Pondicherry: A City Where Leisure Isn’t a Privilege

Sketch of pondicherry beach road

In 2022, I took my first solo trip to Pondicherry. The colourful buildings romanticised this former French colony, and the oh-so-accessible beach was a cherry on top. As someone who had lived in bustling cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, and London, I was intrigued by the prospect of experiencing Pondy’s small-town charm. Little did I know that the public spaces would encourage me to make Pondy my home. 

Experiences in other cities

I grew up in Virar, the northmost point of Mumbai’s western line (which is Dahanu now). Our cravings for leisure depended on Central Mumbai, which was at least an hour away. The local beach was a 30-minute drive and chaotic to reach. Growing up, I remember living close to Mumbai and never attending the well-known Kala Ghoda festival because of the local train rush. 

 I remember a conversation with my friend during my architecture course in London. I told her that the only public spaces in Virar were movie theatres, cafes, and malls. To this, she replied, “So you are always indoors?” I had never realised before this conversation why London gave me a sense of freedom while navigating the city. The reason was the outdoor public space. And not just the public spaces such as parks but also the streets with continuous footpaths. I felt a sense of freedom while walking on the streets of Pondicherry with tree shade and looking at colourful buildings. Having a public space like a beach is a big plus, but isn’t accessibility to the beach also important? That’s what I missed in Virar.

Life in Pondy

Settling into Pondicherry, I found a new sense of freedom. I could go out on my terms. My house, just 10 minutes’ walk from the beach, offered convenient access to the city’s most cherished public space. The beach is more peaceful because the beach road is a pedestrian-only area. Parking your vehicle before entering the beach road has become the norm. It is always bustling with people walking, a music event, or just people sitting and looking at the sea waves. Even visiting friends or attending events all come within a 15-minute walking radius.

Streets in pondy shaded with trees

The streets leading up to the public space are equally important. The approach to the space should be attractive and safe for people to use the public space. In Pondicherry, the shaded streets make walking an attractive option.

vehicles parking before entering the pedestrian only zone in pondy

Parking your vehicle before entering the beach road has become the norm for people in Pondy. No cars on the beach road make it a perfect public space to relax with no traffic noise in the background.

people walking on the beach road in pondicherry

The beach road is always bustling with people, making it safe.

People sitting on a bench facing the sea

As a public space, the beach provides only a space for leisure and nothing else.

As I reflect on my journey from bustling metropolises to the serene streets of Pondy, I feel gratitude for what I have now. Talking about a town where you can go to the beach, the park, and even meet friends all within a 10-minute walking distance sounds like a ‘too good to be true’ advert for a gated community. Why can’t all cities be like that?  Cities that contribute to the leisure part of life as much as the work and hustle. Cities where leisure is readily accessible to all, rather than being perceived as a privilege reserved for the select few.

Streets are central to city design. But how can we create such healthy streets? Check out our Healthy Streets Policy Template to learn more.

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