Shock Absorbers | nitya patel
Greenbelt was made as part of a paradigm shift in order to control urban sprawl in the early 1930s. The lack of policies for protecting the greenbelt, inconsistent policy framework which is always under amendments as per the need of the time and ongoing compensation battles, and erratic decisions into the invaluable vacancy across the city.
It acted as a temporary market, pasture, playground, parking, storage and also a place for anything that is not needed in the city, ironically both people and things. These vacancies provide an opportunity for a place of abode for the communities who have no choice elsewhere.
Shock Absorbers as an invaluable resource
Greenbelt failed as a mechanism at a planning level but it gave rise to uncertain, loosely held spaces due to contestations and ownership conflicts that are invaluable land resources as vacancies. This failure unfolded lands that act as shock absorbers for the city where the city could not take pressures of housing problems, open green spaces which was the intent of greenbelt and day to day activities like being a playground, home for animals, as a guide to driving lessons, a storage facility for construction equipment and so on. The absence of these spaces will result in the loss of multiplicity that these activities brought together and the city will need to develop infrastructure to provide for such activities to take place elsewhere.
Accommodating the excluded
These vacancies are under a threat of ongoing development highly exclusionary, rigid and overly determining. The non-normative spaces are being replaced by normative spaces. The nature of these developments as a public space is quite linear and inclusive of only a few sections of the society. These non-normative spaces have reflected the stories of people who have been using them for decades, gradually becoming a part of their identities. These vacant lots are sites where the regulations are loose, and they often become places that are claimed by the marginalized communities or result in marginalized spaces.
Multiplicity counters Capitalism
These faces are being lost to the faceless development that is taking place over these vacant lands. These faceless visions are of those who can already afford them. Capitalism has given rise to the ‘crisis of abundance’ of such spaces that has resulted in the luxury of choice of normative spaces. Moreover, the public spaces owned by the state too offer a certain degree of exclusivity. Since most of them are gated and charge nominal fees, they exhibit the authority’s dire need to protect these gardens from a section of the very people for whom they are made. We need to stop creating a singular, clean set of identities but to celebrate its multiplicity. “When things are made clear and defined, we forget”, Walter Hood. This holds true to the development that is coming up in these vacant lands.
“Great things can happen when we exist in each other’s world” - Walter Hood
Transient character empowers the idea of adaptability
Given that the new development is inevitable, how can we create an open system through which vacant spaces can demonstrate/exhibit as an alternative to faceless and gated public spaces?
A place that is transient and allows ‘conflict and dissonance’ for its growth can result in a place in the constant making - a dynamic form.
'Public' made 'Visible’
We need to capture these characteristics of vacancies that offer alternative urban commons in the city reflecting its multiplicity before it's taken over by faceless developments. Let them be democratic public spaces! - not in the legal sense, but as a tactile experience. Let us be empathetic where different sections of society can coexist and learn and interact with each other. Let us make visible, the invisible people and their living stories, through these public spaces.
The intervention in these spaces needs to be minimal which does not alter the nature of publicness and maintains the openness and uncertainty of the vacant lands. The need not be imposing but rather allows these multiplicities to exist and lets the identity of people who use them unfold.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when they are created by and for everybody.” - Jane Jacobs
Preserving Polyculture | jaimin bali
Power and potential of Collective Urban Memory
Lack of policy and ownership disputes between government and the khedut association was the cause of greenbelt being vacant for about 30 years. During this period the city grew past the greenbelt and adapted to the land being vacant. Systems and activities have developed, ranging from everyday to seasonal, that cater to neighbourhood and regional scale. People playing cricket during morning or evening attracts hawkers and food vendors creating a system. Similarly, a fair or a festival market attracts such small businesses. Everyday uses of a land may vary from a playground to a karate training ground to a driving practice ground and for some it acts as a parking or space for vendors to set up their vegetable laaris. These activities, everyday or seasonal, have become the identity of that particular land where it is practiced. The polyculture of the site is being converted to dictating monocultural development defined with fixed uses that kills the plurality.
User defined land identities as stimulants for social reform
The identity of the same land parcel might differ from person to person but it is that activity or use that creates that identity. Mirchi Maidan, for neighbourhood residents, creates a mental image of the ground near Vadaj circle. It not only caters to the spice market but also acts as a playground or hold temporary yet repetitive activities such as a fair. Single land parcel holding multiple uses.
Since the dispute resolution in 2013, new development with singular uses have emerged rapidly. This new planned development neglects the existing uses that these lands hold. The existing activities are present because of the vacancy of the land caused by the dispute and lack of policies. For as long as these lands remained vacant, they proved their opportunity to cater to multiple uses. These uses are not limited to the neighbourhood but extend to different parts of the city. As a user, these monocultural development makes the space feel empty whereas its vacancy provided value to this land because it always provided the user with an opportunity to change and adapt to their needs.
Choked imagination dictating monocultural development
The monocultural development of the land is negligent towards the vacancy phenomenon. According to Vacancy and the Landscape: Cultural Context and Design Response by Carla I. Corbin, ‘Any fragment of land, no matter how unobstructed the view across its surface, is inhibited by its cultural or natural history.’ In line with this thought, it justifies the different uses and its importance to the cultural history.
Polycultural habitats evolved from traces of current systems
By retaining the existing activities and systems in contrast to the new monocultural development, I intend to treat these greenbelt land parcels such that they show their polyculture. To stop these monocultural development that carries the same use at any given point in time, killing the multiplicity of the land.
Towards Transitional Learning | shriya dhir
The Vacancy Phenomenon
The undefined, loosely organized, vague space that exists within the city holds the potential to reimagine ways for its future appropriation. The cause of vacancy in Ahmedabad is a resultant of multiple factors that interconnect across different types of urban processes. For example, the land holdings by educational Trusts for institutions resulted in large vacant lands which are currently in a developmental limbo. In the case of the greenbelt vacancy , it resulted from the failure of policies and shift in planning processes. In other cases, vacancies resulted from a shift in ideological and political frameworks. Therefore, these lands that are left vacant hold value, both economically and socially. There is a need to direct its usage towards adaptable uses, especially during uncertain times like this pandemic.
The current flexibility in usage of such vacant spaces is primarily because they are loosely regulated or waiting to get transformed. This opens possibilities for the future to reasonably experiment on such land towards testing the potential of these spaces and simultaneously envision their long-term prospects.
The Case of Institutional land
Towards the Western side of the city, vacant spaces that are held by Educational Trusts like Ahmedabad Education Society, Nehru Foundation for Development, etc. have been reserved for future expansion of universities or educational purposes. Therefore, in the case of institutions, the nature of vacancy is transient which serves as an entry point towards radical interventions that imagine alternative ways of learning during this ‘In-Between’ phase of vagueness. When schools and universities are temporarily closed due to COVID, how do you engage communities to learn and expand on where and how learning can take place?
UNIVERCITY – Towards Transitional Learning
Subverting the existing system of education, how can education be redefined that is not just limited to the school building? As Giancarlo De Carlo said – “The least suitable place to carry out educational activity is the school building, because, by encapsulating teaching and learning in a unitary, isolated, and closed off space, it tends to cut off contacts with the complex context of society.” Moreover, education as an activity can best flourish when it engages with other social activities that tend to exist in a public space. Perhaps it needs to be complimented by other user-intended functions that need a space to express themselves. Hence, an experimental approach that expands on what temporal infrastructure can provide for the city, while addressing concerns regarding current definition of ‘educational purpose’ will be explored.
Connecting seams of co-habitation | heenal chavda
Institutional lands of the city cater to its educational needs. Learning and development occurs through conditional accessibility to the student, staff and teaching community. Over time, the nature of these lands shift and morph to allow for different forms of access. Educational lands have considerable vacant lands that act as semi-public spaces with conditional access. However, conventionally, these institutions often exclude establishments like community centers, or provisions for education of the learning centers for the marginalized communities.
With cities expanding and bursting at its seams, we witness a rapid decline in public spaces for interaction or pause. Vacant lands like these then become spill out parcels with highly contrasting edge conditions with respect to the city. These edges function as highly active territories which overtime get engulfed with planning and developmental schemes like road widening and new regulated activities, the users and the physical space shifts or transforms.
The institutional vacant land sits vacant to house any future expansion of the institutions but in the meantime, through its edges, accommodates the marginalized communities and passively supports their livelihood. Several of these activities originate from the affordance of institutional edges or its immediate context. It plays a crucial role in defining the city’s idea of public life, of social inclusion and perceptions of accessibility.
Play of permanence?
Existing activities latch onto the site edges operating in regular, seasonal or annual waves – constantly engulfing or releasing the edges while the land itself retains its vacancy for future expansion of the institutes. These edges or margins of these vacant spaces can then be re-imagined as the connecting seams of cohabitation between the marginal and the city.
Social and Cultural Expressions | drashti thakkar
With the constant expansion of the city and reduction in public spaces, it’s cultural and social activities are endangered. The city needs breathing spaces where it freely expresses it’s social and cultural practices. Institutional vacant lands can act as reserves for such public activities .
While the city fails to accommodate for several public activities, institutional vacant lands allow them to flourish. These large sites have been informally allowing many temporary activities ranging from celebrating cultural festivals to temporary exhibitions, transforming themselves into cricket grounds on Sundays to casual playing spaces during the evenings. These vacancies hold more value than just being land for the purpose of building luxury private institutions and burying the multiple narratives of the city and its people. People’s claim on these lands should be recognized and harnessed for an active urban public life.
These Institutional vacant lands are like memorials that have witnessed the city’s transformation pre and post institutional era. The introduction of these several institutional establishments in Ahmedabad was a path to upgrade the city’s image through education. Similarly, these reserved institutional lands can act as a medium to preserve the city’s public spaces.
By utilizing the vacancy of these educational institutions which allow various social and cultural practices to play out, we can introduce several of these alternate hybrid public spaces in the city. Accessibility to these lands is the tool that will ensure the co-existence of cultural, social and institutional activities in the city.
The Vacant Revolution | hetanshu pandya
A Vacant anomaly in the tight knit fabric of authority, power and order - A vacant revolution
mill lands as stages for performance and base of operations
people of the city, Dispute!
take back the city, from the city!
Our Vacancy is in danger. The capitalist overlords, through their overt-and-covert mechanisms of enforcing power, authority and order are taking hold of our vacancy. Mill Lands are our repositories of history, landscape, industrial growth of the city, the base on which the city prospered. The phenomena of mill land vacancy favors no-one but exists, as by-products of economic disputes and as collateral for liabilities and debts that are still owned to the city and to the people it employed.
The vacancy exists as long as the city and its agents are able to continuously ‘stage’ acts of conflict or ‘manufacture’ mechanisms of dispute.
We must dispute, or our lands go back to the capitalist overlords. They openly declare their ends can be attained only by forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions of vacancies. We need to preserve disputes for our vacancies to be preserved. We need to leverage disputes to claim these lands for ourselves, for our city. If not rebelled against, our lands await ‘hostile’ trajectories.
We refuse to separate politics and values from architecture, as doing so we give-up our power, we give-in to the tendency for social, spatial life to be automatized and lose the opportunity for considering it more carefully. While the structures of authority and order have become a universal method of deciding the collective good for the city, the instruments of creating true social spaces are hidden in acts of people rebelling against the established structures of power. Mill Lands can become a base of operation for deploying such mechanisms of revolution.
The current processes of land acquisition and liquidation of these lands are inefficient and this has saved us. The disputes have been able to afford our vacancies. It has given the city places to breathe, places for our everyday activities, and even spaces to occupy when and where people have rebelled against the authority.
Now is the time and opportunity for us to act, actions from collective power, not from the power of money and authority, but from people, from stakeholders of the site, from the stakeholders of the city, from us.
Disputes exist, so do(and are sustained as a product) vacancies.
We are not the agents of preserving the dispute, rather we are opportunists who intervene in it. Dispute is an opportunity to act. Hostility is an opportunity to occupy.
I call for a Vacant Revolution. Just as Non-plan is a perversion of how things are generally done in architecture, the vacant revolution will be pervasive of enhancing or preserving the performances of dispute as a mechanism for the mill lands to remain vacant
Architecture has been produced, and will continue to do so, without the intervention of authority. Most radical forms of design emerge when people begin to represent themselves without mediators and masters. We need propositions based on the premise that the dispute can indefinitely be held onto, its notion(of sustaining the vacancies produced) extended upon, articulated into design and existence. Anarchitecture and to re-evaluate and speculate on this may perhaps be the point of departure and basis for a future shift in our perspectives.
Let the City tremble at a Vacant Revolution. We have nothing to lose but they have our Vacancies to win.
People of the city, unite!
For what we have is our city(our vacancies), waiting to be taken back from the City (the authoritarian mechanism of omnipotence and power).
People of the city, Occupy!
Productive Landscapes | himalay zaveri
Productive Land - A plan for the defunct mill lands
For the majority of us, our position within the city and our connection to Mill Lands is almost like a cult. We believe in its mythos and we believe in the space and time it exists in. Many of us have little choice in the matter – our only other alternative is moving outside of the city to seek work, settlement or some kind of existence in the country. The post-industrial landscape is no-one’s preferred option.
The problem is that the very fabric of the city is holding us to our city’s past. Vacancy of vacant land in the heart of the city is an important indicator that the value of the city is in decline, that the value of property and land is falling to the point where land is beginning to be dumped with little regard to the people who lived on it. People are abandoning our city, in favor of places with more growth opportunities, more potential, more resources and less precarious, unstable or infertile land.
So, what can we do to turn this around? Can vacancies be productive?
This vacant mill land should be seen as launchpads for the area. These lands are essential locations that could be used to bring a cultural shift, where the current trends of the local practices like smaller mobile industries could use these lands. a vision for creating a productive land could include an anchor program that incorporates new attitudes relating to employment opportunities in the city. Considering the scale and the current scenarios of most of the empty mill lands those lands can be used in a better way to also decarbonize our neighbourhoods, for ecological regeneration through methods of urban agriculture. We can use the existing landscape as activity generators then these green open spaces can be more inclusive in inviting people and be more diverse in its outlook.
This vacant mill land should be seen as launchpads for the area. These lands are essential locations that could be used to bring a cultural shift, where the current trends of the local practices like smaller mobile industries could use these lands. Envisioning new productive landscapes that incorporate new attitudes scenarios of the empty mill lands, they ecological regeneration through methods of urban agriculture. We can use the existing landscape as green activity generators. These vacant lands which are past relics/symbol of economic prowess of the city can be used to redefine socio-economic and cultural development in the city.
Efficient land utilization of the defunct mill lands - These mill lands which were once the major economy generators can again serve the purpose by making this land available for local practices.
Decarbonize our neighborhoods - Decarbonizing our cities means decarbonizing our neighborhoods and giving them a human face. How can we go about this? Through inclusive, low-cost and sustainable architecture. It's also about rethinking the traditional building design and urban form to encourage sustainable lifestyles, an approach that's under threat today with the rising cost of living.As per the locations and scale of the defunct mill lands these empty parcels of land can contribute to reduce the heat island effect in the cities.
Ecological regeneration - The idea of "ecological regeneration" is a re-appropriation of the term regeneration, which refers to new growth or renewal in the context of nature. In the present context, it refers to the processes of production, distribution, and consumption of urban space which are organized through an economic, social, and political system of commodity relations. The aim of such a work was to question the ethics and aesthetics of urban life by merging issues of ecology, space and power in order to challenge the complicity of modern urban life with the destruction of nature and the resulting ecological crisis.
Employing the local industries - The productiveness of land can also be generated through introducing various interventions which can help sustain the local practices. Employment opportunities in urban agriculture remain promising as available employment opportunities far outweigh those in traditional employment, be it in fields of farming, maintenance and retailing.
Transforming mill lands for ecological welfare, energy conservation and providing employment and livelihood opportunities for the poor. These highly contested lands which are currently under liquidation, their vacancies will be preserved by using its potential of productiveness.
Neo-Liberal Restructuring | sakshi sharma
Market forces! It indeed does.
The capitalist market has full control over the present and future of our public spaces. Infrastructure leftovers are the vacant lands/ residue of the infrastructural venture of capitalism. Government procedures and external market forces define the timeline and parameters of a project, where priorities are set on the rapid completion of the project, so more funds can be saved.
The sheer size and scale of infrastructure is so large that they take up lots of space, and after the completion, a lot of land is left vacant. So, if the land is suitable for commercial or residential uses, it is marked for that. And the land which isn't, is simply left vacant. Again, the market forces!
Of course due to the current structure of the economy, we are encouraged to make the most of it. We are mentally wired to act in certain ways, and think in terms of monetary value. But is it for the greater good? If it is then why do we see market failures? Why are there so many unexplained voids? Is this the structure or the preset algorithm we want to accept, which can decide the fate of our public spaces too? We should not.
Neo-liberal restructuring of our cities does not sound like the best way, because its first priority is to make the most of spaces by configuring them into higher value lands. Is there any consideration as to where this is taking our environmental conditions, only excuses.
Scrublands and natural vegetations are destroyed for “new development” and there is no “reimbursement” of that because it does not directly benefit the market. A market failure is usually where planners and designers intervene, and these infrastructural leftovers are such spaces where there is an opportunity of making changes for the benefit of the city and its environmental conditions , where a direct gain or profit may not be seen but it does support the city in many intangible ways. These vacant spaces present an opportunity to return to the public domain. They can become spaces of productivity, not only in terms of money. There is a pressing need for ecologically productive spaces because most of them have been destroyed, for the great development of mediocre commercial and residential buildings.
Market forces onto the public domain and the environment, through its subtle nature, but we need to identify it and say no. Public validation is a must for the working of this neo-liberal system, they do it by luring people into the fantasy of development. But we need to say no to the force.
May the force be with you? Maybe not.
Drivers of Environmental Reform | aman shridharani
The phenomenon of institutional vacancy is a result of a number of interrelated factors such as lack of strategy/policy for development, a shift in economic investment, or absence of public interest. By exploring the nature of these mechanisms as they have occurred in the past, the influence of the circumstances in which they are made and the way in which they have related to one another leads towards realizing the inherent potential that these land parcels might exhibit.
From being a tactic of the British to reduce their employment costs to acting as a tool to empower and unite young Indians to fight for independence to becoming a mechanism for growth by providing a broad spectrum of knowledge in various fields in order to push the country forward, institutions of Ahmedabad city have always been part of a greater purpose in the process of social change and development.
This directs towards their new role in addressing the current concerns faced by Ahmedabad city apart from maintaining their primary role of delivering higher education. The city is already facing the challenge of limited urban space (per capita average public space here is 5 sq.m) and infrastructure along with larger concerns of environmental and ecological issues (air pollution, rise in temperatures, and per capita green space <9.38 sq.m>) that need to be addressed as well.
How can these matters be confronted in relation to the vacancy phenomenon where these vacant land parcels can be productively utilized for possible social and ecological benefits that not only support the present but also lead to a sustainable future?
The recent condition of these vacancies reflect their exclusive nature and lead to the fact of how institutional property is restrictive in terms of both accessibility and creative utilization of space (creative utilization here means being able to use available space in a cost-effective, multifaceted, and environment-friendly way). The sites which are in focus are either walled and gated (for selective entry and use) or do not function for or cater to the activities happening there.
In response to this, how can the possible uses of the vacant land under institutional property be reiterated to serve an 'inclusive' purpose? Here, inclusivity is seen towards people (of all ages, gender, occupation, and income) along with the environment (green infrastructure) and time (present and future prospects).
Currently, the ownership patterns of institutional vacancies are complex and thus will lead to an elaborate process of bringing about any change. Thus, in order to simplify things, it will be ideal to propose policy decisions regarding vacancy utilization and specification that can be applicable to all institutions. With regard to addressing environmental concerns, institutional vacant lands that fall under this proposed 'green deal' which is 'inclusive' of social, environmental as well as temporal provisions will be utilized according to the standards of the deal.
Furthermore, land parcels will be chosen to be intervened upon according to their 'health' condition. Plots with 'bad health' (assessed according to the criteria specified under the green deal) will be 'treated' by 'doctors' to improve their condition.
POSITION - what set of issues or ideas am I concerned with?
1. Role of Institutions in bringing awareness and positive change in contemporary and urgent issues of environmental deterioration and lack of public space in the city.
2. Role of institutional vacancies in contributing to reduce current and future environmental damage and simultaneously act as active public spaces.
Currently, these vacancies unconsciously favor a limited number of stakeholders and are not actively directed towards usage of any kind.
given my concern what are the actions that are relevant for the position I have taken? What do I expect to achieve?
In response to the aforementioned concerns,
1. Institutions, being regarded as key in the process of social change and development, act as initiators in doing this.
2. Policy level decisions will be taken initially, to simplify the process of land ownership and its implications.
3. The policy will address institutional land, especially the condition of vacancy.
4. According to the condition of vacancy, in relation to public space and environmental conditions, probable interventions will be proposed to meet the standards of the desired condition of vacancy.
Vacancy strikes back! | lopamudra baruah
Vacancy Strikes Back
With great Infrastructure, comes great Capitalism!
1991. India’s new economic structure swept in. What did it entail? The potential of the common to harness greater power in the ways of the market, the window for a middle-class man to live his dreams of affording luxury. Was this power up for everyone to seize? How did this free market regulate the nature of inclusive economic growth? What role did it play in the management and ownership of public assets?
From license raj to private raj
Since the time India was freed from the mercy of license raj, privatization of the public sector has implicitly given rise to a capitalist economy. Specifically focusing on infrastructural construction, the commercialization of land assets under PSUs has strengthened the capture of private corporations on public land. The core benefit out of this alliance is to generate capital for the government to manage these infrastructures. This has been a strategic promotion of this agenda which entails layers of development that have a direct impact on the other half of the people who are in no ways associated with the complications of such processes. The Sabarmati Riverfront Development project for instance was branded as “revitalization of the river”, “giving back the river to the city”, expropriating lands from informal settlements, the remaining of which are now sold to private corporations for commercialization. So, was it really “giving the river back to the city”?
The value of public land
Indian Railways have the largest amount of vacant land, about 43,000 hectares amongst all other infrastructures. In 2006, IR proposed the creation of RLDA in order to commercialize these vacant lands that will be leased or licensed to private developers for the railway department to generate enough revenue. The capital accumulated will be used for construction and maintenance of railway stations and housing colonies. The way to do so, as proposed by RLDA, is to open multiplexes through revenue sharing with developers and/or commercialization by selling these plots to the highest bidder. The fixation upon such kind of infrastructure should be questioned since the function and architecture of multiplexes would have a prominent effect on the land market, affordability and urbanization of the surrounding area. The economic condition of people, market activities specific to such locations needs to be analyzed against the proposal of these complexes which are rigidly exclusionary in nature. The developer wants to make more money and the government is more interested in generating capital out of it. But considering these vacant lands are public assets, what can be expected out of them? Instead of populating our cities with commercial multiplexes which are economic assets only to their private owners and exclusionary in terms of their usage, we must re-evaluate the repurpose of such lands with more pressing crises that will benefit the city’s sustainability against time.
The rise of the Vacant Lands
What battles are our cities fighting? What battles is our world fighting? The 3 E’s that have constantly been the focus of all narratives are economy, ecology and energy. The adaptation of these infrastructural leftovers to provide durable solutions against these crises is what should be the underlying principle of such repurpose projects. 100 years down the line, the accomplishment of an ecological or an energy generation project weighed against the transience of a multiplex will be stronger and way more beneficial for the health and wealth of the city.