Inspiring spot-fix solutions

Inspiring spot-fix solutions

Driven by a passion to clean up and beautify the city’s decaying public spaces, citizen’s groups are springing up across Bengaluru with brooms and brushes. Garbage dumping yards are being cleared, poster-covered flyover pillars cleaned and painted, and footpaths set right by this collective activism.

Its grey facade masked in a thousand posters, the Indiranagar flyover pillars stood there in all ugliness. Randomly dumped garbage threatened to invade every inch of space between them. But as motorists whizzed past in hurry, a bunch of people got to work. In three hours of collective, determined civic action, they had cleared the garbage, scrubbed out the posters, cleaned up the pillar walls and painted them red.

Driven by a deep concern for the City’s upkeep, determined to reclaim Bengaluru’s public spaces, they were all citizens in action mode. Armed with brushes and brooms, gloves and boots, they didn’t mind getting their hands dirty. They believed in going beyond complaints, getting things done in partnerships with civic agencies. They were the spot-fixers.

Anonymous but hugely committed to proactive civic action, these spot-fixers are now on hyper drive. Inspired by the pioneering spot fix solutions of Ugly Indians, they are emerging across town. In Whitefield, Shivajinagar, JP Nagar, Banasawadi and beyond, they have transformed dirty, decaying spots into aesthetic beauties.

Simple yet impactful

The spot fix idea is simple yet dramatically impactful: Turn a spot tidy, inject a sense of functionality, add a dash of art, and no one will dump garbage there, anymore. This formula has paid fantastic dividends across Bengaluru.

It has helped bring neighbourhoods together, energized people to people connections and bonding, brought dignity to clean-up jobs hitherto stereotyped as fit only for Palike pourakarmikas.

Fifty such spot-fix projects in Marathahalli, Whitefield and surrounding areas had helped the citizen’s initiative, Whitefield Rising (WR) master the dynamics of this change. “We involve the locals in our projects. People who dirty their hands will think 10 times before throwing garbage there again,” says an active WR member, Pravir Bagrodia.

The dilapidated Ramagondanahalli bus stop on Varthur Road was WR’s first game-changing spot fix project. Recalls Bagrodia, “While cleaning up the place, we also erected a bench for senior citizens, repaired the footpath and got the neighbouring shopkeepers engaged. That helped maintained the repaired spot.”

Elaborate preparation

But a spot fix is hardly a spontaneous, impromptu job done on impulse. Preparation for a project is elaborate. Ritu George, another WR activist explains, “A lot of homework has to be done. Our volunteers take pictures over a few days to check why a spot becomes a garbage dump yard, when do people throw muck there, and who does it.”

Engaging the locals help in identifying the problem better. “We first start a conversation with the locals. It lets us understand whether BBMP trucks are not collecting waste from nearby localities,” says George.

Once the issue is identified, the locals and other volunteers choose a weekend to kickstart their collective action. Tools such as brooms, brushes, gloves, masks and paint are picked up from a designated storage place. Onlookers are invited to join in.

Spot fixers across Bengaluru have opted for red as a signature of their finished task. Red, as George reasons, is generally revered as the colour of temples. “The hope is people would not spit on it. Even if they do, it does a good job in camouflaging.” Besides, worli artforms on red stands out in its aesthetic appeal.

Location-specific design

But not everyone finds a uniform design template for spot-fixes appealing. Arzu Mistry, a teacher with Sristhi School of Art and Design, while acknowledging the ‘fantastic yeoman service’ by all these citizen groups, seeks a location-specific design culture.

As an artist and a veteran of spot-fix projects herself, Mistry contends that each area has its own identity, which can get lost in a blanket treatment. A pillar that is painted red could be in Indiranagar or Kammanahalli. When local identities are getting lost in mundane infrastructure projects, new identities built on a solid cultural understanding of the place should come up.

Caught between the poster menace and an urge to beautify the city on its terms, BBMP had launched its now infamous wall painting exercise in 2009. But within years, the paintings – conspicuously lacking in aesthetics -- faded, surrendering to the dictates of weather. The posters were back, making the walls uglier than before.

Mistry feels the Palike had lost a great opportunity. “They could have done it completely differently. They just jumped in with a bandwagon mentality, without a context, narrative or story. Graffiti, a Western movement, cannot be imposed without a cultural context,” she explains.

BBMP’s painted walls

Constant exposure to sun and rain has left the painted walls in dire straits. Bereft of any weather-proofing or shelters, the works of outdoor art have perished disastrously. Murals have also met with the same fate. Mistry wonders why. “I have used murals that have lasted more than 10 years.”

But isn’t urban aesthetics a tricky domain best left to architects and artists to figure out? Indeed it is, as a trained eye can instantly spot a difference between one that is barely functional and one that is organic, cultural and in sync with the location.

Yet, art could be much more than decorative. It could be a tool for yes, spot fix! Using his expertise in installation art to dramatic effect, street artist Baadal Nanjundaswamy had recently transformed a neglected pothole into a crocodile pond. This powerful artistic intervention, deliberately designed to send a message, had the BBMP scurrying for a face-saver.

But a spot fix solution could be much more than a message to the civic agency. It could, and has been in many projects, a model of partnership between BBMP and the citizens. Many groups have acknowledged the Palike’s ready help with the necessary permissions and garbage vans.

The larger message is loud and clear: That unless Bengalureans cultivate a sense of belonging to the City, a collective yearning for a participatory, dynamic urban environment, a thousand ugly spots will spring up again.

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