Many words are easy to understand but difficult to define. We have to take the help of dictionary to find a proper definition for such words. The word "Footpath" is not one among such words. It is probably easy to define and its dictionary meaning is also quite simple. Dictionary meaning of the word footpath is "A path for people going on foot". Another definition is "a narrow path for walkers only". Both these definitions make two things very clear; the size and use of footpath. It is expected to be narrow and it is reserved to be used only by walkers. It is also to be used only by people going on foot.
There were days when footpath was considered safe for people going on foot as they need not worry about other modes of transport, usually heavy and fast, going on the road. The road part and the footpath existed side by side. As Panchasheel is being suddenly remembered today, after fifty years, we could as well say that footpaths and the roads had a time of peaceful co-existence. Not any longer. The density of vehicle population is overtaking human population and hence it has become important to increase the size of the road and reduce the extent of footpath. In addition to the reduction in size of the footpath, it has found many other uses as well. Even gods have chosen to make their homes on footpath. Shops have come up there. They started on temporary basis but became permanent in due course. There are even "Footpath Merchants Associations" to fight for the rights of selling on footpath. Of course, there is no footpath walkers association. In cities like Bangalore it is common to see traffic police chiding two wheeler drivers for running their vehicles on the road. "Why do you come here? Can't you see so much of space is available on footpath?", they say!
Some areas of Seattle city are excellent examples of alternate uses of a footpath. Seattle is an important city in the Pacific Northwest and is growing faster than many others due to some of the growing companies operating from there as headquarters. The old city still maintains its charms. Each house is different in these residential areas; there are no multi-storied buildings and concrete monsters. The houses stand in the middle of landscaped gardens withe each having a different type of pathway leading to the main door. There are flowers galore and fruit bearing trees around the house. Most of them are not fenced and yet the gardens are perfectly safe. It is a city where you may find an apple tree full of red ready-to-eat apples during your evening walk on the side of footpath and still find them that way after two days. Vegetables are grown in the garden around the house and there is no danger of theft or being eaten away by free roaming cattle. Footpath is strict for pedestrians only. The vehicles on the road stop and allow a person on foot the right of way to cross the road. In short, roads and footpath have a wonderful and peaceful co-existence.
There is a picture given at the top here. A newcomer to the city would wonder what this is. It is a footpath library. Residents of the area have put up such structures in front of their houses. The books purchased and read are later kept in such library shelves on the footpath. Anybody going on the street can check the books in the shelf, decide what is to be read and take the book with them for reading. The shelves have doors but no locks. If you have books that you do not need at home, you could also add to the collection. There are no accounts kept and there is no need to return the book at all. A book taken from one shelf can be returned to another shelf elsewhere, if one wants. It is a wonderful community service centre and they are always full of books. They are used regularly but there is no vandalism or theft in the regular sense of the words.
Another use of footpath and median can also be seen in Seattle. For orderly and safe vehicular traffic, most roads are provided with median space to divide traffic on the two directions. Space available on medians is not used for walking. We can find some plants in such space all round the world. But Seattle has something more than this. In many median space, vegetables are grown. Cabbage, tomato, eggplant (brinjal), lettuce, and other similar vegetables are grown here. A picture of such median garden is given alongside. A regular checking of these gardens for a full month showed that somebody was watering them regularly and de-weeding them. The vegetables were allowed to grow to their full potential without being taken away by somebody in the middle of day or night. There are flower gardens as well and the beauty of the flowers in them is a delight to watch whether you are walking on the footpath or driving along the road.
*****An extension of usage of surplus resource has been highlighted in the press here last week. Dr Issa Fathima Jasmine of Beasant Nagar, Chennai (See photograph on the right) had a problem of disposal of remaining food items each day. She was giving it away to an old lady sitting in her street corner. Then she thought of many others who need food like that old lady. But one does not know whom to offer as some may get offended when it is offered to them. It is also a difficult proposition to wait for someone with food in the hands leaving aside other work one has at home or at office. Dr Fathima has solved this problem by keeping a community refrigerator outside the Besant Nagar Tennis Club. The initiative is called "Ayyamittu Unn". Avvayars (meaning respectable lady) are a series of Tamil poets who have enriched the literature by their valued works. One collection of poems titled Aathichoodi of Avaviyar has a poem, the first stanza refers to "share the food with the needy before you eat". The food sharing has now got extended to clothes and other items as well.
In fact, this is not something totally new. It is reported that there are community fridge system in Mumbai and other cities as well. The idea of sharing or giving away something which still has some value for others has been there for generations in our country. More and more organized efforts are now finding expressions in different forms.
The world is always a better place to live with co-existence. "Love the life you Live; Live the life you Love", says a mural (a large painting on the wall of a building on roadside) in Seattle.