Urban Typhoon Kochi

Cities around the world are acknowledging that local expertise, knowledge and skills are an effective mechanism to generate ideas, plans and strategies that can be implemented by themselves or by civic authorities and planning agencies. Earlier this year, urbz was part of such an endeavour where we conducted Urban Typhoon workshops in Kochi, India. It was an enriching process working with local people to generate programmes and plans for the improvement , transformation and preservation of neighbourhoods. People’s energies and collective capacities came together to become a powerful force that is promising for the future of Kochi.

The Urban Typhoon Kochi was held over six days in six different neighbourhoods all over the city. During these workshops participants such as architects, planners and urban practitioners from other parts of the city, counry and the world, worked closely with local people, councillors, Residents Welfare Associations, Kudumbshree groups, unions and volunteers.

Each day, all participants collectively discussed and brainstormed three things: What they liked about their neighbourhood, What were the main problems they faced and what initiatives they took to address their issues and problems.  Then they chose specific sites that best represented these themes. The inhabitants took all the workshop participants for an exploratory walk to those specific sites. During these walks they discussed in detail the related themes. After the walk, each group shared with each other five essential points: Ideas, Knowledge about the neighbourhood, Qualities of their neighbourhood, the main Questions that emerged from the exercise and their Emotions (for example, did they feel positive, optimistic, hopeful or pessimistic).

The material collected over a span of six days was organized, analysed and distilled in a manner that could be shared with a wider public, authorities and urban practitioners to formulate future development projects and programmes for specific neighbourhoods as well as the city at large.

Some of the recurring themes were to do with:

Active Neighbourhoods:

Kochi is made up of many active neighbourhoods. All of the different areas are full of history and have very engaged and active inhabitants, residents and users. Residents are very aware and have initiated many activities for their neighbourhoods.

Each neighbourhood and ward has something special to highlight, and can become the focus of the public at its own levels. Such a focus can be the basis, for example, of raising resources to develop a promenade in some cases or walkaways along canals. At other places, it can be re-organized to enhance a cultural monument to an orchard. Whether it is international tourists or local visitors, school children or neighbouring residents, each place has its own public dynamic that can be activated for enhancing activities in different neigbourhoods.

Local Empowerment:

Several Residents Welfare Associations and Kudumbushree groups have worked successfully on issues such as waste management and can share and exchange their experiences with others so the good ideas can spread from one part of the city to another. The connection between waste management and the health of the waters of the canals cannot be overemphasized. For this, recognizing, validating and rewarding the existing efforts is very important, at public, media and municipal forums.

Doing more to facilitate and empower them will be the most effective way of dealing with the issue. Allowing special concessions for localized financial disbursement from the municipal level to groups working at the ward level, on issues of waste and cleaning of canals will have a very concrete impact on the life of the city. 

Mobility:

There are many ongoing good efforts for improving Kochi’s transportation system. At present the large scale use of individual cars is creating  traffic and pollution that will only increase. The rail metro, the Water Metro and the electric rickshaws are great initiatives and recognized and acknowledged by most citizens.

However, the last mile from the house to the station is an ordeal for many people specially for elderly, differently abled and children. There is a need for creating a strong network of pedestrian pathways, using the canals as a structuring system, which would encourage green forms of mobility and good health.  After all walking and cycling is the future of cities around the world, which complement collective modes of transportation.

Such observations gradually evolved into a bigger vision about “Water” as an integrative and connecting point at several levels for the city of Kochi.

Water is an intrinsic part of the city of Kochi, its most prevalent organizing system. It connects and links most of its spatial uses. People are ready to mobilize around water issues and the canal network and are very supportive of projects linked to these themes. From the cleaning of the canals, the development of the water metro project, the development of promenades along the canals, the connecting of waterways to other mobility systems like railways and roads and protecting the settlements and habitats from the inevitable impact of climate change; the need to work with water is felt and understood as very urgent at different levels.

This is already being recognized by both, official authorities and the public. It will be the key to the future of Kochi.  Water evokes responses and responsibilities at different levels – state-level, infrastructural, municipal, and at the level of citizens responsibilities. While the state-level and municipal responses are being internally managed and coordinated across sectors and levels, with the support of several high-quality consultants, institutions and ideas, the space of citizens and public responses are most effective at municipal levels. Especially in terms of cleaning canals, effective waste management and ensuring that sewage does not pollute the canals.

A city such as Amsterdam is well known for its planned canals. Kochi is blessed to be an organic, canal city. The proper attention to these networks and the city’s relation to water and open spaces would hugely increase the quality of life and attract industries (IT and others) and tourists, both of which would help the city’s economy.

By focusing on Water in all dimensions – as infrastructure, transportation, public space, site for for tourism, as heritage, the city can connect many of its concerns and make it the point of convergence for public and civic energy.