Revitalizing Pune's Historic Core City: A Pedestrian-Friendly Transformation

Pune, with its rich cultural history, boasts an old core city established along the riverside. This area holds a unique character, deeply rooted in physical, social, economic, ethnic, and spatial aspects. The core city, particularly in the Peth areas, preserves a distinctive architectural charm with its Wadas, historic built heritage, and public spaces. However, with the escalating issues of air pollution and congestion in Pune, there arises a need to rejuvenate the core city, embracing its past while ushering in a sustainable and pedestrian-friendly future.

The Unique Character of the Old Core City

Pune's old core city is a treasure trove of cultural heritage, with its mixed-use low-rise urban form defining the Peth areas. These neighbourhoods showcase a distinct architectural character through the intricacies of Wadas, frequent resting places in front of local temples, and lanes interlinked by narrow streets. This historic layout was designed to cater primarily to pedestrians and cyclists, reflecting the transportation needs of the time.

Attractions of the Core City

The old city, with its timeless appeal, draws people from various parts of Pune for diverse reasons. Visitors are captivated by the unique quality of the mixed-use low-rise urban form, the historical significance of Wadas, and the serene atmosphere around temples and social spaces. The core city's liveliness makes it a preferred destination for many.

Challenges Facing the Core City

Despite its cultural richness, Pune's old core city faces numerous challenges that threaten its identity and well-being. The current trend has led to neglect of nature, reduction of public spaces, and deteriorating air quality. Issues such as unequal land distribution, poor accessibility, and the pressure of new developments further exacerbate the problem. The core city is grappling with decaying infrastructure, a degraded river, and an over-reliance on motorised transportation, resulting in traffic congestion and poor air quality.

The Need for De-motorisation and Pedestrianisation

To address the escalating problems of air pollution and congestion in Pune, a paradigm shift is imperative. The focus should be on de-motorising the core city and transforming it into a pedestrian-friendly zone. By discouraging heavy motorised traffic and promoting sustainable modes of transportation, we can mitigate the adverse environmental impact and enhance the overall quality of life in the core city.

Benefits of Pedestrianisation

  1. Air Quality Improvement: By discouraging vehicular traffic, the initiative aims to significantly reduce air pollution levels in the core city, contributing to a healthier living environment for residents and visitors alike.
  2. Congestion Alleviation: Pedestrianization will ease traffic congestion, creating a more efficient and stress-free urban experience. This will not only benefit local businesses but also enhance the overall quality of life for those frequenting the area.
  3. Cultural Preservation: The pedestrian-friendly transformation ensures the preservation of the core city's cultural and historical heritage. It encourages a more immersive experience for visitors, allowing them to appreciate the architectural nuances and cultural richness of the area.
  4. Community Engagement: A pedestrianized core city fosters community interaction and engagement. Public spaces and temples can become vibrant hubs for social activities, further enhancing the city's social fabric.

Recommendations from the Development Plan of Pune as adopted by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has adopted a strategy that emphasises the need for better non-motorised and public transport and this is reflected in various official documents such as the Comprehensive Mobility Plan, the Development Plan, Pedestrian Policy, Comprehensive Bicycle Plan and Urban Street Design Guidelines.

One of the key recommendations made in the Comprehensive Mobility Plan and reiterated in the sanctioned Development Plan for Pune is the pedestrianisation of Laxmi Road - a major commercial street running down the centre of the core/old city of Pune - and its surrounding areas.

The Development Plan recommends - Encourage and Designate Pedestrianization in Core Area
The core area, with its array of high density retail and commercial uses and narrow streets, is well suited for pedestrianization. Converting a street or an area for car-free use is called pedestrianization. Well-designed and placed public spaces can enliven an area. MG road in the city has already been made a Pedestrian Plaza on Sundays. One of the pedestrian busy streets in the core area is Laxmi road, as can be seen from the pedestrian survey results. Similarly the surrounding roads also have a very high pedestrian count. On an experimental basis, vehicles may be banned on Laxmi Road and adjoining streets (within 50m to 200m) from 8 am to 8 pm, effectively turning an area of approximately about 0.5~1.0 square kilometers into a vehicle-free zone to ease the air pollution and traffic jams that plague the old city. International experience shows that despite the initial resistance, pedestrianization has often improved the businesses and economy of the area which is in addition to the social benefits. If the ban proves successful, it could be made permanent.

Rejuvenating Pune's historic core city by embracing a pedestrian-friendly approach is a visionary step toward sustainable urban development. Balancing the preservation of cultural heritage with contemporary environmental concerns, this initiative holds the potential to transform the core city into a thriving, vibrant, and ecologically conscious urban space for generations to come.