"Development is sustainable only if the beneficiaries become, in a gradual manner, the masters of the process. This means that initiatives cannot be contemplated exclusively in terms of economics, but rather as an integrated programme that encompasses social and cultural dimensions as well. Education and skills training, health and public services, conservation of cultural heritage, infrastructure development, urban planning and rehabilitation, rural development, water and energy management, environmental control, and even policy and legislative development are among the various aspects that must be taken into account."
His Highness the Aga Khan
Nizamuddin; the name carries the flavour of a heritage rich in history and culture. The importance of its legacy and the environs are not lost on the people of Delhi or indeed, India. The area is visited by millions of tourists and pilgrims from across the world each year.
Today, recognized as the densest ensemble of medieval Islamic buildings in the country, the area is home to a significant resident community of which a number of families trace their descent to the revered Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, whose Dargah remains at the heart of the settlement. Located in the heart of New Delhi, the Nizamuddin Conservation Area comprises the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb and its surrounding areas of Sunder Nursery, Batashewala Complex and Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.
The Urban Renewal project aims to unify these segregated zones of the conservation area into an urban historic district of considerable cultural significance.
A socio-economic survey of almost 500 representative households was carried out in 2008 to compile information on the quality of life in Nizamuddin Basti. According to the survey, women and child health were areas of concern with higher incidence of chronic diseases amongst women. Women were largely confined to homes hence the need to extend the health outreach programmes. Healthcare interventions needed to look at the up-gradation of the medical and clinical facilities available in the Basti.
The existing civic infrastructure in the Basti was found highly inadequate for permanent residents with the situation worsening during peak times for visitor and pilgrim influx. A large percentage of families used public or shared toilets and water facilities. The project prioritised the building of community toilet complex, re-laying and up-gradation of existing drainage and sewer lines and waste management for better disposal of garbage and waste.
Open spaces in the Basti were poorly developed and under-utilised with barely 2% of the resident population being able to use existing parks in the northern and western periphery. Projects to improve and upgrade open spaces and parks have since commenced as part of the urban renewal initiative.
The physical surveys, carried out in 2010 after a gap of 80 years, identified urban and spatial problems, environmental concerns, open space utilisation and areas in urgent need of intervention to improve the quality of life in the Basti. The survey included the mapping of plots, condition mapping, typology and physical features of the built environment.
Interviews and discussions were held with community elders to record the oral history and understand the growth of the Basti in the past 50 years. The data collected on land use, transportation, green spaces, open and activity spaces and heritage structures was used to develop a detailed land use map, and have facilitated the phased upgrading and improvement initiatives in the Basti.
Seven principal streets in the Basti were identified for street improvement, which are entry points into the Basti and lead to important spiritual/ religious or heritage/cultural sites such as the Dargah, Kalan Masjid, Baoli and the SDMC urban services like the polyclinic, school, baraat ghar and public toilets.
Barely 2% of the resident population used park spaces for recreational purposes. The project initiatives aim to landscape and re-develop the parks to improve the environment and provide residents with much needed common use green spaces.
Through the urban development initiatives, the project has sought to improve living standards in the Nizamuddin Basti, considerably enhance visitor experience and, through rehabilitation of critical monuments and civic open spaces, enhance the area’s value and significance in terms of history, places of spiritual importance and recreation.
The programme has been working towards improving the urban environment and in turn the Quality of Life. Surprisingly, for a historic settlement in the heart of the national capital, there was no survey map of the neighbourhood prepared in over a century. In 2009, for the first time, physical surveys were carried out to document and analyze the urban setting, prepare urban design guidelines and identify potential model projects that can be undertaken. The survey identified urban and spatial problems of the Basti and formed the basis of urban improvements in the Basti to improve the quality of life in the Basti. The key urban development projects undertake are:
To address the needs of a distinctive urban area, the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative commenced with the triple objectives of conservation of built urban heritage, environmental development of water features and open spaces and improving the quality of life for the resident communities – whose most significant asset remained their built and living cultural heritage. Since 2007, a multi-disciplinary team has worked with local communities to fulfil these objectives.
The Humayun’s Tomb – Nizamuddin area in Delhi has over the past 700 years seen a profusion of monumental tomb building occurred in close proximity to the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, a revered Sufi saint. In keeping with the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme philosophy, it was clear that conservation measures here would require a people centric approach with a multi-disciplinary and multi-pronged approach addressing needs listed on the millennium development goals. The project has since demonstrated that 'CULTURE AS A TOOL FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT'.
As with every socio-economic intervention carried out in Nizamuddin since 2007, the urban design programme too have followed a community-centric approach. Following the baseline survey, which revealed the state of urban services in the Basti, many community meetings were held in which the planning process of the urban interventions to be carried out in the Basti was shared with the residents. During these meetings, the communities expressed their needs and requirements, which have since formed the basis of the urban facilities. This community-centric design approach not only led to a better understanding of their needs, but also community’s participation has led to management and maintenance of these facilities.
At the onset, a group of local youth was trained to undertake the cultural mapping of tangible and intangible resources of the entire project area. In addition to the monumental heritage, the mapping exercise listed out some of unique yet neglected built heritage, significant Sufi shrines and also brought out the intangible cultural resources of music, local crafts, and pluralistic cultural practices such as the celebration of Basant and Urs, amongst others. This exercise led to an improved understanding of neighbourhoods and the sociological parameters that govern their growth.
Keeping the vision of people-centered Public-Private Partnership, since 2007 the team has undertaken a regular meetings with several government agencies like the South Delhi Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Jal Board, and the National Monuments Authority, coupled with sustained community engagement and dialogue with local leaders, religious heads, men & women, youth, vendors & commercial establishments. This has ensured that the many urban facilities that have been created in Nizamuddin are now managed by residents themselves in partnership with the government.
The project team undertaking the design interventions in Nizamuddin has a keen sense of not only the spatial aspect of the Basti, but also the community needs. This has reflected in the design of various urban services like the parks, toilets, water-points, signage, schools, day-care centres, roundabout etc. Keeping in mind the historical significance of Nizamuddin, the team has designed community spaces and services after having a detailed discussion with the community members.
Some of the residential level interventions in the basti have been undertaken through a cost sharing arrangement. These include the housing improvements carried out along the Barapullah Nallah, Baoli, Chausath Khambha etc. where the team of architects, engineers and craftsmen has undertaken design and structural improvement works on the houses. Over 40 homes in the basti have been upgraded in addition to which, several training programmes on good and safe construction practices using modern and traditional materials have also been received well by the community.
Urban design interventions in the basti have been led by active partnerships of the community. Street corners, intersections and roundabouts that had become garbage dumps, have benefited from wall art by children, youth and street artists. Some as platforms for street theatre led by children of the community have made a big impact in their lives. Interventions such as installing street computers have transformed abandoned spaces into learning spaces for children. These services have now been handed over to the trained Basti groups for management and maintenance.
In the Basti, the level of understanding of community to matters related to governance is very limited. Residents either tend to oversimplify institutional matters or have a very superficial knowledge of the schemes, rights and services they are entitled for.
On the whole, given the complexity of the governance system in Delhi, the community is often clueless on how to approach the authorities. This sense of doubt amongst residents has been addressed through the Rehnumai centre established in the Basti.
The Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative aims to setup a model for the regeneration of a historic city centre in partnership with the public agencies and the community members as equal stakeholders. The urban planning and urban design interventions carried out here have been in a participatory approach between the community members and government agencies. Through publications, presentations, conferences, seminars and forums like the Apni Basti Mela, the project has shared the learnings with other such initiatives.