| The Champs-Elysees
The immediate environment of pedestrian plazas contributes a lot towards their success or failure. All successful plazas have a strong definable edge, which is either a series of buildings or shops or trees. The Champs-Elysees in Paris is one of the best examples where a wonderfully controlled facade provides an appropriate backdrop to the activities at the street level.
The buildings along the Champs-Elysees are more or less of the same height and almost equal to the width of the pavement. The building mass acts as a backdrop to the pedestrian activities and is not the dominating element in the vista. The pavements on either side of the road are so wide that pedestrian movement dominates vehicle movement.
The trees with uniform height and foliage have been able to successfully shield the vehicle movement from the pedestrian and have helped create a self-contained environment for the sidewalks.
A law enacted around the end of the 19th century to control signage within the city is still in force. The shop-fronts, therefore, have the minimum possible signage. In 1962, the Malraux Law was enacted, which helped in establishing the urban design framework for central Paris and contributed towards restoration and preservation of structures with historic or architectural importance in the city.
Cut to the avenue of palm trees in Lloret de Mar in Costa Brava, Spain. The same urban design principle is followed. Structures are not allowed to visually dominate the landscape. The physical connection between the sidewalks, the pedestrian avenue and the sea beach is established smoothly.
An example of a much more intimate proportion of a pedestrian street is the Neuhauser Street in Munich, Germany. Unlike the Metro stations and vomitories of Calcutta, the subway escalator in Munich brings the commuters on to the pedestrian plaza at ground level. The plaza is encased between old buildings of similar bulk and height, dating from 1597.
The plaza continues to merge into Kaufinger Street, which is the main shopping mall of that area. The restrained variation of grey paving tiles forms the backdrop for the trees, the flowers and the ribbon of colourful display windows at the ground-floor level.
All these plazas are a result of careful planning at the macro as well as the micro level. None of the elements used is expensive or difficult to find .
These areas have limited vehicle access to a large part of the city, thereby reducing pollution, and have encouraged the citizens to walk.
A city like Calcutta needs conversion of streets for vehicles into pedestrian malls to bring people closer to the city.
Partha Ranjan Das
(The author is an architect and urban designer)