Another side of Urban Arts
The Independence Square has been converted into one good example of Urban Arts or Creative Placemaking, as I wrote about a few weeks ago. Enjoying the luxury of a few minutes at the new-look Independence Square however reminded me of the inequality in our society and that even the Urban Arts was only for those who can afford it.
A proud father of a young child, brought out a toy electric car from the boot of his brand new SUV. His son began to drive it along a pathway, steering his way through the people on their morning walks.
There were a few elderly men who walked in little groups, making lively conversation, enjoying a well earned retirement, because people both in public and private employment really worked hard to earn their wages. There were older couples, assisting each other on their slow walks, some of them with the help of walking sticks.
Young children were running around, screaming in joy, playing with their parents or grandparents, others were riding their brand new bicycles with guard wheels, wearing helmets.
One little girl was gazing at the statue of D. S. Senanayake, too young to understand who he was or what he was doing here, and then her attention was drawn towards the lions (were they lions?), at the base of the statue.
A young woman in a track suit and shoes, which would have cost more than one month's salary of most of our wage earners, was walking round and round along the foot paths, as if her life depended on it.
They all seemed happy about the new look Independence Square, really appreciating the Creative Placemaking that had changed the landscape to a work of art.
However like all art forms today it could be appreciated and enjoyed only by a few fortunate people in the city, who could arrive by car, who had the leisure to spend time here on a weekday morning, and who never would shed a drop of sweat at home or at work.
Even among those who travelled by car, there were many who just swept by, only appreciating the new traffic arrangements and thankful for the smooth flow, which would help them reach their office or business place a little earlier, and some of them even thankful for the small mercies like the little fuel they would save.
Some of them would make plans to bring their children here, on a Sunday morning, knowing that the evenings would be too crowded.
There were other people walking along Independence Avenue, who were not wearing track suits or walking shoes. They were dressed in their normal office attire, and they were hurrying to reach their office before the red line on the attendance register. They were sweating, from the long ride on a bus or train and the long walk from the bus halt.
They were not aware of the wonders of the Urban Arts, and they did not have the time or the leisure to appreciate the changes, and they did not need the exercise. Their day to day chores were more than enough to burn all the excess fat and calories. Their minds would be on the children on their way to school, about the payments they have to make for the school van, the tuition mudalali. and the landowner. Some of them would have wished that they too could bring their children here, to play, to walk around, to enjoy the peace and the cool breeze.
Another wonderful example of Creative Placemaking in Sri Lanka is the new scenic surroundings of the Diyawanna oya, with opportunities for boating, rowing and for leisurely strolls in the early morning or evening. And the vista is also a soothing relaxation for the frustrated motorists and bus passengers, who sometimes have to crawl at a pace slower than that of a snail, during traffic jams.
Among all these people, how many would realize, or take a moment to think about how this wonder had been made possible? A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to be able to enjoy such free movement, even at the Independence Square, a claymore mine could go off. One would look with suspicion at every parked vehicle. One would have to stop every few hundred meters at a check-point.
The office workers would be sighing with relief as they got off the bus or the train that a bomb had not gone off, and be anxious till their children returned home and they themselves reached home in the evening.
And how many, even among those who realized and appreciated the peace prevailing in the city and the whole country, would notice the toil and the sweat of our war heros who contributed their time and effort to make this landscape possible, and who toils today to maintain it.
And how many would realize and appreciate their good fortune to be able to spend their time here, because their parents or grandparents would have toiled and sweated, so they could be here today? And the society which gave them the opportunity to earn their wealth and power.
Those who come here to enjoy the artistic creativity, should make their own contribution too, for its maintenance, by not littering, by not damaging the plants or the walkways, by being thoughtful of all the others who have to use the place.
And how many would realize that they too should contribute to reduce the inequality in our society, that they too should ensure that inequality did not breed further inequality, and that everyone should have an equal opportunity to relax and enjoy the Urban Arts and the Creative Placemaking that we see around our city today.