Map of the Week- Bridges in Chennai

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Map showing Chennai’s Bridges over the Cooum River, Adayar River and the Buckingham Canal [Source: Triple O Studio, Chennai]
There are over 24 bridges over the Buckingham Canal, 13 over the Cooum River and about 6 over the Adayar within the Chennai Corporation Limits. These are more than just numbers- These bridges are the only places that the city connects with the rivers visually at the moment. While each of the bridges have their own history and story to tell, they could potentially be nodes that can revive the relationship between the city and its waterbodies. These nodes are more than just a LINK across the river- What if they transform into a PLACE to BE?

Every city needs to be explored, mapped and drawn! Hashtag Urbanism presents “Map your City”– an Open-source Archive of maps of Chennai done over the years by students and professionals of Architecture. To contribute, send your maps to Be a part of this movement! Let’s map our cities!

Map Source: Triple O Studio, Chennai. (Project team: Tahaer Zoyab, Anupriya Subbian, Anisha Murali, Sabarish BP)

Millennials and the Chennai Vardah Cyclone

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We are the so called millennial generation. We like to feel special, we have earned a lot of resentment against our generation—the notion that “we’re a spoiled, entitled legion of precious snowflakes who expect prizes just for showing up, pout when we’re insufficiently petted, and never go anywhere without slathering on creamy layers of self-esteem.”

We seem to want/need instant gratification and possess a disturbing penchant for capturing instant moments, frozen in time, in the numerous selfies that flood the picture galleries on our phones.

Sounds familiar?

But to sum it all up, we are a generation that seems to think we can get what we want, WHEN we want it. Instant gratification. Now. Right Now. NOW!

But are we so consumed by the present that we are unable to sustain the momentum to last into the future?

We are the generation that has started countless things but not finished them. These days, it’s funny; we snicker, when we come across a meme that talks of broken New Year resolutions. But it’s scary to think that has come to define our entire generation.

What does all this have to do with Chennai, Cyclone Vardah and Trees, you ask? Everything.

While enough has been said about the recent loss of trees in Chennai due to Cyclone Vardah, and the initial enthusiasm and zeal to plant trees is noteworthy, it is the subsequent discipline, upkeep and sense of duty in continuing the movement, which will have lasting impact on restoring Chennai’s tree cover.

While we may piggyback on the efforts of previous generations to initiate planting of trees in Chennai, it is the Millennials who are going to have to sustain it, continue it, and fight for it in the future.

Watch this space to know how. Watch out for our city’s Millennials.

#chennai #cyclonevardah #trees #planttrees #hashtagurbanism#millennialmovement #jointhemovement

Graphic by Keerthana Udaykumar.

Map of the Day- Demographic Evolution of George Town

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Map showing the Demographic Evolution of communities in George Town, Chennai. [Source : Study done as part of Gsen Trophy NASA 2012]

George Town is a unique amalgamation of various communities co-existing harmoniously in a homogeneous fabric united by trade prospects. The Buckingham Canal linked the port to Madras to various trading places along this aqua spine. The Telugu Chettiars shifted from Andhra to George Town to explore trading opportunities, bringing with them cultural, traditional opinions and unique way of living.Trade barriers were discarded, boundaries imploded and distances crossed when the Railway lines linked Madras with the rest of the country, attracting Marvaris from Gujarat, Rajasthan and other northern states.

The demography of George Town and Wall Tax Road reflects a  multi-ethnic society that acclimatised itself to the prospects of their potential new home.

Every city needs to be explored, mapped and drawn! Hashtag Urbanism presents “Map your City”– an Open-source Archive of maps of Chennai done over the years by students and professionals of Architecture. To contribute, send your maps to Be a part of this movement! Let’s map our cities!

Map of the Week- Trade Spines of George Town

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Map showing the intersection of the three spines- The Buckingham Canal, The Wall Tax Road and the Railway lines near Elephant Gate Junction, George Town. [Source : Study done by Gsen Trophy Team of NASA 2012]

The confluence of the trade spines- The Buckingham Canal, The Wall Tax Road, and the Railway lines near the Elephant Gate junction and the merger of NSC Bose Road with Wall Tax Road highlights the importance of the segment of the spine. The permeation of trade through the Canal was a significant catalyst of trade and transit oriented development near the crux of the spine. This intermodal transit hub has immense architectural relevance with heritage buildings like Salt Cotaurs, dwelling units and the Buckingham Canal itself, a stellar architectural accomplishment unparalleled at that time.

Every city needs to be explored, mapped and drawn! Hashtag Urbanism presents “Map your City”– an Open-source Archive of maps of Chennai done over the years by students and professionals of Architecture. To contribute, send your maps to Be a part of this movement! Let’s map our cities!

9 Cycling Routes to explore Chennai!

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Cities are inevitably judged by the efficiency and inclusiveness of their transportation systems and networks, them being vital veins for the city’s functioning. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Transportation sector has progressed immensely over the past few decades, so much so that the pioneering two-wheeled human-powered transport system – the cycle – has little, sometimes no space on the roads any longer. To this inescapable conundrum, Chennai is no exception.

From vital transportation to fitness and recreation, cycling is a greener and cleaner option for all needs – and of late, the latter aspect has been on the rise in the city. And why not? There is a certain wonderment experienced when you get onto that saddle and pedal yourself forward – the joy of your leg muscles’ pull as forward you’re pushed; the wind in your hair and a song in your heart – there is a certain wonderment when you get onto that saddle and explore the city and all the joys it has to offer. But then, there’s a catch – inside the city, cycling is almost fatal; you’re bullied by the motorised vehicles, the unfriendly lorries and mean horn-blasting cars. To experience the joy of cycling, we are forced to escape to the outskirts, or to the really early morning hours or late nights.

Travelling is a way of experiencing new things, of exploring new places and feeling new things; it broadens the mind and makes some peace. And travelling by a cycle only makes the whole experience even more fulfilling. The trick is, it’s just fast enough to keep you moving ahead, and just slow enough to let you savour and enjoy each moment, each scene you cross – the birds on that tree, the lone pink flower in a sea of green, the smiling old shop lady who hands you bottle of water while you try to catch your breath, “Where are you cycling from? All the way from there?!” That’s something you do not, and CAN NOT, get from any motorized vehicle- bikes are too fast, cars too closed, flights too detached, and walking, well, unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

So in case you’re not already on your cycle, here are a few routes around Chennai to get you started! As a general rule, all routes mentioned here are safe for cyclists at the following timings;

04.30 am to 07.30 am
10.00 pm to 12.00 pm (Main roads only. Front and back cycle lights, helmets mandatory.)

A. Beginner Routes – Below 20 km

Route 1 – Koyambedu – Anna tower park – Koyambedu

Short and easy, a route in the centre of the city – if you want to add a challenge ride up the Koyambedu flyover and cruise down. A stop at Anna tower park is great in the mornings, walk a circuit or two to stretch the muscles before getting onto the saddle again. The avenues of Anna Nagar are mostly residential streets so less traffic can be expected.

Cycle to the park, and spend some time at the famous skating ring there!

Total distance 10 km. Duration (max.) 1 hour

Route 2 – Madhya Kailash – Besant nagar beach – Madhya Kailash

Who doesn’t love the beach in the mornings – the fresh breeze and gorgeous sunrise. The roads are hard and neat, speed cycling is great, especially tree-lined Besant Avenue close to Theosophical society.

Watch the sunrise at Besant Nagar Beach, and relax on the beach before cycling back!

Total Distance: 10.1km. Duration (max.) 1h 30 mins

Route 3 – Madhya Kailash – Pallikarnai – Madhya Kailash

OMR is every cyclist’s dream – wide and pleasant to ride. Cycling along the Pallikarnai marsh is a beautiful sight in the morning, you can spot flocks of birds in amidst the greenery. There are small gazebos off the main road where one can sit and take in the beautiful scenery.

Spot some beautiful migratory birds at Pallikaranai, Chennai’s Freshwater Marshland.

Total distance 21 km. Duration (max.) 1h 30 min

Intermediate Routes – 20-30 km

Route 1 – Anna university – Marina beach – Anna University

Right along the main roads, it is advisable to get on the saddle real early to avoid 8 am traffic. Also, this is one of the best night-cycling routes in the city – well-lit streets and good safety for the night rider. Marina beach is a treat in itself – mornings mean beautiful sunrise and fresh air; nights mean a mid-ride ice-cream at the beach!

Count the arches on Napier’s Bridge on the way to Marina Beach!

Total distance 22.4 km. Duration (max.) 1 h 45 min

Route 2 – OMR to ECR loop

OMR is another great night-cycling option owing to the bright streetlights and around-the-clock police patrol. The connection from OMR to ECR at Shollinganallur junction is a great spot to cross a wide and clean Buckingham canal – you can stop at the corner of the bridge for a break from pedalling. Another add-on is a brief detour through any of the side streets on the ECR to an isolated and silent beach.

Cycling down Chennai’s incredible coastline along the ECR-OMR stretch.

Total distance 29 km. Duration (max.) 2h 15 mins

Route 3– Velachery MRTS – Ottiambakkam quarry – Velachery MRTS

After Perumbakkam, the route is mostly through winding tarred village roads, so peaceful and silent in the morning hours. Ottiambakkam stone quarry is an abandoned quarry which has accumulated rain water over the years and forms a beautiful pond – swim with caution, though. You can take a brief 15-minute hike to the top and spot eagles or other birds, and experience a panoramic view of the city far beyond.


Riding your cycle all the way to Ottiyambakam Quarry is well worth the view in the end!

Total distance 30 km. Duration (max.) 2 hours 30 mins

Expert Routes – 30+ km

Route 1 – Porur junction – Chembarambakkam lake – Porur junction

Small winding tar roads through small towns lead to one of the biggest lakes in the city – Chembarambakkam lake. One uphill and you’re onto the small path just adjacent the large blue water mass. Great for those who love solitude and water. During the return, you can take a short fun detour to Decathlon, every sports-shoppers paradise.


Cycle around the Chembarambakkam lake’s cycle friendly perimeter

Total distance 32 km. Duration (max.) 3 hours

Route 2 – Padi flyover – Puzhal lake – Padi flyover

From Padi flyover, taking the city route in the morning is better due to less vehicles. Puzhal lake is another beautiful morning spot – during summer the lake is dry enough to walk on some parts of it, mind the sinking mud spots though. During monsoon, the lake is full and if you have the knack of it, you can ask fishermen to lend their canoes to you for a few `bucks. The National highway route back has good ups and downs to train your calves and is mostly free at all times of the day.


Total distance 35 km. Duration (max.) 3 hours

Route 3 – Padi flyover – Sholavaram lake – Padi flyover

A little farther down from Puzhal is this out-of-the-way Sholavaram lake. When the lake is dry, its full of green grass presenting a whole other beautiful scene. Expect to be completely on your own here, very few people wander inside from the main road.


Total Distance 48 km. Duration (max.) 3h 30 mins hours

* All distances measured are nearly accurate

* All ride durations are approximate and are inclusive of an average 15 mins break/stop at the destination mentioned.

[This article is by Abinaya Kalyanasundaram, Co-Founder of Saddle Addicts, a Chennai based Cycling group, in collaboration with Hashtag Urbanism. Check them out here!]

7 Steps to Better Transit in Chennai

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Waiting at the bus stop for my daily commute has resigned me to a certain fate,  I always get bored, restlessly shuffling from one leg to the other in a rather quizzical imitation of some below- average bhangra. There’s never the right bus when I need it and after an infuriatingly long period of waiting, suddenly, in an almost evil twist of fate, there’s not just one, but two, no wait, THREE buses screeching to a halt, one after the other!

As someone who surrenders a good three hours to bus travel every day, I have more than my fair share of qualms to pick with the city’s transit network. Yet, I will grudgingly admit to the fact that Chennai is actually home to one of the most extensive bus transit systems, with the highest occupancy ratio in the country. [1]

In short, while the Bus transit network seems to work in terms of numbers, it is nowhere near attracting new users into its fold. Designers at Hashtag Urbanism try to crack this paradox, with a time-based-design proposal in seven simple steps.

1. Whats the bottomline?

Chennai’s transit system is way out of balance. The hierarchy in our public transit system in terms of capacity and extent was intended to begin with the railway network, followed by the bus network, and motorized feeder systems like share autos for providing connectivity to inner roads. But the suburban rail networks and the MRTS didn’t succeed as expected, mainly due to operational isolation from other modes of transport. What has ensued is a wasteful overlap of individual transit lines with buses and trains both running parallel along the same routes.

Overloaded bus trasni
Graphic showing the over-saturation of the Bus Transit Network.

The imbalance in the overall transit network, the qualitative defects in the existing bus service, and the external pressure due to the increasing vehicular population with limited road space in the city has created a huge strain on the bus system. Existing operational issues and incompetency in service has fueled the preference for private transport by cars and motorbikes that have grown tenfold.

Graphic showing the reasons for the Strain on the Bus Network

Bottomline: Conventional solutions that aim at increasing infrastructure like additional flyovers, road widths, bus fleets might, just might, increase its efficiency a bit. But in the long run, public transit still continues to repel people. What we need is a change in outlook- one that rethinks efficiency.

 2. Rethink efficiency- Time as experience :

We measure efficiency of a system through two factors – money and time. A transit system that gets you where you want in the shortest time without burning a hole in your pocket is, by default, efficient. Time as a tangible section of transit has a significant part in achieving efficiency. However, the intangible value it holds with the user experience and interaction is of much greater significance. Every commuter, dependant on a public transport has more than one segment involved in the journey. Is TIME the key to changing the perception of people towards public transport? How do you break down transit time?

Graphic showing the three time zones: Walking Time, Waiting Time, Travelling Time.

Simply put, time spent is experienced gained. Enriching the quality of experience in individual segments of time transforms the overall bus experience, thus changing the perception of people towards bus transit.

3. Decode the Context :

Chennai, as a city of diverse contexts, demands for a unique response for every scenario. Every time segment that contributes to travel has a different face at different points in the city. An experiential analysis of time is crucial in identifying the qualitative defects of the system and in designing for the needs of the people at every level. [Sample Graphic below]

Phto analysis
Photo analysis showing how the contextual issues could be understood

 4. Design for TIME – The three Zones:

Concentrating design efforts solely in improving user experience in three time zones gives a more streamlined design that achieves the end objective of attracting more users.

Design Zones
Graphic showing how design could be concentrated in these three Zones
Walking Time:

The inefficiency in connectivity and lack of excitement in user’s interaction are the thrust areas of design. Share autos should be recognised as valid feeder systems, occupying equivalent share of the road space, a source for last mile connectivity.  Pedestrian friendly streets, along with a public cycle sharing network can bridge the gap between the transit point and destination.

Waiting Time:

Bus shelters have the potential to become important social nodes within their neighborhoods, responding to the character of each context. Placemaking as a design methodology should be applied to every bus shelter to transform them into focal points of a community, with active street edges catering to diverse users.

Travelling Time:

‘Right of way’ for buses, improving user interface and reliability by the provision of a more interactive and informative system using route maps, sign boards. These conveniences can transform a mere bus experience into an overall city experience for users, irrespective of one’s familiarity with the city.

Sketches showing Design Interventions for three Time Zones

5. BE BOLD. BE VISIBLE – Identity through Hierarchy:

Transit Stops need to attract people. Bus Shelters need a strong identity; a visual ‘shoutout’, if you will, that marks its place in the urban context, and instinctively pulls people towards it.

Architectural design could be the tool to giving an inseparable identity to the bus system within the overall transit network. By just looking at the shelter, one should be able to comprehend the services it offers and buses that service the route.

Bus stop grades 2.gif
Graphic showing the Standards that would be provided at each Grade of Bus Shelter

The bus system should be revamped by introducing three different grades of bus shelters – Grade A,B,C, each defined by a hierarchical set of standards and infrastructure. Parameters like Volumes of the bus station, Catchment area, Contextual importance, Intermodal Connectivity, Frequency of buses, and Importance of route would determine the order of hierarchy.

Grade map.jpg
Map showing the possible locations of different grades of Bus Stops

Grade A: Major transit nodes in the city and Depots – Guindy, Koyambedu, Broadway, Tambaram, Ambattur,etc.
Grade B: Important bus stops within the city – Mylapore, Vadapalani, Gemini Signal, Gandhi Mandapam Stop, etc.
Grade C: Neighborhood stops – Adayar Signal, MRC Nagar, Blue star.

6. Design of the Shelter:

Creativity + Cost efficiency + Immunity. The bus station is the interface between the people and the system and its architecture is the medium that makes the intangible tangible. A careful selection of parameters that govern its design and unique architectural identity, to stand out within the overpowering urban fabric is paramount to its success.

They need to to be ‘jaw-dropping-awesome’, and yet be economical enough to break the bureaucratic chains that bind urban design in our country. Not to mention the constant threat of vandalism and political/movie posters that mar all urban infrastructure in our cities.

 In other words, creativity + cost efficiency + immunity

Guindy shelter breakdown
Details of Bus Shelter Design.

7. Embrace the Smartphone revolution:

Smart(phone) Urban Transit. The most important urban transport innovation is the Smartphone. We step out of our houses only after consulting Google maps and the likes for the best travel route, remaining glued to it till the end of the journey [More on that here]. Success of cab companies like Ola and Uber is largely based on the advantage that you solve your travel needs just by pushing few buttons on your smartphone. Public transit needs to enter into the foray of smartphone navigation, to boost its ridership.

Valuable data on where people want to go, how they travel, what’s slowing them down, and how the network is operating can be deciphered from user-generated data, courtesy the smartphone. A unified mobility app has enormous potential to eliminate barriers between modes, use existing infrastructure more efficiently, and bring the entire transport network to the smartphone. [1]

Finding real-time Bus routes made easy on m-Indicator

The need of the hour is a mobile app like Mumbai’s ‘m-Indicator’, with which we can look up real-time transit information and options instantly, wherever we are, track the exact location of the next bus or train and plan our journey accordingly.

In Conclusion, a time-based design would transform the overall bus experience and people’s perception towards public transit, slowing becoming the preferred choice of travel. Time spent in transit is then no longer a burden. It’s a gift.



  1. The Most Important Transportation Innovation of the Decade Is the Smartphone

[This article is the compilation of the joint research and design by Sanjana John, Bala Nagendran M, Chandrasekaran S and Preetika Balasubramanian for University of Westminster Trophy, NASA 2014]

…joy of being lost #3/6

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Throughout college, I had to travel from one end of the city to another. Avadi to Adayar every day. Peak time traffic was so bad that I used to get nightmares about being stuck for hours on a crowded bus with hardly room to breathe. That being said, sometimes I took the auto to reach college faster, but mainly for the myriad shortcuts through the city that an auto driver invariably knows, to bypass the traffic.

Now these shortcuts meant I had to venture into places and streets I didn’t know before, routes that were alien to me. The watchdog inside of me was constantly on alert, looking out for any deviations from the usual route. The first time this happened I spotted it too late. We were already in the middle of nowhere. Lost for all I knew! I instantly went into panic mode, imagination on overdrive, desperately searching for signs, clues, anything at all to figure out where the auto driver was taking me.

Then, I spotted it. Rows and rows of nameboards outside shops with one thing in common – Addresses written proudly beneath their names, showing exactly where I was.

Small shops throughout the city continue to display their location on their nameboards. Seen at Myalapore.

Urban wayfinding

Navigation and way finding issues have been largely ignored when it comes to urban planning and design of Indian cities. Yet they are fundamentally important in orienting ourselves in a new place and makes acclimatizing to unknown contexts easier. Our brains subconsciously map and keep track of the routes, taking orientation cues from the surrounding contexts like street signs, buildings, and landmarks, anything that triggers memory of a place. Cities that make this process easier are naturally easier to navigate.

Google Maps and the Smartphone Revolution

Without a doubt, wayfinding is certainly much easier than it was before. But, here’s the thing- nowadays we are so dependent on Google Maps for finding our way through our cities that it is hard to remember that there was no Google Maps before 2005. We find it hard to get out of our houses without consulting our phones and plotting our route inch by inch. Traffic analysis, time-distance appraisals, travel mode comparisons are all put together to give us the ‘recommended (read safe) route’. We let artificial intelligence make the judgements for us (“Google shows this, so must be right”); wayfinding through the city is largely enabled by, and limited to our phones.

We are presented with multiple route options based on traffic analysis, time-distance mapping, giving us the “best” route.

This type of Google-based route planning is radically different from how our parents found their way through cities, using their own internal cognitive map of random points and landmarks in the city, both familiar and unfamiliar, like that cousin’s house here or that temple there, and form a sequence of these landmarks to reach their destination. This might have been less accurate, but this was when travelling and navigating was enjoyed for the joy that is itself, when they actually saw the city and were guided by the city.

In this constant point-to-point travel, we forget to enjoy the actual experience of travel.

Wayfinding is essentially a mix of logic, accident, and most importantly, our basic human navigational instinct. But Smartphone navigation narrows our perspective of the world, reducing it to the singular route between the two points of travel, leaving nothing to chance. In this constant point-to-point travel, we forget to enjoy the actual experience of travel. In the guise of exploring the city, we see less of the city and more of the tiny map of the city inside our phones.

The charm of wandering through the city, lost in reverie, can’t be predicted by an app nor can it be calculated by any algorithm.

Intuitive wayfinding

Most cities abroad invest millions of dollars on installing way finding systems like signage and maps to aid in moving through an urban landscape. The best part about Chennai or any Indian City, for that matter, is that we already have one! A system that has organically evolved over the years, to become the quickest, most original way of orienting ourselves in the city – the nameboards. This curious practice prevails in shops big and small, and has unconsciously played a major role in making places more legible.

All this fuss about a nameboard, you ask? But it’s not just a nameboard of a shop, it’s a crucial marker in the wayfinding process. With changing times, there has been an increasing shift towards fancy, minimalistic nameboards without the addresses. The important thing to realise is that despite all its good looks, it doesn’t add any value to the urban environment. The legibility of a city largely depends on the intuitiveness and creativity of the wayfinding systems. Of course, there’s a lot more to wayfinding than just these nameboards. But preserving this practice is a start to making Chennai coherent as a whole.


I realised the extent to which this influenced my perception of the city when I moved to Bangalore last year. The first thing I noticed was the lack of address on the ‘modern’ nameboards, in some of the posh, commercial areas like Indira Nagar. I had become so dependent on them for orienting myself and tracking my route that I was lost everytime I stepped outside!

There is a lot of joy in being lost in the city, and chancing upon hidden streets you didn’t know existed, exploring less known routes that take you to new places, new sights. Nothing can compare with the moment of revelation when you connect the dots and think “Oh! I know where I am now!” A good wayfinding system gives us the confidence to chance getting lost. It makes us feel like we belong.

All we need to do is look outside the window.