Strategies for a Resilient and Equitable Covai

Location: Coimbatore, India

Duration: 1 Month

Competition hosted by GIZ India
Selected in the top 10 Entries and published on Covai Design Competition website:

Project Team: Collaboration with Diane Athaide, Ranjani Srinivasan, Ambika Malhotra, Gayatri Malhotra, Aditi Agarwal
Sanganur Pallam located in the north-western quadrant of Coimbatore, along with numerous other seasonal streams that drain the Noyyal river basin, comprises the historic infrastructure that characterizes the city and dates back to the Chola empire. Along with critical wetlands, lakes and eight tanks, the landscape of the city’s ecology is shaped by its proximity to the richly forested slopes of the Western Ghats. But unsustainable patterns of development, and the impending threat of climate change have disrupted this delicate balance of these natural systems. The city in general and Koundampalayam in particular, suffer from flooding and groundwater depletion. These interconnected threats have been amplified by urbanisation: streams are polluted and clogged with waste, while migratory birds have lost habitat. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exposed the social and economic vulnerabilities of the local communities. Against this backdrop, our project leverages Coimbatore’s robust social infrastructure and natural resources to make Koundampalayam a vibrant, equitable and well-connected neighbourhood.

This project takes inspiration from two overlapping conceptual frames that intersect at the site: first is the riverine network that originates amidst the lush rainforest of the Western Ghats, from the Noyyal river and cuts across Coimbatore city. Of this, Sanganur Pallam is an integral part, that was responsible for recharging the centrally-located Singanallur tank. Second, is the pioneering developmental approach of Tamil Nadu State, with its keen emphasis on social welfare, equity and gender parity. The results of this decisive policy direction is seen today, in the state’s high human development index and generational mobility. So to respond to this intersection between the ecological features of the site, and the socio-economic issues of those that live within it, we have relied on a holistic approach that will result in a climate resilient and equitable model of place-making. To this end, we propose our comprehensive toolkit of strategies: VIBRANCY, ECONOMY, EQUITY, ECOLOGY, MOBILITY, & HEALTH + SAFETY .

Koundampalayam, is intersected by the Sanganur Pallam that becomes a strategic ecological and social spine, hemmed in by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) apartments to the north east while its banks are lined with the four informal settlements: Meenakshi Nagar, MGR Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, and Prabhu Nagar. The ECOLOGY toolkit is used to make incisiveinterventions within this landscape in the form of natively-planted parklets and community service pavilions with integrated drinking water access, as well as infrastructure-centric moves like terrain- sensitive sewage lines, groundwater recharge, and stream remediation schemes, and sustainable strategies around integrated solid waste management underscored by community participation and consensus building. Linked up with the HEALTH + SAFETY toolkit, green infrastructure and open spaces are created while centreing issues pertinent to womxn’s and children’s health and safety, and accessibility for the elderly and differently-abled. We propose a central hub comprising health, training, childcare and educational facilities linked to the extant Corporation Park to strengthen community resources. This will empower residents to monitor their own health, while proactively deciding their and their children’s upskilling and educational needs.

Located between the Mettupalayam bus terminal and Jeeva Nagar road, the neighbourhood is transformed into a highly networked, dynamic and interconnected landscape. Through the MOBILITY toolkit, a network of pedestrian- friendly arterial roads, neighbourhood streets, and open spaces connect the different subsites. The vibrant and intimate streets of Ambedkar and Prabhu Nagar are connected with the interstitial spaces of the TNHB blocks through an integrated park system - that culminates in the central hub. Collective strategies integrate last-mile connectivity with EQUITY. In order to build trust among stakeholders while protecting marginalised voices, we have proposed design strategies that deepen networks across different groups within the neighbourhood, while addressing a basic differentiation in needs. For example, using gender - inclusive participatory input, routing locations can connect waterfront communities with industries in S.P Nagar, at the far-west of the larger site. Through new transit nodes, this seeks to boost the safe mobility of women, in particular, who are less likely to own a vehicle.

We understand that in the aftermath of the pandemic, communities are in deep economic distress. The lack of robust employment opportunities becomes a proxy for several issues. The ECONOMY and VIBRANCY toolkits work together and build on the previous strategies of EQUITY, ECOLOGY, MOBILITY, & HEALTH + SAFETY to ensure financial stability for residents. Corporation Park and the adjoining resource hub are edged with active corridors of retail activity, while MGR Wholesale Vegetable Market and the Artisan Zone, provide employment as well as ensure a large daily influx of visitors into the neighbourhood. Moreover, incentives to attract investment and microcredit loans to small businesses will enable women-run home businesses to join the marketplace. This will be critical in increasing capital revenue within resident communities, and aiding community investment in their neighbourhood. Overall, the primary purpose of this community centric approach is to inform and engage all stakeholders in the formulation of solutions, while providing support in the form of technical expertise, funding and capacity building.