Footpath – noun. A path for pedestrians in a built-up area; a pavement. Spatial organization that induces a movement known as ‘stroll’.

In their most pragmatic form, footpaths provide a safe zone for people to walk, away from moving traffic. However, they can also be an extension of the abutting buildings. Retail goods spill out in front of shops and on kerbs, creating internalised regions. Cafes set up chairs and tables for patrons to sit outside, extending trade into the public realm. Can you recall walking in a city, trying to find a footpath to walk on? How was your experience?

In the hustle-bustle of our life within the urban traffic, we often grow normalized and hence ignorant about our day to day struggles. While walking from Waste Warriors office (my host organization in Dehradun where i am placed as a fellow) to the nearest bus stop, it takes around 5 minutes to reach. While the road has footpath, I find no space ever to walk on the footpath and looking left-right, front-back I try to save myself from the damage that any vehicle would inflict upon me.

Have you ever felt that you’re trespassing while you’re just walking on the footpath? I have realized that sometimes the spaces outside the cluttered shops are taken in the shop in such a way that I feel I’m almost in the shop and I’m trespassing. As humans, we have a strong sense of territorial-ship, and we try to define our territories, just like animals do.

The dog in my street never lets other dogs come in the street. Have you ever walked in any society where everybody has open spaces in their houses which are connected to the street visually but not physically? Why do we do that? Is marking our territory so much in our nature, that we’re so unwelcoming. Have you ever crossed a super nice house with huge boundary walls? Why has the need for privatization increased so much? Humans have a tendency to participate with the outside public world yet they clearly define their entry to the private world, which is strongly manifested in the edge conditions of our built form.

Why does this happen? What role does the physical built form play here? The street is a linear, open and continuous linking element bound on either side by either a continuous facade or by a series of individual buildings with gaps in between. The earlier streets were as if carved out of the built mass and were planned to the scale of human beings, the horse and the carriage with the space around it relating to the pedestrian circulation and activity. On the other hand today’s streets with the asphalt carpet, which are channels for the movement of cars, still retain the name ‘street’ but have no connection with the original significance of the term. 

The edge is a linear element that is a boundary between two domains or entities – public and private. The edge may be a barrier more or less penetrable which close one region off from another, or they may be seams, lines along which the two domains are related and joined together. What happens on the edge? Edge being the transitional element, gives a lot of opportunities for interactions to take place. While that happens footpath is also home to a lot of informal food stalls and vegetable vendors, creating a huge market for the informal sector. To my observation, it is also parking space. And where are the footpaths in the old markets of any city, which are filled with spices and food that smells to high heaven, bright clothes.

According to a Comprehensive Study on Crashes with Pedestrians on Indian Roads, About one of every ten traffic-related fatalities in the country is a pedestrian. In 2016 nearly 15,800 pedestrians were killed in India. I was shocked when one of my aunts passed away walking on the roadside, in Surat. Since then these questions bother me. What was her fault? Whose failure is it? Who is responsible for this? And what steps can be taken? Is being careful while walking enough? Is this our only solution to all issues systemic – to ‘train’ the customer?

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