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Permeability and social networking within neighbourhoods of Ahmedabad

Today with the constant growth of the cities and growing urban challenges being faced by the government, one finds a constant struggle to cope with the growing urban physical demands of housing, infrastructure, services, etc. But one finds a gap in the identification and acknowledgement to the social functions of a city. Lewis Mumford calls a city as ‘a theatre of social action’ and that the physical organisation of a city, its industries and markets, amenities like communication lines and traffic must be subservient to its needs in his paper ‘What is a City?’. One of the earliest definitions of an ideal city by Plato in his book Republic was characterised primarily as having 5000 citizens while Aristotle in his book Politics defined a city as a unit in which each citizen should be able to know others by sight and smile. Thus a city is not just characterized by its infrastructure, services, facilities but more by its people.

The old inner parts of the cities, generally developed at a time before the advent of modern means of transport was found to consist of such a human scale within which one finds due importance given to the social requirements of the built environment. Here the size of the entire old city is many times found to be comparable to the neighbourhood unit owing also to the need for walkability. In today’s scenario, the scarcity of space is leading to high rise apartments. Moving vertically does not just stack families one above the other but many times fades the intensity of social bonding found extensively in older types of neighbourhoods. One of the major reasons seems to be the lack of physical and visual permeability offered by the built environment.

There is a need to understand the intensity of social networking existing within neighbourhoods of different types. The next social unit after a family enclosed within a house is a neighbourhood. In today’s time when everyone has extended their social circle through internet-based social networking, one feels that this has led to a loss of social life within the neighbourhood too. The change which has occurred was and is, inevitable but to some extent, a neighbourhood providing opportunities for a good social life can reduce it. This study is an effort to contribute to the mentioned concern.

Neighbourhood unit is one of the smallest units at a community scale that a planner deals with. When planning at Micro level is taken sensitively the macro picture of the city or region gets inevitably right. The concept of ‘Neighbourhood unit’ was introduced by Clarence Arthur Perry in 1900 as a means of insulating the community from the ill-effects of the burgeoning sea of vehicular traffic. Some other theories also pay emphasis on optimally sustainable and safe neighbourhoods. Clarence Perry talks about a neighbourhood as a unit of 5000 to 6000 people contained in a radius of one-fourth mile with an elementary school in the centre and amenities in close proximity. Clarence Stein also talks about a neighbourhood in similar lines except that the extent of the neighbourhood is of one-mile walking distance radius. Thus the definition of a neighbourhood took an elementary school as the primary central unit and walkability as the major parameters. At present with the development of advanced transport systems, the previous anchors of neighbourhood i.e. schools and other central amenities do not necessarily count as drivers of a good neighbourhood. More than a physical enclosure, the neighbourhood is an experience in a social territory. This experience differs with the kind of population it holds, their social inclinations and social extent. The types of neighbourhoods can be classified based on their built fabric. For example, a neighbourhood experience in a low rise high density built fabric will be extremely different from a high rise high density. An ideal neighbourhood does not just respond to the physical needs of the people in a neighbourhood in terms of amenities and services but also addresses the social need of every age group.

The process of planning from Master plan to area development plan focuses on an overall city planning and so the essence of the neighbourhood gets lost in the whole process. Although the physical aspects like the required amenities, services, physical and social infrastructure, etc. are taken care of however social aspects are hardly discussed.

The project attempts to find out how permeability offered by different neighbourhoods influence the intensity of social bonding existing within the place.

With the growth of cities, it is difficult to address the social parameters at a city scale and therefore planners tend to address the larger demands focusing on the physical visible basic aspects. Even when talking about the scale of a neighbourhood our guidelines seem to focus on the basic infrastructure or other physical needs but show no consideration on the social requirements it needs to cater. Besides this, the upcoming developments have varying types of neighbourhoods developed owing to varied interests of different stakeholders from the government, to private builders, to industrial owners (setting a township for its employees), etc. showing little or no consideration to its actual users.

Author Ms Digisha Mehta