“I miss India and public space!” Exclaimed Leena.
“It’s crazy, it’s absolutely in your face, it’s mad, India. It’s like Bangkok. It’s in your face, it’s there, but you know, it’s great! You can step out at anytime of day and night, and yes! It’s crowded! But anytime day or night you can step out and theres a variety of people, there’s a crowd, there’s something happening. There’s a sense that you’re a part of something bigger as a human being.”
“I mean, from my own background I’ve seen people in places like Bombay. So theres a lot of ‘informal’ use of public space, and when I say ‘informal’ it means people who have done what they want to. So streets get used as places for selling things, they get used for sitting down and have a chat. I used to work in an old community in Bombay and within the streets they call them Holaas, which means like the community… you know in the middle of the streets of constant Carrom board matches. You know what Carrom is? It’s like chess, a little board thing. So Carrom matches! You know so four people play and theres this crowd of people watching.” Explained Leena, “…if you look at some of the older public spaces, they were trading spaces. Markets are the biggest public spaces.”
Public space is where everyone is welcome to participate, even just by watching, “…anybody has a right to that space and can use that space. For me a public space is a open space, a democratic space, a space that is owned by everybody and nobody. So you know, it has…the possibility of being whatever the public wants to create. That for me is a true public space.”
“I’ve always been interested in how disadvantaged people or people who are at the lower end of any society and what happens to them and how they use public space. And for me that’s more glaring in Perth than it ever was in Bombay. Because in Bombay all kinds of people mix together on the street and that becomes like the great cauldron. Because everybody walks and they’re out there and they shop and everything is on the street. But over here its not. It’s really interesting because you find out who’s there. And again being a coloured, Indian woman, I am very aware of my own colour. And I look around and go, ‘who else is like me?’ And you often find that public space in Perth…or spaces in which public acts occur are kind of almost keep some people out.”
“There’s a sense that you’re a part of something bigger as a human being”
“So you know, maybe people who are homeless, maybe drunk people, maybe groups of Aboriginal people…There was a time when it was African refugee kids. And I’m sure there’s a debate occurring somewhere in either Melbourne of Sydney. Where 3 or 4 Sudanese kids aren’t allowed to stand together…I find interesting how people who are marginalised end of any society are removed from public space.”
“So its interesting how in the world theres almost like a sanitisation of public spaces. Public spaces are where the city shows themselves to people who they are,” proposed Leena. “So when you start to sanitise our cities thats when it becomes Disneyland doesn’t it.”
Informality, diversity and spontaneous interactions gives our cities vitality and makes them dynamic, exciting places to live. Urban residents need to find value and meaning in their environments to be able to feel like they can belong, to be a part of something. Everyone has a right to the city and public places. It fosters the social cohesion that allows us to come together as a community and strengthen our identity as a place and as individuals.
“I think maybe we need to have more of a trust and faith in people so communities are able to do things. Because I think part of being in cities,” explains Leena, “…the edginess, the kind of noir factor of cities is what makes cities who they are, it makes them a little exciting, it makes that differences are tolerated, it means that different kinds of people co-exist with each other.”
Lunchtimes with Architects is a series of blog posts that aims to enlighten readers about public spaces from around the world. Each blog post will feature a member from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) and will focus on their unique story and showcase how powerful urban public places can really be. This week features Leena Bakshi who works professionally as a sociologist and has successfully completed a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Western Australia. Currently she is undertaking the Master of Urban Design at AUDRC and often collaborates in research projects there. Having grown up in Bombay, Leena has an interest in community driven design possibilities.
Bakshi, L., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC), Perth.
Ronan Guilfoyle, A Week in India with George and Carlos, 2012, accessed March 27, 2017, http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-SbrOfnHvkww/T4SA6EikIqI/AAAAAAAAAyE/GZA80NJiKGI/s1600/M.jpg.
Prayank Kashyap, Street Carrom, accessed March 27, 2017, https://hiveminer.com/Tags/carrom,street.
Jenny Manzo, Market in the Street, accessed March 27, 2017, https://www.tes.com/lessons/VDUvNkdltC_6dA/india.
Melissa Soh, Leena Bakshi at AUDRC, 2017.