Community Connections and Cleanliness :

Posted by-Kalki Team

It all started in July as part of a competition conducted by the University of Westminster, London, in collaboration with NASA (National Association for Students of Architecture) to make young college students work on abandoned and unused public spaces and reactivate them using recyclable materials. It took just four teams from the IIIrd year class of B.A (Architecture), Thiagarajar College of Engineering to undertake four different projects in different parts of Madurai and root out the causes in public spaces that led to their degradation over a period of time.

In three months, the unsightly areas are gone and have been replaced with a splash of colours, green patches and happy spaces for children to play and people to walk around. Thrilled and charged up about their contribution and community outreach, the students are now more than willing and contemplating to take up more of such projects.

“We got so involved in the work that we forgot we started off the work as part of a competition,” says Viswadharini Chandrasekaran, coordinator of the team that repainted the wall near the Arapalayam bus stand road.

“We never imagined we will be able to bring out such a change,” says G.Aswath, team leader for the rejuvenated children’s park at Ellis Nagar.

“Once we got into the restoration work, we felt it was our civic duty to give the neighbourhood a clean green space,” says Rose Christina Jeyaseelan, team coordinator for Anna Nagar park.

“The results of the competition no longer matter to us. We have defeated abuse of public space,” says S.Chidambaram, whose team brought back the Pykara bus stand to life.

All these places were abandoned for years, neglected by authorities, abused by people and misused by anti-social elements. But then these college goers have proved that youth is for real change. They came together – initially driven by the motivation to compete to clean up public areas. Powered by imagination and ambition, energy and inspiration, just a dozen of them have now led the change and restored two parks, one bus stand and a wall. Of course, after the initial rounds of scouting, identifying, planning and redesigning all these sites, they needed and unhesitatingly took the help of their friends, family, local residents, volunteers, community leaders.

The biggest supporter they found was in the Commissioner of Madurai Corporation, Sandeep Nanduri. The four teams had identified more than two dozen sites for resuscitation and had to approach the Corporation for permission to work on these public spaces.

“It went well with our ‘spot fixing’ mission under the swachch abhiyan and community development,” says Sandeep. Extremely happy with the results at the four selected sites, he now plans to throw open the challenge to all colleges and on his part is willing to pitch in with manpower and materials required.

So far the Corporation has set right the alley near Nelpettai junction which had turned into an open air public urinal. Along with Vaa Nanba volunteers, the area was cleared of garbage and stench, the walls were painted, street lights and railings were installed and toilets were provided. “It is more than three months now and the place remains tidy,” points out Sandeep

Street art is an excellent way to usher in change for the better and he is happy that the TCE students have used their talents and skills and worked in tandem with the local authorities and the people to manage the work.

@ Ellis Nagar Children’s Park on Anjaneyar Koil Street.

G.Ashwath, S.Akshaya and J.Yoshita are the change makers who offered the local children hope instead of desperation. Within a fortnight, they have given the 20X20 metres park, lying closed for seven years, a facelift. “It is a gift for our children,” said a young mother of twin boys who were happily swinging on the repainted tyres in the revived park now named The Slate.

“The pathway had ceased to exist with overgrowth of weeds everywhere, snakes crawling around and all the playing equipment damaged,” says S.Akshaya. “We put in 10 hours daily, got power and water connection after getting the area cleaned,” says J.Yoshita. “It was hands-on experience. We got seven more of our batch mates to help and repaint the walls, reused lot of scrap material from the dead park to create happy playing spaces for kids,” says G.Aswath.

Welders repaired the play things and children from the locality came to paint the walls with colourful designs, cartoon characters and quotes of famous people. A sequence of yoga postures done with waste rope on a black panel looks very attractive. The students raised and spent Rs.40,000 on the revival of the park. The day the park was completed and relaunched and keys handed over to the resident association members, the children were very sad. “They said they will miss us and have invited us for diwali celebrations in the park,” says Akshaya.

This has been one of the most successful projects.

@ Arapalayam bus stand, near the water tank.

Viswadharini Chandrasekaran, V.Thangadurai, M.Akshaya, S.Bhagavathishree are the agents of change in one of the most difficult places. “We found lots of places that have lost life but we chose this wall because this is one of the entry points to Madurai,” says Viswadharini, “and we were appalled to see passengers getting down from the bus and straight away abusing the wall even though there is a use and pay toilet at one end.”

It was a huge task to be accomplished with an unbearable stench emanating from the site. The Corporation staff came and cleaned the area within a day, says Akshaya. “ We got 15 students from our department and put the coat of primer and as it dried, we decided the sketches to be painted on the 125 metres long wall,” says Bhagavathishree. “Being a high-density busy bus-stand area, the noise and crowd never subsided. A resident gave us their space to brainstorm, do the desk work, take a break. They also provided us food,” says Thangadurai. The autowallahs from the nearby stand were most helpful as they also joined in painting the panels that depict the culture of Madurai.

We now want to involve artists and painters for similar projects elsewhere, says Viswadharini, though she also feels painting the wall is only a part of the solution. “It is the people’s attitude that has to change.”

The Corporation has now provided a free public urinal at the other end of the wall, and brightly lit up the stretch of the road, but still old habits die hard for some people. Upon a request from the students, the Corporation is now planning to lay a pedestrian pavement to prevent people from openly urinating against the wall.

This was one of the most challenging projects

@ Vaigai Colony Park, opposite Annai Velangani Church, Anna Nagar.

After 30 years, Rose Christina Jeyaseelan, Keerthana K, Swetha.M and Thirunila.T have ushered in a flurry of activity inside the 48X28 metres park. Masons, architects, Corporation staff, local residents, children, college students are all actively involved in laying walkways, a badminton court, providing shades and seating places, planting trees and repairing playing equipment. Much of the work is being done with old tyres, plastic pvc pipes, wood scrap, debris, waste bricks, cloth, stones. “We are creating wealth out of waste,” says Thirunila.

“We raised Rs.40,000 but are in need of more money. The work is still in progress here,” says Swetha. “The Corporation helped us initially with levelling and raising the site and now the Commissioner has also promised to construct a compound wall around the park,” adds Keerthana.

“We enjoyed the project and always felt connected to the site, so much so that when it rained and damaged some of our ongoing works, we actually cried,” says Rose. The project has given the students real field experience. “We now know the difference between designing proposals on papers and computers and executing something in real,” she adds.

The project is still a work in progress and will take another two months for resurrection.

@ Pykara bus stand, adjacent to The Gateway Hotel, Pasumalai

A month ago, S.Chidambaram read an article about 800 bus stops lying defunct across India. “Immediately I thought if I bring back one bus stop to life in Madurai, it could become a role model for the country,” he says.

He found one not far from his college. Built by a local councillor eight years ago, the Pykara bus-stand was not in use any longer. Anti-social elements and drunkards had made it their haven, while people used it as an open urinal and for garbage dumping. With six more students, his team went full blast clearing the area of wild growth, cleaning the graffiti, repairing the platform and freshly painting the panels, all within a week and spending Rs.13,000 on the 20-feet long bus stand. The team members shelled out Rs.8000 from their pockets and the job of repairing the seats remains. “I am also planning a small recreation square in front of the bus stop and have conveyed it to the Commissioner,” says Chidambaram.

This project was completed in the shortest time and people are no longer using it as an open urinal.

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