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Delhi leads the country in the growth of automobile traffic and while Sheila Dikshit's government is trying to secure another term with the futuristic poll promise of double-decker flyovers, the traffic police is carving out a no-car zone in the heart of the city. Roads will be closed to traffic in the evenings and transformed into venues for citizens to meet, exercise and play. They would provide a welcome addition to the only other recreational spaces in the area, traffic islands and ornamental greens, used in winter by sundry officegoers and government clerks to snooze off their lunch. While the benefits to the capital's cardiovascular health cannot be underestimated, the main beneficiaries will be people who cannot go to restaurants, malls and clubs, and have traditionally been excluded from the life of the city.
Such a civilising move is welcome in a city where it has become impossible to venture onto the streets without reckoning the probability of being run over. However, the theme can be developed further. All Indian cities need spaces that are not purely utilitarian and limited to designated purposes, which can be used like the public squares that are the sign of the old quarter the world over. Squares are spaces that citizens are free to use for a variety of purposes, ranging from plain socialising through sport and performance to local politics, and they enliven cities in ways that institutions, which are exclusionist by definition, cannot.
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