Walkability Study of Calcutta Maidan
Walkability Study of Calcutta Maidan
A Jane’s Walk initiative supported by Calcutta Walks
Also see: Jane’s Walk 2013, Calcutta
“The tiger-haunted jungle which cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river was cleared, and gave way to the wide grassy stretch of the Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud.”
Calcutta Old and New, H E A Cotton
It was a story of red and green frames, green was for thumbs up or like while red was for thumbs down or dislike. Sounds easy, not exactly!!!
About a dozens Calcuttans, along with a couple of foreigners, struggled to decide what to like and dislike in their very own backward.
An initiative of Jane’s Walk, the walkability study of Maidan was organised by Calcutta Walks, a city based walk tour operator who also supports the blog you are presently reading.
Named after Jane Jacob, the US born Canadian journalist, author, activist and urban thinker, the Jane’s Walk have been a regular feature in all the major cities of the world in the first weekend of May ever since 2007.
It was also Calcutta Walks who first introduced the Jane’s Walk in Calcutta by hosting a series of walks in Calcutta in the first weekend of May 2013. (Jane’s Walk 2013, Calcutta)
Although Jane’s Walk is an annual event, but several other activities are held throughout the year all around the globe, including pilot activities and walkability studies.
The Maidan (literally meaning field) is a vast stretch of open field measuring 1283 acres. Strangely the maidan was never conceived as a park but as an open area adjoining the Fort William for strategic military purpose. After the devastating defeat in the hands of Nawab Siraj – ud – Daulah in the old Fort William (present day GPO) in 1756, the Britishers built their new fort with an area of one kilometer radius free of settlements and vegetations.
The Maidan, often referred as the “lung of Calcutta” is probably one of the largest open space in any urban setting and is larger than the London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park.
Today, a property of the Indian Army, the Maidan is no longer free of vegetation but permanent construction is still prohibited and several sports club run from makeshift wooden structures.
The walk to study the walkability of the Maidan started from the Police Memorial on the northern end of the Maidan. Iftekar Ashan of Calcutta Walks introduced the walkers, with a diverse interest ranging from history to ecology and from botany to town planning.
The concept of the green and red frame was also introduced. A pothole on the pavement was the first shot, obviously shot through the red frame. The walkers headed along the tree line Red Road, which definitely came within the green frame.
The walkers followed the mud trail along the Red Road and someone suggested the necessity of a paved foot path, but others objected, suggesting it to be kept in the wilderness, as very few pedestrians use it. Arguments and counter arguments followed and it was soon realised that the selection of the green and red frame was not an easy task.
The walkers made their way inside the Maidan and walked passed men engaged in physical exercises and group of young men playing cricket and football. The walk continued, passing mounted police on horse back and through a flock of goats.
The walk continued with the botanist identifying the trees and the zoologist spotting the squirrels. The historian was not far behind, as he spoke in lengths on the statues and the memorials. The sport enthusiast spoke on the legacy of Calcutta football and about the not so popular sports like rugby, which is also played in the Maidan.
The walkers headed southwards toward the Victoria Memorial, with the Chowringhee skyline on the left, passing past marching cadets of the Territorial Army.
A mobile confectioner with his trunk full of pastries and cream – roll was definitely a welcoming sight for hungry souls walking for well over an hour. Pastries and cream – rolls flew off the shelves, or rather trunk, in no time and it was unanimously decided to put the goodies in the green frame.
A wondering cha – wala was the next halt and as concerned Calcuttans, we decided to carry the used plastic cups away, but it was not so for every body and the Maidan was littered with plastic cups and other non biodegradable objects, something sadly came within the red frame.
Soon the walkers hit a paved road within the Maidan, triggering an argument about its necessity. The walk continued along the paved road littered with horse dung.
The walkability study walk of the Calcutta Maidan finally ended at the North Gate of Victoria Memorial, with promises to make it a regular event throughout the year covering different regions of Calcutta.