On track to transform urban spaces

A collective of inter-disciplinary creatives has been actively working with Delhiites to redefine the city and create more inclusive and accessible public spaces

author_img Dyuti Roy Published :  20th May 2022 01:11 PM   |   Published :   |  20th May 2022 01:11 PM
Community Photo Mapping Circle

Community Photo Mapping Circle at the ‘Aao Jagah Banaye’ showcase on April 22; (2 & 3) The Raghubir Nagar residents showcasing their community zines

A typical day in India’s second-largest city would often include participating in social interactions and making quick forays to multiple public spaces—you might be pushing through crowds at Rajiv Chowk metro station or narrowly escaping cars while crossing roads. In addition to similar everyday dilemmas in a city, women have their own set of urban issues—unable to travel at night is high on that list.

“It is not that people are unaware of the complexities of urban life. However, no one has ever asked about it,” shares South Delhi-based urban researcher Saleha Sapra (30). Taking into account citizens’ priorities, and to build continuous dialogue between citizens and local urban bodies, Sapra and architect Riddhi Batra co-founded City Sabha—an initiative that looks at Delhi through multi-disciplinary lenses of architecture, anthropology, and sociology, and helps citizens engage with public spaces—in early 2020. “Each person has a different version of Delhi and we aim to look at all perspectives,” adds Sapra.

City Sabha (citysabha.org) attempts to create a wholesome approach to redefining urban city planning by means of four verticals—Research, Action, Advocacy, and Education. Their community engagement projects ‘City Log’ and ‘City Lens’ are examples of this outlook. Through open-call initiatives, their core team of five suggests that Delhiites document their memories of this city through photographs, write ups, or audio recordings. “This exercise helps make people interested in planning the city they live in,” explains Sapra. 

Through numerous participatory activities the projects attempt to create engaging narratives of Delhi. The initiatives comprise pop-ups featuring multi-disciplinary artists, zine-making workshops on storytelling, among others. Sarita Vihar-resident Sandra Alexander (25), a research consultant who is part of the City Sabha team, says, “Our research is focused on bringing an artistic perspective to urban city life. This intersection of art and research makes the project accessible to the public.”

Art for the citizen’s sake 

Sandra Alexander

One of the main aims of City Sabha is to boost engagement of the locals with public spaces. Sapra cites the example of a pop-up the team organised at Jamun Wala Park, adjacent to Khirkee Village, Saket, to provide equal access of the space to the neighbourhood’s street vendors. Earlier, authorities imposed restrictions on entry to the park—it is developed as a Corporate Social Responsibility project by Select Citywalk—for Khirkee residents. 

Currently, City Sabha is the partner organisation for ‘Aao Jagah Banaye’, a project supported by ‘Peripheries and Crossovers SEAP’21’, a multi-city socially engaged art project by Khoj Studios that works with Raghubir Nagar’s women street vendors. The team is redefining public spaces for these women while engaging with them through activities such as zine-making, organised with Hyderabad-Mumbai initiative ‘Zinedabaad Collective’. Sangeeta Ranjit (35), a resident of Raghubir Nagar who is part of the ‘Aao Jagah Banaye’, concludes, “I feel using our voices and telling our stories will lead to development. Most people are unaware of our plight because we haven’t been speaking out about it.”