Keep calm and Exit The ‘burbs – Part 2: The protagonist!

Hi, I’m Brenda, of Luis Barton Elementary, a school run by the Vasbund School District. We are preparing the work for next years pogos. India will probably tell you about me later on, but for now I wanted to share something I saw earlier this week. When Dita shared about her rant a couple of days ago, like she usually does quite often, she was on her walking tour. She runs these walking tours every Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and lots of new and out-of-town pogos flock to her to get friendly with the neighborhood and school. I was busy watching Rufus play in the courtyard while she went on the other day.

She usually introduces two of my friends in her tour. They are the highlights of her tour. Am sure you were not that attentive, so let me remind you. The first one was George, the grand old man, she called him the selfish single family home. I did say she was passionate, din’t I? She mentioned, in good climate, about my friends Maria, Julie and Bosco, remember the condos, apartment and townhouse, yes?! Good, now your all caught up!

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I’m here to introduce to you the hero of this story. Her name is India, and she is the voluptuous mixed-use, smiling right now at the corner of this block. She’s taken on the whole new narrative of life into her womb. She stands in the corner, peeking out to see the activities of the street. She works her way into many shopping streets, listening on with glee the hustle and bustle of comings and goings. She is the reason why most pogos come here. Its because of her, my baby pogos can go fill up their ruffles with supplies, hang out with their friends over coffee, stop to admire her beauty while she watching the world go by!

She caters to Bob, the street musician & Lake, the fitness yogi every morning. Like I mentioned earlier, she hosts Dita on her walking tours. She smiles and waves to new pogos who take selfies of her pink flowery dress that go all the way up to become her crown. She lets Ravi, the stout, tickle her once everyday as he goes about his day. She knows he has a crush on her ever since she moved to this new place a decade ago. She is flexible, a multi-tasker and very generous. She adores all kinds of pogos, particularly when they walk past her all day long, and stop for pogolong and pogoshort.

Let me tell you a secret I know about India. She had a big crush on 180Dash, that big handsome hunk who flirts with Bob, Dita, Karun, Heather and Andy everyday on our block. I see her turn the pinkest right before he swings around. I don’t blame her, he’s quite the looker. I also feel that he likes her too, he’s usually very quiet, but as he stops in front of India, he toots his horn everyday, making her blush some more.

India is the kind hearted gardener whose arms fill up with pretty flowers for pogos to coo and dogos to poo. While she was nurtured in this form, she hosted pogos in her upper floors, keeping them busy during the day and making sure it is quiet at night. She spoke to Julie and Marie over tea out in the courtyard. Bosco was far out with Bob and Lake in the park, watching a tai chi class. India is trying to understand how to keep George entertained in his retirement, he seems awfully bored all by himself, she thought! She definitely wants to tell him to hit the gym soon! He also needed a trim at the barber’s, she could send her cousin Shaun, a couple of blocks away.

While she kept herself busy thinking these things, out in the corner she could see a new and  handsome stack of the leanest and meanest teenagers. She heard them a mile away and could see them play the monkey. They were pointing toward George’s, some of them stopped their pogos besides the Eleva and Gert, Maria and Julie’s kids. She wanted them to keep the upcoming birthday a secret, but they being teenagers, it may be very hard! They did look very clean, all nice and polished, out there to make new waves in the world. She had a soft spot for them, but did not want them to ruin George’s surprise.  This was her typical Wednesday afternoon, it was time for her to return to the parlor and settle down with her book before she prepared for an afternoon nap.

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Finding home in Fremont

I’ve got one foot in Fremont and the other firmly planted in Bengaluru. I’m making masale dose for our friends tonight. I’m prepping kempu (red) chutney and coconut chutney and in Preethi mixie with convertible to American plug. Alugadde palya done and batter is set. The kitchen looks presentable, filter coffee is brewing in Preethi coffee maker. I’m taking a break while sitting on couch and eating jackfruit chips from Bharat Bazaar. Kesar kulfi and mango rasmalai is being served for dessert.  Depending on mood and time, I may make uddin vade! This is in our home in Fremont, USA.

I miss SRK textiles for their cotton fabrics, Icy Nicey for their swirley cone ice cream, I want to walk Jayanagar fourth block to see the pink blossoms every spring, I want to ride my Kinetic Honda past ninth block to pick up maligai saaman from Ahmad Bazaar. Ooof, That whole circuit from J.P.Nagar to Jayanagar on two wheeler is etched in my DNA. I’m getting goosebumps just mentally riding that route while writing this! The sights, sounds and smells of the various vehicles doing their dance on the streets is so clear. If I close my eyes right now, I’ll probably hear them and see them vividly! Thankfully I do not need Google StreetView, VR or any other technology to remind me!

I grew up in a 1200sft single family home in South Bangalore. It was a pink colored home with red oxide flooring. Like most of our neighbors in our side of the street, we all had a tiny strip of setback on the sides of the house itself that we would use for parking two wheelers, develop planter strip and try to make the most of being in a friendly neighborhood. It was a bloody blast growing up there. Summers were filled with innovative game creations, endless hours of badminton, cricket, lagori and hide and seek games. My school was so walkable that I came home everyday for hot lunch prepared by amma. If that is not luxuriously spoilt, I don’t know what else is!

Our current apartment is a 1100sft, 3 bedroom, bright and airy loft like space in Fremont, with views of lawns on one side and parking structure on the other. We know all the neighbors in our block in addition to the rows opposite and across the dining window. We greet them when we pass by, they stop and chit chat with my naughty toddler while catching up on their day. It seems like the best bet for home right now in the Bay Area, owing to the reasonably prices rents and proximity to the wonderful and uprising Downtown Area. HP and I were joking that it might be the future Jayanagar, sans the pink blossoms, but with a whole variety of options from healthcare, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, swimming classes, Tamil classes (yes, you read it right,) jobs and a whole lot more.

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It is for real that Fremont maybe a blackhole, you get sucked into this abyss, and there is no looking back. I’m vying for this city, with its grand plans to move out of the suburban environment to building a much denser urban fabric, one that is vibrant and connected, yet connecting to the rest of the region. Culturally, it is a good place for the immigrant community, with many people from Bengaluru residing in this area for a long time. The proximity to ‘life things’ such as banking, auditors, restaurants, groceries, dry cleaners, stores, pharmacies, doctors, kids activities (including a nearby farm) makes life here packed with things only about half hour away from home, perfect for parents like us, who need to follow strict toddler schedules for meals, nap-time etc.

It seems like I’ve found my sweet spot in the Bay Area, after having explored many other regions for work-life, we like it here, we like that it promises an urban setting, much like Bengaluru, and I love the potential here for our future too. This is a happy hopeful post! 🙂

Keep calm and exit the ‘burbs!

If homes need to create communities, it needs to have a connection to the outside world. Such connections can happen through various architectural elements to give birth to what urban America knows as “eyes on the street.”

When I say ‘connection,’ I specifically mean a space for human interaction; between neighbors, community members, with nature, with children and other people. It needs to be part of some activity, like greeting your neighbor as he walks his dog, watching your child play while you water the plants, sitting and reading a book, lounging with a newspaper over morning coffee/tea, catching up with friends, drying papadams, etc. The activity is intrinsic to the culture, the people and the place. That’s when a connection is made and a community is born.

Agreed that it is hard to create such spaces in colder countries. Seasonal changes don’t allow for annual use of such spaces. I’m told not to complain, given the good nature of California weather when compared to other parts of this big continent. But I still think these indoor-outdoor spaces are vital, and it is exists in anyplace where humans need interaction.

I live in an apartment complex, on the top floor of a two story block of condos, with large windows that bring the eastern and western light into our home. Leading up to my apartment is a straight flight of stairs with fifteen steps and no mid-landing. My son and I count the steps everyday while going up and down, and it’s one our most favorite everyday routines. Besides counting the steps, we both pause either at the top landing or the bottom of the staircase for a bit, when we wait for each other to come join the day. We also pause sometimes just so we can watch the trees, aeroplanes and greet our neighbors (and dogs) passing us. Under this stair lies my son’s tricycle and basketball hoop for play. On occasion, I hose down this space to clear the cobwebs and leaves build up owing to the seasonal change. The roof above covers all steps except the last four, leaving this staircase protected from most rains, winds and direct sunlight. Along one length of this staircase is a double story wall and the other is a simple functional metal railing. About twelve to fifteen feet away from that wall is another long wall, making this space a passage leading to the four doors of four families from all over the world. Now this is one such pause space, a common area where a community can belong.

Now let’s look at the large single family homes in suburban America. Every activity is inward looking confining families indoor for most part of the year, lets say this time it is owing to weather. Street life and human connection is separated by at least a 25 -30 foot frontyard that contributes to nothing for community life. The only connection any human has outside of their home is the straight walk to get to their mailbox or their car and that large swath of a backyard. While it looks all fine and dandy in the talkies, living in them does not seem like fun!
I must bring attention to the bulk of backyards that are part of these homes. I’m repeatedly shocked by the large mass of these spaces, whose primary role is to entertain perhaps two dozen humans at most for a handful times of the year, mostly birthdays and thanksgiving. For such a small role, these large spaces can easily be swapped to any of the rooms indoors or a community space. Perhaps there are a handful of backyards that still are good gardens, where one can produce nice vegetables and fruit for sustainance.
I’ve never seen a garage of family home that was used only as a car parking spot. I’ve noticed (with shock,) how wrongfully it turns from hobby to garbage space, only so that the indoor spaces could remain clutter free.

The single family home is a selfish species, one that neglect community and does not want to belong to any place outside of it’s own large bubble. The condos and apartments are loving members of a community, with empathy, care for the environment, respect for life, access to livelihood and economic centres of creation!

The mega-home, sold to the world like it’s everyone’s dream, one that takes a lifetime to populate and another to maintain, needs to be redefined.

The current movement of built space in cities such as San Jose, Fremont and Milpitas in the Bay Area is tending towards a denser footprint of homes, it has begun to emulate denser urban environments that one can see in major cities such as New York and Sam Francisco. Walkability, transit connections and community life has begun to gain more importance than that of car-ownership and the big fat American suburban dream of two cars, big refrigerators etc. is thankfully dying.

Droid man and Zuck woman

Company towns all over again! It did no good for the employers and factory workers back then and it will do no good to the corporate workers now. We need to remind ourselves that these tech workers are humans, with a family and very much an equal part of society as any other. If the global giants are interested to build towns or improve the current situation, they must try to not own but actively participate in the community outside their campus.

Tech workers are married to their companies, always working, right from the minute they step into the shuttle bus that takes them to their ‘campus’ office, till the end of their working life some decades later. In the meanwhile, their life and family suffers because they just don’t have the bandwidth for anything else besides their job, products or people outside their work.

Perhaps exploring various cuisines and traveling the globe is the only other thing they enjoy besides work, but that too comes as a job perk! Aarghh! I see this depressing phenomenon among close family friends and relatives, there is a slow and steady conversion of those folks into dumb workers of <insert giant company name>, where identity of self in society is almost negligible.

These future company towns, if not opened to community at large, is only going to create urban voids in the suburban life of the workers. It will result in more displacement and urban chaos, it will create Zuck-man and Woman, Droid man and woman!

We must be wary, watch out for the machine that we might morph into, and create the right species if at all we go down that hole!

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My experience of an excellent urban design project in my hometown, Bangalore. This theater, called Ranga Shankara, was created by one dedicated person, and it serves whole communities at large, that is the charm of a well-intended and well-designed project! Read on!

Day:  November 8th

Time: 19:25

Location: Ranga Shankara, 36/2, 8th Cross, J P Nagar, 2nd Phase, Bangalore-560078

Act 1: KA-01 7227 is on its way to Ranga Shankara.

Scene 1: I parked in haste, grabbed a ticket, said hai to someone! Bang [A really LOUD one] Anxious…. Rushed up the flight of stair, entered the arena at 19:29, grabbed my phone and switched it off! [Yes! no silent mode, no vibrator mode, no mode, finally stripped naked of my outside world] Glasses propped up my nose, plonked into the nearest seat, heaved a big sigh and stared into that quiet black emptiness around me.

19:30: Bang!  This time I smiled, It was the first time I was going to watch a play all by myself at Ranga Shankara! My smile grew wider!, I was so happy about this new and upcoming theater space that only Bangalore theater is truly so proud of.

All of the City’s well known, unknown, heck, the barely known folks were there. I hadn’t thought that the Karnataka [Kannada] Association for Cinema could handle Bengali, Urdu! Italian, Marathi, Hindustani, Chattisgarhi, Manipuri and English theater in the same month after all, but that festival gave me goosebumps thinking about it even today. 

Scene 2: Wondering if this auditorium is really the worth it [wondering, only because there is no phone to meddle with!] After seeing those posters showcasing the thirty one plays in thirty days, it was a packed itinerary for the  festival month, I was curious to see some of them was just happy that we had a real theater for drama, so close to home!

This place was created in the memory of late Kannada actor Shankara Nag by his wife, Arundathi Nag. A small-time but mighty 300-seater theater it was, because its been seating all of Bangalore’s theater lovers for the past month or so to witness one of the most enterprising theater festival. It was cherished by a community that has helped make this auditorium come true to life. It stands tall and proud  for its community, and this accolade falls shy for a place of such character. 

A phased out public Jaya Prakash Nagar Post Office found its landmark just next door to Shankara. The restaurants that sprang nearby drew all the local crowds into this area. The design of the theater was by well-known architects in the City, but the most important thing is that this theater and its open welcoming spaces, combined with the artistic connection has drawn the locals like bees to honey! It may not have designed parking place but sure does bring a lot of the community folks to talk and hang around its cafe and auditoriums. Spill out or spill in; there’s coffee and a something else [a movie, short plays, snapshots of famous people, gossip, books, questionnaires, idli, bonda, sandwich, etc.] with it, just the right kind of space for an urbanite to belong to in his/her city! 

Urban design needs to serve its community, its primary job is to bring community together, and what better an example than Ranga Sankara.

Scene 3:  A well spent evening out is the only way to describe an evening at Ranga Sankara.  Backed up by those true aficionados; Ranga Sankara was being true to the essence and true to the spirit of purpose it was created. So what if a cell phone network company sponsors a theater show, phones are still switched off inside the auditorium. 

Scene 4:  I sat cross-legged just few feet away from the main stage, allowing myself to be intoxicated, stupefied, torn apart and drained by true art…..now this my friends, is what ‘being alive’ felt like. 

Act 2: Timber stage, centripetal focus.

Scene 1: Doors shut, no latecomers please! Look at those steep stairs leading up to seats! they look dangerous…..and that’s why you stay out, latecomer! Hush!

Scene 2: Raking of seating held up by the props of the plays below, literally.

No embellishment to the quality of performance and performers.

Simple and straight-out for entertainment, the right way.

Scene 3: Goose bumps, well set air-conditioning head-on’s, expectancy levels of a clean space rises. 

Act 3: act 3

Act 4: This theater, in the very age of flat screen TV and home theater system, allures a drone of bees to its hex. A chance to spend quality time and money in passing is very likely to occur. The ease with which anybody can handle such an experience is proof of the comfort level there. Cheers to more of Ranga Sankara.