Temporal Dimensions of Public Space

The Case of Vendors and Markets in Ahmedabad

Mariana Paisana (MAUD '18)

An excerpt from Paisana's thesis, "Temporal Dimensions of Public Space: The Case of Vendors and Markets in Ahmedabad" completed at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018.

I lived in Ahmedabad, India for 4 years, working at now Pritzker Laureate Balkrishna Doshi’s office, Vastu Shilpa Consultants. While I was there, the office was designing a plaza in the center of the old city, Bhadra square, an area that was later declared a heritage site by UNESCO. Here, there was a market of more than 900 vendors that attracted people from all over the city. They provided a huge variety of products and food at an affordable price and they were the primary reason people visited this public space.  

The revitalization of Bhadra meant a redesign of its public space that integrated only part of the market but after some months had passed, all the vendors returned to sell at this place and adapted their informal vending to the new configuration of the space. This made me question, how can we as designers understand informal, flexible, mobile and temporary activities and integrate them into the urban design and planning processes?

Crucially, the first step would be to acknowledge their presence in the city, and to study and analyze their processes of spatial configuration. It is estimated that the number of street vendors represent 2% of the entire country population, employing 200,000 in Mumbai and 127,000 in Ahmedabad. Besides contributing to the urban economy, by creating employment and providing accessible products for the urban population, street vendors and their vending structures define the quality of public space in Ahmedabad. Stalls, carts, and product displays produce spaces for commercial and social transaction, and their locations organize open space and establish how people use it. For example, the shading devices used on the vending structures make the spaces around it more comfortable for walking on a sunny day (in Ahmedabad, the temperatures can rise to 50º Celsius). They are also important actors in street safety, acting as informal “eyes on the street”. 

Since these vending structures are flexible, non-permanent and considered informal, they are often not considered in urban planning or design decisions. In the last years, the urban fabric of Ahmedabad has changed drastically with extensive infrastructure projects like the BRT, the metro or the riverfront redevelopment, but also with beautification projects, like Kankaria Lake or Bhadra Square. These types of projects are currently one of the main instigators of street vendor eviction from public space.  For my thesis, I analyzed 3 case studies where public spaces with markets where revitalized. In all of them, the integration of the vendors was only considered after a group of vendors or associations like SEWA  negotiated or filled a lawsuit against the city or developer. 

Since temporal phenomena as vendors and markets in public space are a permanent state in the city of Ahmedabad, in my thesis I tried to recognize this and to clarify their spatial and temporal configurations through typologies. In addition, I proposed three strategies that can inform and lead to the integration of temporal phenomena on the broader urban design and planning processes: to regulate the use of public space, to design adaptable and temporal devices for street vending, and to manage it, using technology and digital management systems. 

Public spaces are contested territories, and street markets are seen as a privatization of public space, a resource that is rare in the city. Therefore, in a transitory moment of development in the city, I argue that we should examine and reinforce the mobile and temporary dimensions of markets and public spaces. It is necessary to design with these temporal dimensions, to provide flexibility and elasticity to such public space and to accommodate a varied possibility of activities in a multitude of time frames. The design of public spaces today are often prescriptive and avoid conflict, but in a context like the dense and multicultural Ahmedabad, it is necessary to create spaces that encourage a diverse collision people and activities.e the mobile and temporary dimensions of markets and public spaces. It is necessary to design with these temporal dimensions, to provide flexibility and elasticity to such public space and to accommodate a varied possibility of activities in a multitude of time frames. The design of public spaces today are often prescriptive and avoid conflict, but in a context like the dense and multicultural Ahmedabad, it is necessary to create spaces that encourage a diverse collision people and activities.

Bibliography

  1. National Association of Street Vendors of India - http://nasvinet.org/newsite/statistics-the-street-vendors-2/
  2. Jacobs, Jane. 1961 “The death and life of great American cities”
  3. Self Employed Women Association