“Urban Typhoon” Workshop reaches Fort Kochi

On its fourth consecutive working day, the Urban Typhoon Neighborhood Workshop reached Fort Kochi. Being the site of the EnteKochi exhibition for the past three months, several residents were already aware of some of the participatory activities. The initial discussions between the residents and the organizing parties, Urbz and GIZ, led to discussions about a multitude of subjects. Some of the themes which the participants worked on today were heritage, water metro planning, waste management, environment, conditions of canals, cleanliness of the beach and old rain-trees amongst others.

Fort Kochi & Mattancherry are said to be the oldest European settlements in India. Several landmark sites have preserved the rich and mixed colonial history of that era till date. The issue of the upkeep and Maintenance of heritage structures was raised during the workshop. Several structures built during the British Era have been classified as heritage, which establishes strict rules preventing the demolition or modification of these structures. Several old bungalows have fallen into disrepair because of this. For some residents, such rules restrict the development process. Other residents see the value in preserving and maintaining these structures. In another perspective about heritage, the locals consider the old rain trees (also known as sleeping trees), the Chinese fishing nets, the dhobi-khana (old laundry area), etc. as protected heritage elements. This also involves the protection of activities associated with these special places. The beach has been going through sand depletion due to the alternating tidal currents. Some residents proposed the construction of a breakwater near the beach to divert the water currents.

Another pressing concern was the construction of the Kochi water metro. The proposed location of the new water metro ferry terminal will interfere with the fishing nets along the Fort Kochi coastline. The residents support the idea of the water metro terminal but not its location. In their opinion, the proposal could end up removing the ancient fishing nets which are considered as monuments and interfere with the fisheries. Another issue that is pertinent to the fishing community is the plastic waste in the water bodies which eventually settle on the Fort Kochi beach. This directly affects the fishermen’s productivity. The coastline is also an interesting political space where different government authorities coexist - the Port and the local authorities. Since the Port wants to keep a handle on future development, they have refused to give licenses to the merchants who have set up shop here. These merchants have over time become an important part of the area’s vibrancy and identity, but their future is in doubt.

Tourism, brought in by the unique history of the area, its natural beauty and the forces of the Biennale has affected the residents both negatively and positively. Services that cater to the tourism industry like homestays, restaurants, cafes, etc. are one of the main occupations for several households. On the other hand, some trends of gentrification can be observed. Slowly, housing is becoming too expensive for people to stay here and there is a lack of supply of new housing.

Moreover, several centuries of immigration has left Fort Kochi with a deep sense of multiculturalism. Migrants are an important part of its history and form the complex layers of its heritage and culture. The newest wave of migration is from the Muslim community from other parts of Kerala, taking advantage of the numerous trade and business opportunities here. The Biennale has added another dimension of creativity, art, and culture to Fort Kochi’s history. It is seen as a positive development for the area, particularly the recent one which showcased a lot of local artists. The citizens see the Biennale as an opportunity to celebrate the neighborhood’s heritage alongside art.

The future of the neighborhood might be uncertain. However, the enthusiasm, hard work and the good sense of the people prevail. One butcher based in the area commented, “We are enquiring about and trying to solve small issues of organic waste here. But the real problem is plastic. The whole world’s plastic is being deposited on our beaches. We all have to think about this.”

The Neighborhood workshop series reaches its last stop tomorrow at Market Canal, Broadway, Ernakulam.

EnteKochi-Coming to your street soon!