COVID-19 and its aftermath have exposed the unequal nature of our public spaces in tragic, heart-breaking ways. Groups already vulnerable, have faced unforeseen and disproportionate vulnerabilities since the pandemic overtook our world. Emerging evidence shows how post-COVID public space governance has suddenly, unforeseeably, and disproportionately impacted populations already vulnerable as a result of occupation, class, migration status, religion, gender, and more other factors, who rely on urban public spaces for their basic needs. Needless to state, these instances of increased vulnerability have influenced perceptions of, and meanings attached to, public space and its use.
Our studio is premised in this context of exacerbated post-COVID vulnerability. It centers on urban design and equity-related questions that the post-COVID context poses for Indian cities. We ask questions such as:
How did the COVID outbreak impact the diverse vulnerable groups who depend on public space for basic needs?
How did these groups cope? How are they continuing to cope?
What can our public spaces do – how can they be – to become more inclusive of the needs of these groups?
Contextualizing the above questions to space and time by focusing on Drive-In Road in Ahmedabad, we deepen and substantively ground our inquiries by asking:
How might hard mandates on physical distancing and hygiene influence the design, use, and perception of public space in urban India?
(How) Might inclusive public spaces be made possible in post-COVID Indian cities?
We think through these questions by engaging with the needs of (at least) three vulnerable groups who have been impacted by the COVID outbreak: street vendors, migrant workers, and pavement dwellers.
The process of our inquiry, leading to design, is structured in four interconnected phases:
Teaching and learning amidst uncertainties unleashed by COVID is a challenge. We document our experiences with this process here, and offer insights on pedagogical methods that (might or might not) work(s).