Being an area that is always lively and crowded, walking through George Town is a deeply sensorial experience. There are no set routes to walk along, nor are there demarcated spaces meant for walking; the chaotic experience offered is a key characteristic of George Town. The narrow streets form the only surface available to serve for transport, parking, walking and social interaction ; it would not be uncommon to see people stopping on the street to meet an acquaintance or bargain with a shopkeeper. The frenzied nature of these streets, in a way, ensures the safety of those using them – motorists are more careful while driving through these spaces. In fact, the traffic congestion faced in this area is felt to be a problem only by those who try to access it using motor vehicles, it does not bother pedestrians who actually have the right of the way in these streets as opposed to other streets in the city.
Following the onsite research, the following problems have been identified as the key issues associated with George Town.
Apart from these, there also exist some obstacles that prevent the initiation of any kind of change in this area –
1. Hesitance to approach / engage with governmental agencies with regards to modifying and updating the existing heritage buildings due to the vast number of complicated procedures and regulations involved.
2. Lack of strict enforcement of traffic rules in the area.
3. Anticipated disruption to trade that is associated with any type of change being effected in George Town.
Keeping these issues in mind, it might be more prudent to initiate smaller modifications and interventions in this area and also to consider a phased approach that extends over a longer period of time, effecting a more gradual transformation.
Would you agree?
It is now the end of my (slightly extended) time in Chennai, documenting the George Town area. I now head back to Sheffield, having interacted with a combined total of 343 people who participated in the various surveys!
I must say that this number is vastly higher than I expected and I can now head into the design phase of this project with a lot of rich data. Thank you to everyone who participated!
This post follows the walks that were conducted on the 25th of June. Two walks and 20 participants later, I must say that I’ve gathered a lot of useful perspectives that are going to aid me in taking this project forward.
As much as the conducted walks were meant to allow for the participants to provide their inputs, they were also meant to expose people to previously undiscovered historical buildings. The idea was to open up a dialogue regarding the existence and relevance of these structures and I am glad to say that though in a small scale, this did happen with many who were unaware of the existence of beautiful historical structures such as the Armenian Church.
Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you so much to everyone who turned up for the walks! It was great to see everyone’s visions for the city and hoping to keep the conversation going for a very long time!
The online survey has been finally created and is good to go!
Please fill out the questionnaire on the link provided below – Urban Spaces of (Re)Use – Online Survey
This survey can be filled out by both former and current residents as well as visitors. Please share this questionnaire with more people if possible, I will be most grateful for every response I get! Thanks in advance!
What is this project about?
While there is a detailed introduction provided on the Home page of this website, this is a question that has caused me considerable trouble over the past few months. The project, which started out as an investigation into the possible uses of abandoned historical (not necessarily historic) buildings, has evolved through time to address two important problems that, in my opinion, we face in this city – derelict historic neighbourhoods and a dire lack of a sense of community. In this scenario, I think I’d probably be better off addressing the why before I get to the what.
So, why this project?
My primary motivation – the poor condition of a neighbourhood of historic importance, George Town, stemmed from my concern for the preservation of the rapidly disappearing architectural history of Chennai. While important structures (such as religious structures or government buildings) have found a way to survive, many beautiful structures have been abandoned, or worse, demolished due to a lack of care and regular use. This can be attributed to a number of causes with the lack of investment forming the primary cause (architectural conservation and reuse is often an expensive affair).
On the other hand, the city also lacks truly democratic public space (barring maybe, the beaches) that is open to all, one that encourages community engagement and active citizenship. Chennai, in recent times, has shown its immense potential for citizen – led movements, whether in the case of the relief work done during the 2015 floods or the protests that were seen across the city in relation to the Jallikattu issue. Should we not be provided with the relevant fora to continue participating actively in our city other than in times of crises?
On the surface, these two issues appear to be completely disconnected from each other. However, one distinct fact about Chennai is that unlike the other metropolitan cities of India like Delhi and Kolkata, this city has always lacked vast, open, public spaces. The open stretches of land that might have once existed have also now been filled with multiple globalised structures. In such a scenario, planning procedures might take years, if not decades for us to be able to recreate our public spaces. Therefore, while these procedures happen, would it be possible to create smaller, more temporary spaces that provide a more substantial setting for enacting moments of active community participation?
So, lets try again. What is this project about?
To put it simply, the project can be understood as an investigation of the following question –
Can peripheral historical spaces that have been excluded from regular public discourse be re-engaged to create inclusive and democratic spaces for all?