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Model initiatives from residents’ associations in Chennai over the years

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A sustainability spread

When sustained, any sterling initiative gains greater surface area, having a pervasive influence across areas around its zone of primary focus. The walls at Thiruveedhi Amman Kovil Street in Mandaveli were beautified. Pots with plants lined the street. The street went bin-less. Following this effort by Thiruveedhi Amman Kovil Street Residents’ Association, the streets around Thiruveedhi Amman Kovil Street began to mirror it. In what is known as a uniform design initiative, implemented with the support of Karam Korpom Foundation, these streets identified with RK Nagarra (acronym for RK Nagar Residents Association) resemble each other not just in appearance but also spirit, having embraced TAKSRA’s sustainability ethic.

Amplifying civic issues

A civic issue receives the amplification it deserves when various voices come together in a uniform tone strident with a shared purpose. Since its inception in 2015, Mylapore Residents Welfare Association (MRWA) has been an instrument of amplification. From a humble following in the early years, MRWA now boasts a “membership” of well over one hundred independent residents’ welfare associations. A registered entity with legal leverage, MRWA is a well-recognised voice in the region with notable achievements to its name. Its instrumentality in the transformation of Kalvi Varu Street in Mylapore from a grotty patch to a space with character and aesthetics is known beyond Mylapore. As a pressure group, it got the Greater Chennai Corporation to work with a private architectural entity and design the street into a hangout space. The effort required engagement with PWD as the street runs along Buckingham Canal.

A spectacular comeback

Everyone loves a spectacular comeback, not just in sports. Entities engaged with civic development applauded the powerful return of Raja Annamalaipuram Residents Association (RAPRA) in 2012, its operational structure and mission renewed. With a quarterly magazine for residents, RAPRA presented residents with discussions that reinforced their common identity and shared civic goals. In these parts, the Association became a pioneer of sorts when it assigned streets as “portfolios” to resident-volunteers. A representative was appointed for each street to keep tabs on issues plaguing it and report them to the central group. RAPRA’s quarterly meetings had spice to them: a special speaker, a professional in an area, would be invited to help residents gain insights into how to tackle a particular issue, one affecting all of them. RAPRA started an open house where representatives of civic agencies would be invited for residents to interact with them.

Age is just a number

As old apartments go, Aashiana Apartments in Alwarpet is quick to forward the clock by recalibrating old processes to bring them in alignment with present trends. The gated community, located in Venus Colony, celebrated its silver jubilee in 2022, also the year when it made a decisive move to extend its best practices across the neighbourhood. It launched Swachh Venus, an exercise encouraging and gently goading residents of the three streets in Venus Colony and a neighbouring area (Venus Colony First Street, Venus Colony Second Street and Sriman Srinivasan Salai) to practise source segregation of garbage. Aashiana Apartments has also set a benchmark for old apartments on how to retro-fit water-saving measures and also recycle water through an STP — an effort that earned it a water award.

The play area at Kalvi Varu Street in Mylapore

The play area at Kalvi Varu Street in Mylapore

Watching their turf

Not very long ago, Rani Meyammai Towers in MRC Nagar turned around the fortunes of a small-sized park within their compound walls that was not optimally utilised. They effected the transformation at times most inconvenient for such interventions, the pandemic. Viewed from another perspective, it was the pandemic that gave impetus to this initiative. Social distancing and lockdowns circumscribing life within the compound walls of the community, residents wanted to make the most of the space they had access to and that included a poorly-maintained park. A representative of the community reportedly made multiple visits to the Corporation office for permission to take ownership of the park and cast it in an entirely new mould. With the parks department providing permission, the residents’ association installed a turf that would support multiple sports. Reportedly, residents from outside the community, particularly those of two gated communities nearby, also make use of the facility.

Assistance to Mylapore Police

The Station Vigilance Committee attached to the Mylapore police station on Kutchery Station is among the oldest (in existence since 1950s) and the most active of its kind. Members of SVC are volunteers that assist the police in patrolling and traffic management work and in crowd management during festivals. Members of SVC, Mylapore Division have regularly pushed the frontiers of this engagement by organising awareness rallies, educating and cautioning residents about the ills around them. Volunteers emerging from successive generations have ensured that Committee remains a relevant and useful force supplementing the workaday engagements of the Mylapore police.

A fount of fresh ideas

Seethamma Extension Welfare Association (SEWA) in Teynampet has been active in a manner that has had residents’ welfare associations elsewhere rolling their eyeballs towards it. First they got unauthorised college vans parked in their neighbourhood removed with residents patrolling the streets in what they called “Van Vigil Walk”. Then then got speed breakers installed. They have parked stacks of tyres along the road, after having them painted and converted into pots for plants. This measure has checked unauthorised parking in SEWA’s streets to a great degree. Besides, they passed the hat around and installed CCTV cameras at strategic locations in the locality and also sunk rainwater recharge wells across the five streets to check water logging during monsoon. They tenaciously continue with these initiatives bringing them up to date factoring in emerging needs and challenges.

Towards the next milestone

Over the last twenty-five years that The Hindu Downtown has been in existence, communication has evolved considerably in both form and delivery. In the new phase that it has entered, the hyperlocal would intensify efforts that it has already initiated to reach a generation that thinks visually. In plain terms, this means making stories more pictorial.

Besides, greater thrust would be provided to a philosophy the hyperlocal has lived by: bringing residents on board as representatives of their neighbourhoods through platforms such as “Readers Write”. In the coming weeks, a raft of new categories and columns that provide a bird’s eye view of neighbourhood living will be rolled out.

Residents wield the broom

Following Cyclone Michaung, there was waterlogging to deal with, and the unexpected, or rather least expected secondary effect was the garbage that was sitting on the streets after the floodwaters had cleared.

Against this backdrop, it would help to revisit and revive an old campaign, prevalent in many localities from 2014 to 2016. It was about residents hitting the streets to clear them of litter.

Residents’ association in R.A. Puram would take one street every Sunday and clear it of litter. Srinivas Young Men’s Association in Triplicane, Kilpauk Residents Association, Rajaji Nagar Association in Villivakkam and gated communities near Model School Road in Shollinganallur are some of the other groups that have done similar volunteering work.

A voice for T. Nagar

One can call them the mother of all associations in terms of influence and reach. T.Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association is among the very few geographically-defined groups that present issues in their neck of the woods through newspaper clippings.

Whether it is to push the authorities towards taking measures to encourage safety around shopping hub before Deepavali, particularly ensuring compliance with fire-safety norms by commercial establishments or drawing attention to dwindling pedestrian space the roads, the Association makes its point emphatically.

The climate crisis requires individuals to practise conscious living, particularly watching what they throw away and how they do it too. Residents of Kasturba Nagar (ROKA) started an eWaste drive in their neighbourhood and inspired other associations across Chennai along the way. Nawab Garden Residents Welfare Association in Kottupuram parked composting bins for leaf litter across the neighbourhood and managed the process.

Every Pongal, Mandaveli Residents Welfare Association would ensure that when residents unwrapped the gifts it had offered them, what fell to the ground was easy on the planet — these gifts came in paper or cloth wraps.

Achieving critical mass

If one wants to act decisively in a matter, numbers help. Too many cooks might spoil the broth, but not where civic issues are brewing. Critical mass matters. Greater the voices, the more definitive and irresistible the communication becomes. The experience of resident welfare associations in the Adyar, Velachery and Old Mahabalipuram Road regions bears this out. The Federation of Adyar Residents’ Association, Federation of Velachery Residents’ Welfare Associations, Federation of OMR Residents Associations and Federation of Radial Road Residents Associations have galvanised the neighbourhood-based groups into a powerful civic movement in their respective regions.

Watching the discards

The climate crisis requires individuals to practise conscious living, particularly watching what they throw away and how they do it too. Residents of Kasturba Nagar (ROKA) started an eWaste drive in their neighbourhood and inspired other associations across Chennai along the way. Nawab Garden Residents Welfare Association in Kottupuram parked composting bins for leaf litter across the neighbourhood and managed the process. Every Pongal, Mandaveli Residents Welfare Association would ensure that when residents unwrapped the gifts it had offered them, what fell to the ground was easy on the planet — these gifts came in paper or cloth wraps.

Small bus S70 outside Alliance Orchid Springs in Korattur 

Small bus S70 outside Alliance Orchid Springs in Korattur 
| Photo Credit:
VEDHAN M

Waking the talk

When the Tamil Nadu Tamil Nadu government banned single-use plastic in 2019, AGS Colony in Velachery went the extra mile, literally, going from door to door and counter to counter and distributed cloth bags to residents and shops, free-of-cost.

Beyond the gates

Valmiki Nagar Residents Association’s rainwater conservation went beyond RWH structures at homes, extending to the nooks and crannies of the neighbourhood. They focussed on sinking recharge wells to harvest the runoffs. According to the Association, this exercise not only reduced their dependence on private water suppliers, but also checked groundwater salinity.

Saving for the rainy day

At the height of the water crisis a few years ago, Federation of OMR Residents Associations (FOMRRA) turned its own coping mechanism into a template for redemption that resident groups across Chennai could use in their turf. Gated communities on OMR were relying hugely on private water suppliers. At that time, piped drinking water supply by CMWSSB was a distant dream. An experiment to save rainwater at one gated community, Sabari Terrace, spawned similar efforts along the length and breadth of the IT Expressway, and beyond too. FOMRRA was only too happy to share its experiences and methods with other residents-driven groups.

Regaining the momentum

Around four years ago, resident welfare associations in Zone 13 began to shared notes about their solid waste management efforts, regularly. The conversations pivoted around source segregation. For a season, volunteers from Residents of Kastura Nagar (ROKA) accompanied conservancy workers to look into the garbage bins being handed to the latter to study and encourage compliance with source segregation rules. The initiatives by resident groups running into the pandemic, the momentum was lost.

The old zeal is however still evident in these groups — the latest example being the street composters placed at two streets of Kasturba Nagar.

Keeping it SIMPLE

Another residents-driven group that promotes responsible waste management is SIMPLE (acronym for Sustainability Improvement through Multiple Projects for a Lovelier Elan). The group consists of residents of a gated community, Casagrand Elan in Thalambur. SIMPLE insists its members focus on the 5Rs — Refuse (avoiding single-use plastic items); Reduce (being conscious of consumption patterns); Reuse (promoting hand-me-downs, through a WhatsApp group for selling pre-owned goods and also donating them to orphanages and old age homes); Repurpose (workshops are organised on how to upcycle old clothes); and Recycle (sending recyclables to respective recyclers).

This group also strives to prevent cracker waste generated during Deepavali celebration from entering landfills.

Median gardens at Harrington Road

Median gardens at Harrington Road

A memorial preserved

Neighbouhood-based civic activists had a role in the restoration of Kaj Schmidt Memorial on Elliot’s Beach. The structure had developed cracks and suffered from vandalism (people were scribbling on its walls).

A Besant Nagar-based group called SPARK took it up with Greater Chennai Corporation. A private heritage conservation organisation and the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras played a key role in restoring the monument.

A greening exercise

Founded in 2021, Green Velachery (a voluntary organisation comprising Velachery residents) is carrying out greening exercise along Link Road which covers three MRTS railway stations, the ones at Velachery, Perungudi and Taramani. With GCC’s permission, the group is now carrying out greening work on Taramani Velachery Link Road, having started with the median under the flyover near Vijayanagar junction.

Caring for a ‘model road’

In 2014, when Greater Chennai Corporation hunkered down to improving Harrington Road, it was more than a run-of-the-mill improvement work. The thoroughfare was going to be held up as a “model road”, a template for developing other roads across Chennai. The striking features of the renewed Harrington Road have been a concrete carriageway, granite footpaths and meticulously-designed crossings (largely due to the presence of many institutions on the road). When work was under way,Harrington Road Residents Association (HARA) was keeping a close eye on it. After GCC had completed the work on Harrington Road, HARA started playing an active part in efforts to keep the thoroughfare well-maintained. That commitment has continued to this day, though the nature of the engagement would have undergone changes. At one point, the Association deployed marshals to make sure vehicles were not parked on the wide pavements. The sense of ownership about this road extends the ones leading off it. Only that it manifests in other forms. The Association has made noticeable efforts to ensure source segregation and composting happen on the avenues off Harrington Road. The banner picture on its Facebook page says it all: “This is my home, I will clean it! This is my city, I will clean it!”

Stickers to the rescue

Lake Area in Nungambakkam is always plagued by parking of vehicles by non-residents. There was difficulty in differentiating the vehicles of residents from those of non-residents. To solve this problem Lake Area Residents Association (LARA) issued stickers that were pasted on residents’ vehicles.

A long wait for better roads

Battered roads is one of the key issues being pursued by Ramapuram Social Welfare Federation. Due to its concerted efforts, some of roads have been relaid. The Association seeks removal of encroachments along the main roads. Likewise, residents of Iyappanthangal also see the need for better roads. Residents point out some of the key roads that were under the purview of Iyypanthangal Village Panchayat were identified by the State Highways for improvement. However, the work has not started yet.

A community around a park

The Thiru-Vi-Ka Nagar park occupies a central position in Shenoy Nagar — topographically and socially. Circular with a major road, Pulla Avenue, wrapping around it and other roads radiating from it, the park cannot be ignored. It has drawn a cross-section of society, and is associated with a long-standing speaker’s forum. Thiru-Vi-Ka Park is this region’s answer to Panagal Park with its tradition of hosting soapbox speakers.

Therefore unsurprisingly, residents got into a legal tussle with, Chennai Metro Rail Limited, taking to the courts their demand that the park be restored to its old glory after completion of the Shenoy Nagar Metro station work. The result is a park that looks swanky and also well-maintained.

More than a ‘median’ effort

On First Main Road at Thiruvengada Nagar in Ambattur, a park and a median stand as testimony to the significant gains a little concern on the part of citizens can bring to a neighbourhood. Thiruvengada Nagar Residents Welfare Association made a case for a median on First Main Road, as the shade of the trees standing in middle of the road was encouraging unauthorised parking. To root out this problem, a median was necessary. The Association pursued the matter with the officials concerned and a median was built under Namukku Naame Thittam in 2011 at a cost of ₹4,86,000 out of which the Association’s contribution was ₹1,62,000 raised through donations. And in 2013, the Association made sure Corporation authorities developed a park on an open-space reservation land that was being misused to dump waste, park vehicles and stock building materials.

A boon to neighbourhoods

Orchid Springs All Owners Association ( Alliance Orchid Springs, a 2,000-unit apartment on Water Canal Road in Korattur) successfully campaigned for the introduction of a small bus service connecting to the metro railway station in Thirumangalam . It made the request to CMRL, and small bus service S70 was introduced this July.

In its route, S70 covers TVS Nagar, Mettu Street, Agraharam, Kandigai Street, Perumal Kovil Street and Korattur bus stand, thereby benefiting residents of various neighbourhoods.

The gift of knowledge

Before social media became the de facto forum for sharing information among a residents’ group, residents’ groups went to the trouble of printing booklets to provide valuable communication to its members. Among notable efforts of this kind is how Krishnapuram Residents’ Association in Ambattur brought out a voter education booklet in 2011. Among other things pertaining to the electoral system, the booklet delineated how someone could get the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC).

A winsome campaign

More than a decade ago, the State Highways Department constructed a flyover-cum-grade separator connecting Velachery Main Road, Mudichur Road and GST Road over Tambaram railway station tracks, but a subway was not part of the offering.

Following this, residents of MES Road in Ganapathipuram, East Tambaram started a campaign for the construction of a subway, knocking on the doors of the Southern Railway, meeting the authorities concerned and even sending a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office, New Delhi, and also holding protests at East Tambaram.

Finally, after years of relentless pursuit, the residents’ dream began to take shape when the Railways started constructing a subway. That was more than five years ago.

The subway was thrown open to pedestrian traffic on February 21, 2019. It is now temporarily closed due to rainwater stagnation.

Bus pass renewal centre

For many years, GST Road had only one bus pass renewal centre, and that was in West Tambaram. Commuters had to travel far. The clarion call given by commuters to open additional centres, wherever possible, pushed MTC to open a centre at Pallavaram, where commuters from Pammal, Pozhichalur, Tirusulam, Meenambakkam and Anakapathur could renew their monthly passes.

The advent of a citizens’ movement

The slogan by Chitlapakkam Rising “If not you, who and if not now, when” has become a symbol of citizen activism in the region. The lake has become the centre of focus for the group. Not only the protection of the lake, over the years, Chitlpakkam Rising has been at the centre of for various civic initiatives in the region.

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