On 20thJune, I attended a stakeholder consultation workshop on creating ‘people-centric’ public spaces hosted by the WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities. The topic of discussion was ‘Development of streets and public spaces along with intermodal connectivity between the bus stations, boat jetties and intermediate modes of transportation’.
Approximately 30-40 stakeholders attended the workshop, representing a diverse range of interests including the municipal corporation, Kochi Metro and the Cochin Smart City Mission, local politicians, the tourism department, urban and town planners, the Regional Transport Office and NGOs.
The workshop began with a general overview of the development which has been occurring for the past five years in Fort Kochi. The workshop leaders spoke about the importance of cities and why cities matter. The discussion highlighted how urbanisation gives a different meaning to economic growth, which results in an increase in the urban poor category. The minimal usage of public resources is the result of unequal economic growth and it portrays the inefficiency of government. Also, due to decreased public spending, health risks in the communities will rapidly increase, deeply affecting the well-being of the public.
The Chennai flood is a huge example of the strain and struggle people have to face if public resources aren’t used efficiently. The underlying factor of the drainage and sewage systems being flawed cost us many lives during the flood.
The importance of developing a self-sufficient community with a “compact and coordinated growth” along with a connected infrastructure was an important discussion topic during the workshop. A high-quality infrastructure improves the quality and standard of living as well as causing a behavioural change in the public. Surat city in India was cited as an example. Managing urban expansion through the multi-model integration of resources is an excellent way of enhancing the quality of infrastructure. By the term ‘Multi-Model Integration’, we mean incorporating the public transport system along with information technology, and also developing water-sensitive urban design and inclusive urban climate resilience planning. The workshop also emphasised the importance of ‘place-making’ i.e. connecting public spaces to people through the redistribution of road space and creating safe streets as a result of an interactive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.
The strengths of the Fort Cochin area were identified as follows:
- Being a land of high heritage value;
- The existence of an aesthetic and waterfront heritage;
- The presence of Chinese fishing nets;
- Being host to the prestigious international Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
The weaknesses were identified as follows
- Lack of proper urban master planning;
- Intense use of streets and markets resulting in unsafe public spaces;
- No proper rule or guidelines followed to ensure proper disposal of waste into open spaces and canals;
- Improper maintenance of sidewalks.
The opportunities were as follows:
- Kochi is a great venue for hosting international programs and conferences;
- Kochi is a place with rich cultural heritage and seascapes.
The major threats were identified as:
- The place being filled with plastic waste, flux and advertisement boards;
- A major portion of beach having disappeared over the years;
- Livelihood problems in the community being on the rise.
All the stakeholders were divided into groups to do a mapping exercise. This was organised to gather similar projects proposed by various smart city, water metro and tourism departments etc. into a single framework.
The workshop gave a clear understanding of the project proposals happening in the Fort Cochin area and valuable suggestions regarding the development of the projects were put forward by the stakeholders. One of the major concerns was safe and open public spaces as well as well co-ordinated public transport systems.
The workshop concluded with a plan to formulate, identify and support projects which will conserve and protect environmental and heritage sites. Kochi Municipal Corporation, along with the WRI, will be working closely with the active projects carried out by the smart cities program, the tourism department and other efforts in the city.
Some of the major recommendations put forward by some of the stakeholders are as follows:
- The public should also be included in policy-making and decisions;
- Livelihood and employment opportunities should be created for the community;
- Ownership rights should be made available to the community;
- Proper waste management (solid and liquid) should be developed, implemented and monitored accordingly;
- A canal restoration programme should be launched;
- Night-time services by the regional transport office should be increased and a centralised surveillance control room should be installed.
By Susan Sukanya, Project Research Associate, Project Societal Partner Sakhi Women’s Resource Centre