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Windows of Georgetown

Chennai ŠUrban Design Collective

To Cities & People

Preface Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was a writer, journalist and activist who championed new, community-based approaches to planning for over 40 years. She is best known for her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which became perhaps the most influential American text about the inner workings and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists. Jane Jacobs had no professional training in the field of city planning but instead relied on her observations and common sense to illustrate why certain places work, and what can be done to improve those that do not. Every year during the first weekend of May, neighbourhood walking tours have come to be organized worldwide to coincide with her birthday on 4th May. These commemorative walks are a tribute to her life and work towards making better cities through community engagement. In 2013, we at Urban Design Collective too organized a series of walks in Chennai, Pondicherry and Mumbai. All three walks were developed through research into the urban history of the neighbourhood and its development timeline. While on the walk, we also spoke to long-time residents and businesses, gleaning local histories. The walks were given and taken for free and participants in all three cities were of a wide age-group and from varied professional backgrounds. From UDC, the walks in the three cities were facilitated by Sivagami Periannan, Shruti Shankar and Vidhya Mohankumar in Chennai; Kavita Gonsalves in Mumbai; and Vidhya Mohankumar in Pondicherry. We are immensely thankful to Chelsea Gauthier and the Jane Jacobs Walk Program under The Center for the Living City, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA for generously providing knowledge-input and publicity. Vidhya Mohankumar Founder- Urban Design Collective April 2014

Here is an interview excerpt to provide an insight into our motivations & goals for the walks (You can read the complete interview on the UDC blog/ JJW website) Q&A WITH VIDHYA MOHANKUMAR, FOUNDER, UDC By Chelsea Gauthier, Associate Director at Center for the Living City, Salt Lake City, USA 1. Why are you interested in hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk in India? I have been familiar with Jane Jacobs’ work for a decade now and her seminal piece ’The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ was the first book I had to read and summarize as part of my masters program in Urban design at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I remember being so enthralled with the idea of the ‘street ballet’ and how it was the perfect way the describe the streets of India! I can’t remember how I stumbled upon the Jane Jacobs Walk website but the opportunity to host a Jane Jacobs Walk in the very streets that came alive in front of my eyes as I read the book was not to be passed! 2. What are your main goals to accomplish with your events? I think the Jane Jacobs Walk is a simple yet delightful way to get people to engage with the city. Our walks in the two cities – Chennai and Pondicherry are set in their respective historic cores. It would be a good event if we can get a diverse cross section of people to come together and participate in meaningful conversations about the social and built future of the city with the historic core as a backdrop. 3. What are your Jane Jacobs Walks focused on? Our Jane Jacobs Walks will be focused on stories. Stories are how every city’s culture and heritage thrive and everyone loves a good story! For both Chennai and Pondicherry, we are researching stories that bring alive their historic cores for the people on our walks. 4. How does hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk integrate with the work of your organization? Hosting a Jane Jacobs Walk aligns with UDC’s objectives in more than one-way. To start with, it offers us an opportunity to improve our own understanding of a part of the two cities we are conducting the walks in. It then allows us to meet and interact with a cross section of the city’s residents who have chosen to be part of the walks for what it can offer to them. Such interactions always offer a possibility of being converted into more meaningful relationships in a city building process. And finally, UDC being a collaborative platform, it gives us great pleasure to be associated with Jane Jacobs Walk as a likeminded partner organization to promote dialogue on the design of cities.

Our Chennai edition of the Jane Jacobs Walk was a walking conversation - a personal take on local culture, social history, and planning issues, relevant to the neighbourhood of Georgetown. Conversations revolved around interesting insights and stories about Georgetown, encouraging walkers to share their own opinions and observations on this continuously changing neighbourhood.

Photograph credit- Aishwarya R

Windows of Georgetown Jane Jacobs refers to the ‘eyes upon the street’ concept in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) in the chapter where she discusses safety and the sidewalk. She notes that ‘there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street’. Windows play a vital role in this passive surveillance narrative. As we introduced some of Jane Jacobs’ key concepts of urbanism, we asked the participants on the walk to capture these metaphorical ‘lenses’ through which the residents of Georgetown engage with the neighbourhood and the city. Presented here is a sample set of the digital captures.

The many myriad windows of the General Post office Photographs credit- Aishwarya Soni

Juxtaposed in time Photograph credit- Aishwarya R

Five generations of windows Photograph creditJothivel Moorthi A.C.

The workplace windows Photographs creditAishwarya Soni

That 70s look Photographs credit- Aishwarya R

Georgetown without Art Deco?

Photographs credit- Bharath Gandhi. P

Hiding from the sun

Photographs credit- Jothivel Moorthi A.C.

The pastels are in town!

Photographs credit- Aishwarya Soni

The déjà vu windows Photographs credit- Bharath Gandhi. P

Cyclops was here.

Photograph credit- Aishwarya R

All dressed up! Photographs credit- Aishwarya Soni

...and only the bare essentials.

Public versus private.

Photographs credit- Jothivel Moorthi A.C.

Photograph credit- Aishwarya Soni

The insider’s window

Photograph credit- Mahesh Radhakrishnan

Mental maps At the end of the walk, participants were asked to trace back the route taken and include various pause points/ landmark buildings. As walk organizers we were keen to see how our coverage of the neighbourhood effected people’s perception of Georgetown. Shown here in the following pages are a select few mental maps.

Nithya Ramesh Urban designer

Kaushik Amalan Student of Architecture

Devangi Ramakrishnan


Urban designer

Real Estate Consultant

Aishwarya R Marketing professional

Bharath Gandhi Civil Engineer

Santhosh Kumar S Founder, Bambaram Toy Library

Kashmira Medhora Urban designer

Rajesh K Professional Blogger

Ayshwarya Ramakrishnan Student of Architecture

Mahesh Radhakrishnan Architect

Aishwarya Soni Student of Architecture

Anonymous submissions (Some of our walk participants were shy)

Georgetown vs Koyambedu I would like to start of my overview of the ‘Jane Jacobs Walk’ by thanking the Urban Design Collective team for organising an educational excursion around the historic sites of Chennai. While I would love to start of my Sunday with my alarm snoozing at 11am followed by a hearty breakfast, I choose to start my day ay 6.30am followed by rushing frantically to swallow a biscuit and start my GPS to drive east from Koyambedu to Georgetown for the Walk. Before I rant on about the two different worlds I experienced in a span of 4 hours in Chennai, I want to iterate that I have only been in the city for two months and my experience may be premature. The Walk started with sights of ‘Art Deco’ buildings along This is an essay written by one of the walk participants, Kashmira Medhora Dubash. As someone who recently moved to Chennai from New Zealand, she was very excited to be on the walk and learn a thing or two about the city she now calls home. She sent us this piece which compares Georgetown with Koyambedu, a relatively newer neighbourhood where she lives. Kashmira is an urban designer/ planner currently working with the Institute for Transport and Development Policy as a Transport Planner. Outside of work, she is an experimental chocolatier who sells her creations under the name Moira Chocolates.

N Beach Road, which is very alien to Koyambedu. While I appreciate the detailed façade these buildings had to offer, my ignorant-self thought I had seen better. However, as we walked through the inner streets I started to see, feel and sniff the ‘old’ Chennai, which I was waiting to experience for the past two months. The streets were narrow, lined with a mix of old Tamil houses and new structure sharing a party wall. Jane Jacobs would surely share a love-hate relationship with Georgetown. The place has a sense of character which is distinctive to Chennai. All elements of Georgetown urban fabric including the old Tamil housing typology and street network worked together to create its own identity. Georgetown has adapted to accommodate change; established old Tamil houses now share a party wall with new buildings that may have been constructed to accommodate the demand growth. Even though the streets were relatively quiet before 9am, I was told they hustle and bustle with activities on weekdays. There was a wide array of commercial activities within walking distance ranging from local grocers, tailors, prayer houses

(temple and church), industrial cottages and local restaurants. Some of these distinct activities/built structured acted as prominent landmarks within the area offering a place that is easy to navigate. The place was easy to get around by foot or cycle, as the narrow, well connected and consolidated street grid network made Georgetown walkable and legible. It was obvious that the streets were purely meant for public activities and the buildings provided a private enclosure. After 10am one could spot children playing cricket on the streets – Jacobs would have loved the sight of streets being occupied by people rather than cars. I guess the ‘hate’ relationship would begin the lack of maintenance of the ‘livable’ areas. While Georgetown creates an urban eutopia for people to live, work and play, it lacked hygiene, maintenance of street rubbish and the concentration of poverty within them. While Georgetown is rich in character defined by its history, Koyambedu’s cityscape is defined by its prominent bus terminal, vegetable market and its built environment identical to any other suburban fabric. Even though, both areas offer a mixture of commercial and residential activities, the residential buildings in Koyambedu are not distinct as what Georgetown had to exhibit. The streets are lively but mobbed by buses, rickshaws and cars instead of aspiring 10 year old cricketers. The walkability component of good urban design is compromised by lack of pedestrian footpaths, wide roads for cars and buses, and street hawkers dominating side roads. However, in terms of location Koyambedu is well connected to both Chennai Central Railway Station and Chennai International Airport through Poonamallee High Road and Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Georgetown grew due to its proximity to the port, while Koyambedu developed as a transitorientated development; while both areas provide a commercial hub for Chennai, Georgetown offers rich local history as well; landmark buildings within the Georgetown urban fabric made the area legible and easy to navigate, however, rather than the built environment, the bus terminal acts as a major landmark in Koyambedu.


Urban Design Collective (UDC) is a non-profit organization that works as a collaborative platform for architects, urban designers and planners to promote livable and sustainable cities through community engagement.

Jane Jacobs Walk (JJW) is a program of the Center for the Living City, a non-profit organization created to celebrate Jane Jacobs’ life and legacy by helping people organize walks in their communities around the time of her birthday in early May.

Š Urban Design Collective

Windows of Georgetown- Jane Jacobs Walk Chennai 2013  
Windows of Georgetown- Jane Jacobs Walk Chennai 2013  

On 5th May 2013, Urban Design Collective hosted a Jane Jacobs Walk in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Chennai. This publication was assembl...