Post 678–by Gautam Shah
This is the 3 rd article of series: ‘CORNERS’.
Neighbourhood is a realm of certain scale, resilient extent, variable sensorial reach, activities, intra-personal contacts, diverse implications and ever-revealing spatial character. Neighbourhoods have no particular pattern or shape. There is no formal arrangement of spatial entities, like buildings and objects. The spatial entities, building and objects remain static, but the mediating spaces carry different personal relevance and meaning. The neighbourhood represents a sentiment of people formed by the spatial character. The character, where small changes are noted and relished.
1 The scale in the neighbourhood is defined by the sensorial reach of the person such through the physical reach capacity, vehicles or means of conveyance, routing, climate, obstructions and the linkages such as bridges, access conditions etc.
2 The extent of Neighbourhood is a resilient factor, because the reach capacities and needs are personal and so different. Senior citizens cover only that distance, which can be traversed back. A road with high density traffic reduces the spread of a neighbourhood.
3 The Sensorial reach is variable as it relates to the perception faculties like touch, smell, taste, see and listen. A child is required to be within the visual field, but a little older one can stretch it to distance of shout call.
4 Activities in neighbourhoods, have an excuse and purpose, as these manifest due to people, space, and season. These are as casual as calling on new settlers and offering help, introductions and directions, or formal like parties and celebrations.
5 Intra-personal contacts flourish at spatial locations like shops, corners, seat-out places and near objects in space, but facilitated by the sensorial reach (of touch, vision, hearing or smell). The reach defines the functional adequacy for interpersonal relationships and related behaviour. Intra- personal contacts occur as encounters, of recognition, casual gestural and verbal greetings and durative exchanges. The routes, space use occupation, time schedules are very deliberate. The spatial character of the neighbourhood is formed by the intensity of activities, which in turn foster the intra-personal contacts.
6 Implications of neighbourhoods are evident with how people realize the spatial features. This is vitalization that formats the space as the place. This is always a synergy, impossible to inculcate through design, or difficult to bring in about by outsiders. Neighbourhoods are about dwellers of the place, and not visitors to market places or parks. The dwellers have certain attributes like age, social status, economic activities, cultural-religion affinity, duration of stay and sense of belonging. These form diverse sets of human interactions and compatibilities.
7 Neighbourhoods continue to reveal their spatial character. One becomes more comfortable with the functional potential and variety it offers. New sensorial connections emerge from smell of foods, sounds of speech and music, visual accent of colour and texture) and the tactile liaison through handshake, caress or hug. These connections are embedded in the people, environment, built space and objects.
The essence of a neighbourhood is the spatial character that is natural, and not a designed one. When people begin to associate the spatial configuration as a participatory extension of their home, it offers a wider sense of belonging. Neighbourhoods are vicinity where people, place and the objects have empathetic connections with synergetic interaction system. The shared identity and related spatial significance are not rationally grasped by many, but all do understand the new experiences that continuously evolve here. The neighbourhood as empathy grows over a period of time, maturing as a distinctive personal domain, different from other settlements.
A neighbourhood is a community place, where the dwellers or ‘locals’ acknowledge the co-residents. This leaves out the gathering or visiting places of ‘non-locals’, and which may be at some distance, like the parks, zoos, markets and malls, etc. A neighbourhood is always a space with uncertain markings. Its extent is fluid, depending on the person’s physical reach capacity, vehicles or means used, routing, climate, obstructions and the linkages such as bridges, access conditions etc. On the other hand gathering or visiting places of ‘non-locals’ are zoned and regulated spaces, strongly defined by barricading elements or contained within set of other places. These places flourish due to the connections with the outside world but neighbourhoods thrive on the internal strengths.
The neighbourhoods have reach regulated by distance. Reach is accessibility to people and objects through familiarity, reliability, predictability and security. ‘These references have historical traces in the race, cast, craft-activity, food, dresses etc. of the dwellers.
Observation is participation in a neighbourhood place. A mother will not allow a child beyond visual field or shout-out reach. A youngster reaches out, to go to known places like friends’ house, school, or playground. Buildings and objects on daily routes of travel seem part of the neighbourhood. Objects beyond the cross barriers, such as busy roads, water-bodies, railway-tracks, hillocks etc. are considered parts of other neighbourhoods.
Historically, small neighbourhood spaces had characteristic commercial component in the form of small stores and services (tailor, barber, laundry) shops. The traders with shop-home combination were also the informal watchdogs (policing) and communicators (gossip). Such places within the neighbourhood formed the loitering places and play areas for children. The commercial component was dissolved with shops and services being pushed to the main roads by zonal regulations. In towered apartments the population density is often great, and shops and services requirements are greater. But these are also pushed away in non-organic layouts. Loitering and play areas for children are vacant lots, used except for few hours. The tall tower dwellers with cars are encouraged to do intensive Saturday-Sunday shopping.
Every little change is not only noticed, but routinely probed. People recognize the spatial changes. ‘Around the corner or beyond the nominal perspective’ the changes are more apparent. A turn is a reversible change cutting off or initiating the connections. The change is worrisome, both by its presence, if sudden and extensive, or through its absence like when not of expected scale and quality. The neighbourhood fabric is disturbed by faster change in dwellers’ profile, new buildings, zoning laws, access to media and means of communication, rapid changes in urban-architectural character beyond the neighbourhood.
Turning around ‘a corner is a limit of the home precinct for the child, but an additional adventure for a youngster’. To the elders, the corner is interesting from the opposite side, as it allows a wider perspective. Street-corners are good locations to observe and passively participate in social activities. Street corners are not always road junctions, but estate or plot edges that are shaped acute, obtuse or diffused. The old planning dictum to ‘always hold the street Line’ or else time will erase all the spared space on the edge. ‘Put your building right out at the sidewalk, instead of behind one of those dreary concrete plazas’.
The street corners are the ‘territory break lines’, not just for dogs and gangs, but also for the users. Within the personally ‘felt’ territory or limits, people move around without explanations, embarrassments or fear. Such ‘discretion’ are helped by the multi-angled-toothed layout of the neighbourhood, rather than a long straight street or squared edge layout.
In Ahmedabad, India the genesis of the neighbourhood was in the ‘Chakla’. It was the first multiple road junction after entering the fort gate. The road from the fort gate was straight, whereas the Chakla had multiple nooks and corners, to be a place for everyone. Neighbourhoods were also formed as the gated communities such as the Pols of Ahmedabad, ‘for the purposes of defence, group preservation, sociality and convenience’. And within the Pol, there were other public or community spaces, in the form of Chowk and Khancho (literally a setback). These were irregularly shaped relief-spaces, identified by the temple or important dweller or the caste-community.
‘A good city street neighbourhood achieves a marvel of balance between its people’s determination to have essential privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees of contact, enjoyment or help from the people around’. (p59 The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs).
Corner bars, cafes or grocery stores were places of convenience, and preferred ‘joints’ because of the commanding view they offered. The owners of such commercial entities were not outsiders, but residents who dwelled up-above or on the back side of the ‘joint’. But with zoning regulations, these were pushed out to the main roads on the edge of neighbourhood or exclusive commercial zones. The ‘joints’ of the neighbourhood were not always in the corner, but known as: 7to11, 24×7, Morn-Eve, Bodega (from Latin apothēca, or apothecary =storeroom or wine-cellar), konbini (Japan, approx abbreviation of konbiniensu sutoa =convenience store), Arabe du coin (Paris), packie, delis (delicatessen), dépanneur or dépanner (French) shortened to a dep, party store, offy for off-license shop, sari-sari store (Philippines), milk stores or bars, Mama shop (Singapore).