Public space evolution

There has been a massive explosion of creation of public spaces over the last 10 years. Growing up in the 80s and 90s I hardly remember instances of going out for coffee (fewer people were hooked on to caffeine) or ever visiting a mall. The fact is that there were none.

On second thoughts, after my recent visit to South India about which I will write later, I completely missed the role of temples. Yes, about 25 years ago, no house was complete unless there was a temple nearby. And yes, you were supposed to go there everyday. A lot of people go to temple everyday, but in more urban centres, they are soon becoming a minority.

But back then, we had a lot of fun playing cricket. Now cricket is a luxury. All the spaces are covered with cars and bikes.

Nowadays, hardly a few weeks go by when one hasn’t visited a mall. The near complete lack of parks coupled with rising temperatures, there are only few options left. Club memberships cost a fortune and traffic is a put off too.

That leaves movies, coffee shops and malls as the only real family hangout places. But these too have a lot off limitations.

Movies are very selectively targeted to particular audience tastes and require a time commitment. Coffee shops tend to get boring for children and there aren’t any apart from Starbucks and Cafe Coffee day.

With malls the only real place where the masses can hangout are their food courts the rest of the spaces require you to commit cash. Nonetheless, the large spaces that some of these malls such as Phoenix and InOrbit occupy allow people to do their evening walks in an air-conditioned, safe and secure environment which very few public spaces offer.

Starbucks would have serious limitations on expansions in India. I do not see the queues in the mornings as you see in London or New York. Rather, for a significant part the staff is busy chatting.

Cafe Coffee day has a phenomenal reach. You would find it around at every major urbanised space in India. I find the menu to be more of a food experience rather than coffee. But again, due to pricing and lack of focus on creation of a coffee habit, I really wonder if would be a money spinning business.

All this leaves me to one definite conclusion. Demand for air conditioned public space would continue at a scorching space. The space occupied by temples only a generation ago would gradually give way to merchandise and engagement.

So how do we play this story?
Direct – 1. Keep a watch on new format open spaces which blend all the above constraints.
2. Air conditioners – come what may, no public space would not work without aircon.
3. Hydraters – There is a serious lack of water based brands in India. In fact in upmarket retail outlets its amusing to find shelves full of imported non-alcoholic brands! Crazy, i thought only oil and alcohol were imported…

Conclusion:

  1. Explosion of cafe’s – but profitability of cafes is a question mark. High rents, operating costs, value for money proposition are key hurdles.

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