How 'Urban Voids' Have The Potential To Improve The Quality Of Life In Indian Cities


First talked about by Jane Jacobs in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Urban Voids are the areas in a city, whose functions and designs have not yet been decided upon conclusively. These may be reserve areas, fallow land, distance spaces, vacant buildings, polluted or unused properties. All these areas do not fulfill any concrete function in the urban system. Acting like the spaces between spaces, Urban voids are also known as 'buffer zones'.

The key characteristic that differentiates a good city from a not-so-great one or a good urban design from a poor one is a sense of community with spaces where people like to be outdoors because they feel safe. Factors like low pollution, walkability, dedicated cycling paths, greenery, rest areas with benches and architecture that makes life easier for displaced people not worse etc. contribute to the quality of an urban design. In India, Chandigarh with its orthogonal grid, planned by French architect Le Corbusier is a prime example of it.

However, one also could argue that perfect urban planning is not a mandate for the revitalization of urban voids. In Brazil, Favelas which is an umbrella term for working-class neighbourhoods are known to have poor living conditions and are synonymous with slum areas. Yet, the football pitches tucked amonst the buildings in the favelas are a charming example of how when utilized well, Urban voids can become the source of joy and hope. Football legends like Ronaldo Nazario and Ronaldinho were born in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre and developed their skills in these same urban voids turned football pitches.

In India, the neglected space under the flyovers have massive potential to become community spaces that can soften the brutalism of the cities. Projects like One Green Mile, a multipurpose park and amphitheatre in Mumbai have already begun to transform the urban voids under flyovers into community landscapes offering amenities, recreation and greenery as a public space. In Delhi, Van Phool, a makeshift school takes classes under the Mayur Vihar flyover in shanties of bamboo and wood for 150 students every day. In Kolkata, under the Axis mall flyover is an Instagram-worthy hangout space in striking colours with seating, eateries, a play area and a large chessboard.

If you've lived in or even visited a metropolitan city, you're aware of the chaos in its environment with the speeding vehicles, the dusty air, the loud and unyielding sun, and the relief you feel when you find a small, coffee shop shrouded in greenery to unwind and take a breather. The disparity between those experiences can be cut down exponentially with the utilization of Urban voids creating little oases throughout a city. And they could be the key, perhaps, to slowly shift the ethos of urban spaces towards, conscious, slow living.