As the first person outside of Uganda to ever be allowed to work in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, I’ve been given the unique opportunity to learn about the workings of a protected national park. The opportunity has afforded me the chance to create work in an area that is dense in wildlife but also a vibrant community that borders it. My role in this internship is to support the Uganda Wildlife Authority with content creation inside of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (bordering the Congo and Rwanda). This content would then be used in working towards development of the Wildlife Authorities current structure of outreach and communications. Through the process of creating content I will be learning about the various departments inside of the park and their role is in protection of the forest and wildlife inside of the park is, as well as how the park ultimately contributes to the local community.
After the setback of last week’s attempt at generating way finding clues within the village, we took a step back to evaluate what were the key issues important to us, the children and Adhyayan, and what strategies could we realistically implement in our limited time without unnecessarily antagonizing the community.
All these past weeks of interactions with the community and specially the kids, it’s become clear that Adhyayan, the organization and the space holds a special place for them. They like to spend their maximum time after school within its environment. With the lack of recreational public spaces in the community, this offers a safe and comfortable environment for them to hang out.
We decided to try reinforcing its presence as the ‘heart’ of the children and the community. This is also helped by its physical location, though deep within the neighborhood, but at a prominent square.
Though, being old, organically grown communities, there mostly exists a mixed land use. However there are many lanes deep within the village, which are purely residential. This led to the question of distinguishing between the public and the private, how deep within the community would they like outsiders to enter. Thus a decision to work on the movement through the streets having mostly commercial ventures and institutions was made.
We tried to delineate the streets throughout the community through color.
There are 5 different entrances into the community, each from a prominent point on the periphery of the neighborhood like a metro station, next to major city school, and near the surrounding residential communities offering a different meandering path to reach the small square “choti chawk” at which Adhyayan is situated. Some of these streets are lined with commercial ventures; another passes through the neighborhood cow stable, while the others are residential lanes. I decided to highlight these different paths with different colors to make color-coded way-finding clues. The younger kids had been feeling a big left out these past few days when we were working on the community map, and I thought it would be a good idea to get them involved in this project. We started hand printing the walls of these different streets, with each path being distinguishable by its own color.
It was really interesting to witness the residents’ reactions to a bunch of kids parading up and down the lanes hand printing different surfaces. Even more interesting was the dialogues that this initiated. Many adults have started recognizing me as the ‘teacher’ to their children at Adhyayan or from our weekly community meeting and take whatever we seem to bring to their streetscape in a positive light. Many times we as designers come up notions of how certain things should be or how they should be read by the others without realizing that not everyone is so intuitively immersed in design thinking. It was a reading of the markers’ seeming success that most people’s immediate response to our “we’re just hand printing these streets” was “Oh! To make different lanes distinguishing by color? That would make giving directions so much easier!”
From this week, a few volunteers from the neighboring college who want to work with Adhyayan on this “art” project join us. Usually whenever an outsider comes to the NGO (including myself), one of the kids always comes out to one of the entrances to guide us in, it even took me a couple of days to find my way in one go. To test out our markers, instead of going to receive the volunteers, we’ve been telling them to follow a particular color depending on where they inform us that they’re entering from and no one seems to have got lost so far! (Or maybe most people just have a better sense of direction than me)
As a possible critique of this experiment and on further development, we’re toying with the idea of adding the NGO’s logo or something, as I’m still not convinced about its success or access to an accidental outsider or someone who isn’t invited in. I’m hoping that our next step of installing installations and murals as “attractors” in lanes that seem more narrow or unfriendly might affect the general foot traffic in the village.
Though we’ve been working our hardest at making the streets more “navigable” the daunting problem of the excessive trash on the streets would deter anyone, outsider or otherwise to wish to traverse the lanes of the village. Though we clean all the areas where we make an intervention, its not a sustainable step as the it requires a multi-tiered addressal from concerned government departments and conscious efforts by the residents. While we are targeting the community awareness through our weekly meetings and personal interactions, we’ve been having meetings with the sub-departments of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in the past weeks. This Tuesday after weeks of attempts, we finally managed to hold a meeting with the Chancellor for the zone within which our neighborhood lies along with his officials to discuss the policy changes that need to be implemented for communities like these urban villages. Communities, whose narrow streets do not allow for larger municipal trucks to operate in and who require a greater attention by the personal working with smaller equipment and on foot. This also, allowed us to create a bridge of dialogue between the community and the authorities that had been lacking and made the residents take our work and us in their community in a more serious light.
Though seemingly a promising series of conversation, existing as a part of the (in)famous Indian bureaucracy, we will need to maintain constant pressure on the MCD, the scope of which will extend way beyond my stay with Adhyayan to see a concrete impact. However, getting the dialogue started was a huge step and I will make sure to maintain the pressure for however long I can.
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.
I am excited to be working in New Delhi, India this summer with the residents of Zamrudpur urban village, to use design interventions in their streetscape as a means to draw visitors into the community and start important dialogues to address prejudices against such marginalized communities and their residents. I will be carrying out the project in collaboration with Adhyayan, a community driven NGO focused on empowering youths from marginalized communities by teaching them valuable skills and resources that are otherwise denied by social, economic and cultural circumstances.
Existing as agricultural villages previously, and then subjected to different municipal laws, urban villages share an uncomfortable relation with the rest of the city that engulfed them in its rapid globalization. Today most urban villages in Delhi suffer from a lack of proper infrastructure, and the social and economic marginalization of their residents. A clear example of their exclusion from the urban discourse is the exclusion of their presence on Google maps in today’s tech-based world.
Working with Adhyayan and the youth of the village, I hope to facilitate the process of the residents coming to understand their role and status in the city, and raising their understanding of themselves as active agents. The project will be split into 3 phases – design charrettes and mapping exercises, installation creation, and pop-up performances within the village, with the goal to have the residents open up their community to outsiders. Limiting my role to instigating and facilitating the ideas, the project process will be self-driven by the students, teaching them skills in organization, collaboration, and management of resources among others. This summer the village children become the hosts and ambassadors of their village to create a “secrets” map of their village. The main aim will be to target perceptions of discomfort and hostility through navigation of socially different spaces for an outsider, thereby affecting their interactions with the locals in that place.
– Zoya Puri