands, you should read the shorter version of the Master Plan which is posted on the CMDA web site.
It will enlighten you about the city that is your home. And indicate to you what the future may well be. You may also want to provide inputs to the planners. (
We are not sure how far the CMDA will go to incorporate solid, informed suggestions of citizens in its final plan. But we should engage.
Meanwhile, did you know that there are many real estate promoters who are keen to promote the 'gated communities' concept in Chennai?
Are you for it? Do share your views here.

May 18, 2007

Chennai 600 028 - The Film

The film is called 'Chennai 600 028'.
It was given a rather sharp and ominous-sounding title but the team behind the film dropped it.
I was excited when I saw the first of the promotional banners for the film.
Perhaps because that name gave us an indication that the film was based on a neighbourhood of our city.
It is.
Director Venkat Prabhu has woven a story around his life and the lives of his neighbourhood friends and as you may well know, the area is Raja Annamalaipuram (pine - 600 028). A neighbourhood which grew after people living in the heart of Mylapore developed the barren grounds and scrappy 'thopes' of Abhiramapuram and nudged into what came to be called R. A. Puram.
Earlier this week, I saw 'Chennai 600 028' and I must admit I liked the film. And so did the packed theatre.
The story has everything to do with a neighbourhood cricket team, the sort which rolls up its sleeves, plants three stumps and heaves the bat against tennis balls, using every unorthodox style of playing that is yet to be documented.
If you live near a public playground or across large, empty streets or unattended open plots, you would have surely braced with this type of cricket.
And in most cases, been irritated, frustrated or angered.
A flying ball that broke your window panes, the ceaseless chatter at high noon of a team perched on your boundary wall or of the drone of the commentary of a flood-lit tennis ball cricket tourney hosted at the local Corporation playground, where matches end at 3.30 am.
'Chennai 600 028' is all about this. It is also about the lives of young men and the areas where they live and dream and play.
Prabhu tries to bring to life the 'other' side of Raja Annamalaipuram - Visalakshi Thotham. What you and I might well call the leeward side of a neighbourhood. Narrow, congested lanes, dreary blocks of cell-like apartments, where the struggling middle class live. Where young men flaunt their bravados and colour their dreams, where small victories are celebrated without reservations and where enemies are forgiven and friendships last through the worst of times.
Prabhu manages to capture fairly well the reality of this neighbourhood. And of the youth who hail from the area. He doesn't have the time to scrape the surface. The songs and the dances, so essential at the box office, fill in at expected time frames.
And yet, we should appreciate Prabhu and his team for making a film about ourselves. And of our neighbourhoods.
S. P. Balasubramanyam and his son Charan backed it and it seems it is doing well at the box- office.
I would like to know what you thought of this film, if you have seen it. If you haven't, you should. And then share your views.

May 11, 2007

Citizen journalism in the neighbourhood

Anita Srinivasan of Poes Gardens and Vrinda Manocha of Valmiki Nagar should be celebrating this weekend.
Their news reports have found a place in our neighbourhood newspapers.
Both have just completed the annual summer Journalism Camp which 'Mylapore Times' conducts for senior students every year. There was a bonus which we had offered the participants - if their reports on a local place, person or issue was well-reported then it would be considered for publication.
Anita, a computer geek of sorts, filed rather regularly and this week, we chose to publish hers on a new restaurant in the Alwarpet area.
Vrinda, who was fighting shyness and her lack of knowledge of Thamizh while on the 'beat' in Thiruvanmiyur, was also a diligent reporter. And we chose to publish two of her community stories in the 'Adyar Times'.
This summer, young Abhinaya Mohan, who also attended a longer Journalism Course of ours last year, has come back to spend part of her summer hols, at the office and work on stories and features. You will find her work appearing in the 'Mylapore Times'.
At our newspapers we receive a stream of e-mails, faxes, press releases and phone calls from people who want to share information. Or send us material.
This information helps us do more news stories.
Now perhaps is the time to initiate a few weekend camps for all our readers and other stake- holders of the community newspapers, which will equip them to mail news stories and story leads.
Citizen journalism is slowly making itself felt in the print and television media in this country.
It has been in vogue elsewhere and is a hugely debated subject in the media world.
I believe that people can also play a role in media, especially in community newspapers.
That is why we plan to conduct a few community journalism camps on Sunday evenings at a few venues in the neighbourhoods of Adyar, Mylapore, Arcot Road colonies and in Velachery.
Camps at which we will share basic skills and tips with the interested, which should make them local journalists.
Help them write sharp press releases, motivate them to tip us to breaking news, encourage them shoot clear pictures and e-mail us crisp and info-rich copy on local events.
Let me know what you think of this idea. (You can comment on this my blog or mail me your feedback).
And once the highs of 42 degrees is smothered by the winds of June, we should roll out these camps.

May 05, 2007

Take charge of public spaces!

Durga Gopalan runs 'Kadambam' store in Besant Nagar. She converted a Housing Board twin-house into a shopping space at a time when this area was turning into a shopping zone of the neighbourhood.
Durga also developed a nice lawn at the rear and has hit upon a new idea.
To use the lawn as a space for cultural and spoken events.
She put it to the test recently. A show of the works of the students of design at Stella Maris College Fine Arts Department was a huge success, she says. Almost all the clothes and accessories that the young girls had displayed were sold and some even got orders.
And then she hosted a young artiste who specialises in 'cross-over' music and hosted his concert on the lawns.
Perhaps this show could well be the beginning of a series of events and thus create a space in this neighbourhood for the arts.
I bumped into Sadanand Menon, art critic, writer and lighting designer this week and asked him if there were plans to promote the theatre space of the late dancer-choreographer Chandralekha at her No.1, Elliots Beach Road residence and studio. There is a nice stage here and Menon said that once some repairs were attended to, the space could be used to have shows.
I have often lingered on what was once a cute, Mangalore-tiled house built on the sands at the south end of Elliots Beach for a previous governor of this state and never put to good use. It was allowed to be vandalised.
It could easily have been turned into a space for cultural activities for our children and for theatre and music concerts on weekends.
There are lots of open, developed public spaces in our neighbourhoods. But little happens here.
I would not fault the city Corporation if these places are going to seed.
The blame lies with the communities who own these spaces.
It has been a year since the Corporation constructed a stage with a roof at its playground in Besant Nagar. Nobody can tell us why a stage was built here in the first place. However when some theatre groups I knew showed interest in using the space to host short plays once a month, I went back to the zonal chairman to goad him to take the next step - fix a rental fee for the use of this space.
In some neighbourhoods, communities have begun to use the local parks for concerts, yoga sessions, laughter binges and talks.
It is time we took charge of our playgrounds and stages too.
Perhaps theatre groups like Masquerade, The Madras Players and Koothu-p-pattarai can take the initiative.