Initiating conversation with the street through signages that lets pedestrians engage and be aware of the environment around the street.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the roads in the streets have been deserted by people. There is no need to step out as home delivery services are catering to those needs. People have adopted Work from Home culture and these trends continue to exist even as the Covid-19 cases are declining in India. This effect of the pandemic has reduced public interaction.
This has significantly reduced the interaction of pedestrians with the environment around them that exists outside their home. The sense of collective ownership of public spaces such as the street is less likely visible. To an extent where a Tamil word 'Porambokku' which means collectively owned land is a swear word now in colloquial usage.
We are attempting to re-establish the lost connection between human and nature by initiating a dialogue that provokes thought and action in the pedestrians.
The space in focus, urban residential streets can be broadly divided into two parts, personal spaces such as Homes and public spaces such as roads, parks, shops. The problem area identified through our research is that public spaces lack a sense of ownership amongst the people residing in the surrounding.
To picture it better here is the description of an Indian urban residential street.
A road is of width15 ft with colourful houses on either side in close proximity with a varied facade. The roads, the sides of the road is home to dogs, parked vehicles and cows trespass regularly. Street hawkers selling products like vegetables, carpets, collecting old newspapers to recycle, each have their unique calls and timings throughout the day. Every morning, the house front is decorated with traditional motifs as a welcome mark. Residents leave for their activities, work, schools, the parked vehicles are taken for a ride. Afternoons are quiet as residents stay indoors, with occasional sightings of people looking out their balconies or windows at the road. Majorly occupying the road, cars pass by while pedestrians on the periphery walk in their bubble trying to reach a destination.
Residential streets in India are vehicle-centric. An average urban Indian house opens up to a street mostly occupied by vehicles in transit. With the roads mostly belonging to these vehicles, people do not often interact with each other or their immediate surroundings. This leads to a lack of awareness and belonging among people towards the street and its natural elements. A reflection of this situation are signages that mostly address vehicles. Signage is the design or use of signs and symbols to communicate a message. Currently, signages are mostly addressed to vehicles to ensure the safety of vehicles and pedestrians and inform them. We think that signages can be used for purposes beyond just ensuring safety. When addressed to pedestrians, they have the potential to reconnect people with their streets. We are rethinking signages in a way that it becomes inclusive of the pedestrians and the environment in the street and not just vehicles.
What if the street could express itself?
Would that make people connect to their surroundings better?
Could that be achieved by just walking through the street?
Talking Streets is an initiative which facilitates people to transform their streets to become pedestrian-friendly and inclusive of their surroundings. The signages are designed to initiate a conversation with the street that let pedestrians engage, be aware of the environment around the street.
Two types of signages we propose are to be strategically placed in the street depending on the requirements.
A) Action-oriented signages
This category of signages prompts pedestrians to interact with the ecosystem around them, which goes unnoticed most times. The idea is for the pedestrian to experience a walk through the street being mindful of the surrounding.
Aim: Indian streets are littered with dry waste products like plastic bottles, bags etc. This intervention is for pedestrians to take notice of garbage littered on the street. Oftentimes, in spite of noticing the garbage, no action is taken to throw it in the trash can. This is an attempt to gamify the task of interacting with the trash and reach it to the trash can.
Intervention: The signage guides the user with visual cues to use the feet and kick the garbage lying on the street to the target which is a modified bin.
The visual cue and the target are placed at a certain distance on the same side of the street such that the pedestrians playfully kick the garbage to the target as they walk along the street.
Aim: For the pedestrians to pause for a moment and acknowledge the beautiful sky above them.
Intervention: The signage prompts the pedestrians to look up through the blue ring which frames the sky. The experience can be enhanced by installing a tactile floor using elements like grass, pebbles or soil. The pedestrians could step on the ground barefoot to look at the sky.
3. Age of the tree
Aim: For pedestrians to take notice of the trees alongside the street and interact with them.
Intervention: A story of the tree is written on it in such a way that it creates curiosity in the pedestrians to interact by following a traced path on the tree to get to know the entire story.
B) Thought-provoking signages
This category of signages invokes thought and non-verbal dialogue between self and the environment he/she is present.
1. Pause, take a breath
Aim: The aim is for the pedestrians to pause and experience the surroundings for a bit during their journey and not make it just about reaching a destination.
Intervention: The signage is a palm that gestures and reminds the pedestrians to pause, and take a breath. The signage is placed where there is a considerate amount of green cover on the street.
2. Framed shadow
Aim: The aim is for the pedestrians to appreciate the play of light and shadow bringing out the interaction between natural and man-made forms.
Intervention: The shadow of rustling leaves and the tree swaying along to the breeze is often observed on the walls of buildings. To create emphasis on one such interaction, a frame is drawn around it. The structure of the frame is such that it resembles a video recorder, so as to remind the pedestrians to observe the life around them.
Aim: To recognize the activity of walking on the street in relation to a bigger element such as the city, country or the world.
Intervention: The distance covered by walking along the street is represented in comparison to the distance between two places on earth. The signage mentions the number of times one pedestrian has to walk the distance of the street to cover the distance between any two places on Earth. This is the last signage the pedestrian interacts with before exiting the street. This also acts as an incentive to come back and walk across the street a few more times.
The signages are to be installed in the preferred regional language along with English translation.
The structure of the signage is a triangular prism which acts as double-faced signage considering a street has an entry and exit from two ends. This structure doubles as signage as well as a planter that would be maintained by the residents of the street. The placement of the signage is such that it is accessible in terms of readability and maintenance of the planter.
Here's a link to the image of the street with the proposed interventions
The concepts discussed above are a few examples of pedestrian-friendly signages. We are looking at streets as a modular unit which can be scaled up to other streets in the city thereby creating a significant impact by restoring human-nature relationships in the city of implementation.
To facilitate this initiative, we propose to use a platform with guidelines and templates of the signages which could be customised to transform any street into a Talking street.
With the help of the guidelines and templates the planning and execution of talking streets could be participatory and involve the residents of the street.
Assumed Impact of intervention:
The idea of collective responsibility can be evoked in the people who are a part of the Talking Streets Initiative and slowly scaled to everyone who interacts with those signages on the street. The new talking streets act as promotion for more initiators to come onboard to transform their streets. We are looking at streets as a modular unit which can be scaled up to other streets in the city thereby creating a significant impact by restoring human-nature relationships in the city of implementation.
Maintenance of signage requires watering the planters and grooming the bushes as required. Seasonally, residents can even change the crop. Further, the talking street could be revamped in case of requirement through self initiatives to create better engagement between Human and Nature.
Who will take these actions?
Talking street initiative platform in the form of a website will be designed and developed by the authors of this proposal. We are hoping to collaborate with organisations that work in the domain of urban design, environmental awareness and sustainable development. With the help of guidelines and templates, community workshops can be organised. Planning and execution of talking streets could be participatory. Residents of the street, students from neighbouring educational institutes or enthusiasts who are willing to transform their street into a talking street could take part in the workshops.
What are the projected costs?
1. Material and prototyping cost - ₹20,000
2. Development of Platform:
- Buying a domain for the platform - ₹1000
- Guidance for the development and design of the platform. Non- monetary
3. Human resources for execution and technical support
1 month - Prototyping and pilot testing in few streets in Chennai and Bengaluru.
2 months - to design and develop the platform along with the guidelines and templates for signages.
2 months - Pitch to relevant organisations for collaboration and sponsorship.
1 month - Conducting 2-day community Workshops in selected streets and communities in different cities of India.
About the author(s)
Janani Sridharan is an Industrial Design student from National Institute of Design, Andhra Pradesh, India. Her interest domain is designing Interactions for a responsible and a positive change in creating a better present and future. She looks forward to new ways of living and living better. She is usually found roaming around with her camera, meeting new people and discovering new places. Being an avid birder herself, she would like to bring about awareness and a sense of appreciation in people of the things around us.
Anagha Bhat Betha is a Communication Design student at National Institute of Design, Andhra Pradesh. She likes telling stories in a variety of mediums to communicate responsibly and deliver interesting experiences. Her interest lies in storytelling through illustration and graphic design while she has recently started to explore new immersive media and human-centred design. She thoroughly enjoys collecting, reading, and making picture books and graphic novels with stories centred around India and its people.