Mapping a space, a neighborhood, a community
My arrival in Delhi and Adhyayan takes place after most of the other fellows are half-way through their projects and its been really fascinating reading about their experiences while getting ready to start my own.
My first fortnight at Zamrudpur has been quite an overwhelming experience, getting to know the neighborhood, its residents and the fantastic group of children studying at Adhyayan, who are the core group of individuals I will be working with over the next two months.
These first two weeks I spent walking around the village, getting to know its streets and its residents, my personal mapping of its physical spaces and stories. At the same times, I was introducing the concept of “mapping” to the children at Adhyayan, through a series of design charretts aimed as ice-breakers and to understand their feelings and hopes for their community and village. Each day we drew, sketched, wrote and narrated to each other on a variety of topics ranging from what was someone’s favorite spot in the village, how would we invite a friend to our house or give directions, what was our least favorite space on our walk home from school or a route that was avoided. Through these, we explored graphic representations of way-finding tools and a much deeper study of our everyday surroundings that we often oversee or ignore but in fact are extremely important stimuli for an outsider, unfamiliar with this space. This concluded with the children creating directional maps to their own homes, which will be taken forward in the coming weeks to collectively map their whole neighborhood.
One of the toughest and most important things I had to learn early itself, is that as a designer, conceiving and executing an idea individually might be a challenging enough experience, but it requires a completely different strategy to instigate and inspire someone not constantly immersed in design thinking to explore for themselves.
A major problem that came to light through both the interactions with the children and my personal experience was the huge amount of garbage and trash in the streets, which was leading to un-navigable paths, clogging of drains and thus water logging during the ongoing monsoons and the general unfavorable conditions of a public space caused by sight, smell and flies induced by such waste. When this is factored to the community, which comprises mainly of low-income tenants, who find it easier to through trash out the windows of the houses they don’t own into a street that they don’t feel any ownership towards rather than walk a long distance to dispose of weekly garbage in the municipal dumpsters far away.
But the solution to this is not merely a cleanliness drive, that the NGO and its students have engaged in, time after time, but the lack of ownership of common public spaces and the inaccessibility of a systematic garbage collection system for the community. Our steps going forward need to address this vital need of community ownership, making the public spaces and accesses usable by the community itself first.