What if we could build sports facilities and libraries in neighbourhood train stations?

What if you could play sports in a train station
Blog SMART CITIES Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 11:50

By Prathap Krishnan

One of the dream projects of the current government is the creation of 100 smart cities, a long-term project that is likely to be implemented over the next 20 years or so. The word ‘smart’ has been a topic of discussion but it is not clear to many, how this is envisioned by those in power.

The immediate thought that wanders into mind when the word ‘smart’ is mentioned is one that centres on the internet, wi-fi and the various mobile apps that are in circulation today. However, some insight about the concept can be gained from the Mission Statement and guidelines on smart cities uploaded on the Ministry of Urban Development website.

Broadly, this falls under 3 circles – quality of life, employment and investment opportunities. The quality of life circle is an interesting topic and one that needs wide discussion since there is no concept of a 'one size fits all'.

The government has come out with a provisional list of 98 cities where the project will be implemented and these cities would have to submit proposals which could then be taken forward. However, with the project still at a nascent stage and clarity regarding its execution remaining elusive (at least to the writer), the focus of this article will be on the existing urban neighbourhood, a population that is already settled and unlikely to shift. In that respect, it will be more of a wish list and a not so ‘smart’ one at that.

A few questions arise where metropolises are concerned. How can the quality of life, in terms of leisure and entertainment, be improved in densely populated areas with practically no space available for improvement? And what are the things that can fit in every neighourhood in a city, which will be within a 1 km radius of residents and yet offer a good environment to wind down in the evenings or on the weekends?

The answer I believe lies in one location common to most cities in India – train stations. The metro and suburban stations have huge built up space and have great potential to turn into places that offer something for everyone – indoor sports facilities, coffee shops, massage centers, libraries and even yoga mandirs if possible!

At this point it is necessary to point out that the stations need remodeling to accommodate these and would involve substantial expenditure. Therefore, these leisure spots have to necessarily be promoted through private companies which can undertake a part of the construction cost and its maintenance.

Any given facility should be uniformly available in all areas of the city and one should not need to travel 10 kilometres in order to access it. For instance, if a library is built inside a station, then all stations should have a library even if the company running it is different in each case.

Having stressed on the need for uniformity, the other thing that needs to be addressed is the form which these leisure spots should take. Facilities such as for indoor sports or libraries need some thought. So, what form could a library for instance, take in a train station, especially one with a coffee shop on the same floor? Putting the two together is surely like milk and sugar and therefore, a small lending library that allows people to borrow books to take home but with a reading area adjoining it, would fit the bill nicely.

The indoor sports center is a lot trickier due to a wide range of ideas depending on interests and exposure. At this point it needs to be stressed that these centers should be a ‘pay and play’ type to generate revenue for its maintenance. However, it is near impossible to fit in a dozen or so indoor games and sports, and a gymnasium within a train station. Some activities such as billiards, table tennis, squash and carom can be made available at all stations considering their size although the quantity is debatable based on space and cost. To accommodate larger facilties, such as for basketball or volleyball, replication would necessarily be placed on the back burner, but they could be made available once in every 3-4 stations.

Next, one has to address its optimum utility. To ensure that, play areas will have to be equipped with sports equipment which could be made available to users on rent. This would directly increase patronage as otherwise, buying equipment for occasional usage is a deterrent for most. Pre-booking through the internet can be made use of to avoid unnecessary traffic. However, this has to be coupled with live updates for no shows, to enable instantaneous availability of information to users. Additionally, it is essential for the place to remain open from early morning till late night to provide the necessary flexibility and cater to as broad a customer base as possible.

Finally, as far as train stations are concerned, I take the opportunity to plead that these are not converted into malls. There are no dearth of these and therefore, adds very little value in the way of improving the quality of life. In the current atmosphere where a lot of discussion revolves around health and well being, a space exists to provide for things that will rejuvenate the currently dormant physical component in lifestyle. A healthy society will make way for a healthier and stronger nation. The golden chance should not be squandered.


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