Escape the chaos. Let’s go underground!

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It’s back! And it’s bigger and better! (And cleaner!)

The 1st Bengaluru Underground Festival (held in August 2014) was a unique first-of-its-kind Underground Festival to reclaim Bangalore’s filthy subways. The good news is that the subways have stayed clean and usable for a year now (despite lots of cynicism from lots of people), and it’s time to celebrate again!

What is it?

Bangalore is following in the footsteps of New York, London, Paris and major world cities, by transforming its underground pedestrian underpasses, or subways, from the stinking, dingy dangerous places that they have always been, to vibrant public spaces involving art, music, culture – with the idea of making them clean, pedestrian-friendly and usable. It is a win-win for all, and a delightfully simple idea that all Indian cities could aspire to do.

What started an experiment in 2014 (Can subways really become art hubs?) has now been fully proven. A Kannada Rock Music Festival was conducted underground on Rajyotsava Day (November 1st 2014), and several smaller informal music jam sessions and baithaks have been conducted on Sundays when the pedestrian traffic is low.

The 2nd Bengaluru Underground Festival is a reaffirmation that it is possible to reclaim neglected public spaces in a sustainable way – and there will be several surprises and new activities that can be performed/enjoyed underground! 

Why KR Circle?

Bangalore’s most prominent circle has 6 pedestrian underpasses to allow pedestrians to cross these busy dangerous roads safely. It is one of the most complex and elaborate subway systems in India –six underground walkways which are inter-connected by six walkways overground.

This is an area of colleges (UVCE, SJ Polytechnic, Maharani’s), government offices (Lokayukta, MSB, Vikasa Soudha, Revenue Office, BESCOM, Dept of Public Instruction) – with very heavy pedestrian movement. Over 10,000 pedestrians use this area every single day, and the infrastructure built for their safe movement is lying defunct/neglected. Until July 2014, all the subways were poorly maintained, full of urine, without lights and very dangerous, and unhealthy to use. Especially for women – and consider that there are several women’s colleges here.

Most pedestrians haphazardly cross the busy roads, at risk to themselves, and adding to the traffic chaos above ground. As subways exist, there are no pedestrian crossing traffic signals – in fact, there are high medians to deter pedestrian crossing!

How were the subways reclaimed?

A citizen movement, inspired by The Ugly Indian (TUI), decided to clean, paint and reclaim these subways in July 2014. With the support of the then Mayor K Sathyanarayana and the BBMP, several hundred citizens, employees of companies, and even delegates and speakers of the TEDx Bangalore event worked round-the-clock for three weeks in July 2014 to restore the subways and make them usable. Bangalore Rising (a TUI-Inspired citizen initiative) formally adopted the KR Circle subways as part of the Namma Bengaluru Nanna Koduge scheme of the BBMP and offered to maintain these subways with security, cleaning and maintenance.

Who maintains the subways?

A citizen volunteer team decided to defeat the myth that it is not possible to maintain clean pedestrian underpasses/subways in city centre areas. After all, if several crores of taxpayer money have been spent to create such a complex inter-connected subway system at Bengaluru’s premier junction, there MUST be a way of maintaining it – so that thousands of pedestrians for whom these were meant, do not need to cross dangerous roads with fast traffic, jumping over medians etc.

They studied the behavior patterns of those anti-social elements who abuse the subways, and came up with a plan that involved:

  • appointing professional security guards, as needed
  • repairing and blocking all access points to the subways other than the main door
  • restoring electricity and lighting
  • locking the subways at night
  • regular cleaning and maintenance.

Within a month of sincere efforts, vigilance and deterrence, supported by BBMP and Bengaluru Police, the anti-social elements who abused the subways stopped coming, and students started using the subways to cross the roads. Today, 12 months later, there are proper systems in place for security, maintenance and customer-friendliness.

The subways are positively inviting – offering a peaceful refuge from the dust, pollution and chaos above. Who pays for all this? The maintenance of the subways is funded by citizen donors – all of whom want to stay anonymous. The costs are relatively low, as there is no wasteful expenditure and there are zero supervisory costs – all of which is done by citizen volunteers. This project is truly BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE. Hundreds of citizens have contributed to this initiative, and it has inspired the rescue of a nearby subway system at Basaveshwara Circle (opposite Chalukya Hotel/Planetarium). It is a unique experiment in public-private partnership that is being applauded around the world.

Why the Underground Festival?

Date: Sunday July 12th
Venue: KR Circle Subways
(next to Cubbon Park)
Time: 7 am to 5 pm

What better way to reclaim a dead public space than to allow Bangalore’s artists, performers, musicians, dancers, street play artists use the space to perform. FOR THE PUBLIC, BY THE PUBLIC is a citizen initiative that allows the public to perform FOR FREE in a central location – away from the traffic. The 1st Bengaluru Underground Festival saw a wide array of performers, from Kannada rap to Hindustani classical to Carnatic percussion, to beat boxing, to theatre. There were several art and photography displays, a live art studio, a heritage walk and a 2K Underground Run.

The 2nd Bengaluru Underground Festival promises to be even bigger and better. Anyone can perform as long as they register with bangaloreunderground@gmail.com beforehand. The final programme will be published on Friday July 10th.

This is India’s first and only Underground Festival. Everyone in Bengaluru should be proud that our city shows the way and been the trendsetter, yet again!

For more information on the event, do follow them on Facebook: Bengaluru Underground. Also check out some videos and pictures from last year’s event. 

 

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