4. Delhi: An Inclusive City?

Co-authored with: Agnimitra Bachi, Damini Rathi, Divya Singh, Palak Mehta, Aparna Konat, Lokesh Singh

Click here to read conference paper

Research Question: What are the problems faced by marginalised groups in public spaces surrounding the Nizamuddin Railway Station?

Why Inclusivity?
Inclusive cities are more affluent because they mobilise a larger portion of the population to engage in productive activites. This encourages more resilient, self-sustaining societies. A society armed with diverse well performing individuals is placed to hold public policies and institutions accountable.

Social exclusion on the other hand leads to decay: as people lose hope in collective action, they ignore aspects of public life.

There’s a rich variety of actors near the Nizamuddin Railway Station

We studied the daily lives of actors in and around the Hazrat Nizamuddin transit hub in south-east Delhi. The areas around the railways station has a rich variety of activities, in which there is heavy intersection of usage of space. This provides us with opportunities to compare and contrast the agency of various social groups, and to identify the problems faced by marginalised ones.

Mapping the use of space on site helped used identify areas of high concentration of use, which would lead to us indentify conflicts

Some spaces in particular, like the immediate surroundings of the Railway Station were buzzing with activity

Marginalised parties are hesitant to give out information about their situations out of fear of persecution by authorities. Keeping this in mind, we followed a process of contextual inquiry, conducting unstructured interviews, and doing a keyword analysis on the gathered data to narrow down on a few specific topics to inquire about in depth.

Over time, our interviews highlighted the concerns of various people on site

The case of the hawkers on the unplanned side was an illustrative one, showing the various obstacles faced by marginalised groups.

There’s a breakdown in trust with the governing bodues due to ambiguities
in implementation of the law

Many wait for the stagnant paperwork to go through for their license to hawk to be approved, and even those with a license face extortion from local goons and the police. Furthermore, they’re insecure about their location, with the municipal corporation at liberty to move them to a faraway location, entirely unsuitable to the act of hawking. They compete with vehicles and pedestrians for valuable pedestrian space, meaning they survive on means that are temporary.
Upon geolocating issues causing conflicts, we started identifying areas to focus on.

The spatial insecurity felt by the actors taking part in the informal space takes a toll on their ability to plan for the longer term. This hinders their ability to build on their livelihood in a meaningful way, and traps them within their current state of living.
This lack of hope for progress means that everyone eyes each other with suspicion. With reduced scope for cooperation and growth, the state of the public space suffers.

While commerce brings useful facilities for people, it also leads to a lack of organisation
-- and marginalised groups are the first to lose out in these high-pressure situations.

It’s hard to make any sweeping suggestions for policy change, because that would go against the argument we’re making for considered, empathetic, place-specific gathering of data informing policy. What we can do is to study high-pressure urban spaces, and get a more realistic picture of what’s actually going on at site.

Future research goals
What bothers me is the digging of trenches on both sides of the equation, between those who use the public space, and those who admnister them. My hope is that we can create more narratives, have better informed discussions compared to the ones we see in mass media.

I’m optimistic about the role of technology bringing about this change, and this is an area of research I want to explore in my work going forward.